Only a handful of Cedarville residents attended a special town hall meeting on Monday of the city council to discuss a proposed 1 percent city sales tax that is on this years general election ballot.
Cedarville city officials hosted the meeting to answer questions about the tax, which would be the first for the city, and hear from residents, said Mayor Mark Isenhower.
Five residents attended the meeting with the city council and mayor.
Isenhower started the meeting by going over how the city has used money to improve roads the past two years, including applying chip and seal on Mill Pond Road and Cedarville Road.
“If we want to continue to do chip and seal roads in the City of Cedarville, then we should probably look at the tax,” Isenhower said. “I’m not a guy who wants a lot of ordinances or a lot of taxes or a lot of regulations at all. We’re just getting to a point where we can’t do anymore on roads.”
City officials were able to do road improvements on Mill Pond and Cedarville roads, which cost the city about $100,000 for both after state aid and assistance from the county, using restitution payments received from an embezzlement case against Alicson Reding, the city’s former recorder-treasurer who was convicted last year of stealing $295,879.85 from the city.
Isenhower named about 16 roads totalling 9.3 miles in Cedarville that need improvement. He estimated the cost, based on a bid received for further improvements on Cedarville Road, to be at $1.25 million.
“It is expensive to put on base and chip and seal, but once you do it, you don’t have a gravel road anymore that you have to keep up,” Isenhower said.
If the 1 percent tax is passed and brings in about $40,000 a year, the city could chip and seal about a third of a mile each year, Isenhower said.
While Isenhower was unable to get an estimate from the state on how much the tax would bring in, Cedarville Attorney Sean Brister estimates it to be closer to $20,000 a year, he said. The tax would be applied to services such as utilities and cable, and on goods, Brister said.
“For the most part, it’s every item sold in the city, and services,” Brister said.
A comprehensive list of how sales tax is applied and exemptions from the tax are laid out in the 2008-3 Gross Receipts Tax Rules, a 195 page handbook provided by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration on its website.
Cedarville resident Randy Grayson spoke up during the meeting to comment on road improvements. While Grayson said he’s not necessarily against the tax, he felt the city would be chasing its own tail in an effort to improve roads.
“At a third a mile a year, it’ll take 33 years to get all done, and by that time these other roads that were fixed first will need to be done again,” Grayson said. “You’ll never catch up.”
Isenhower admitted that with only a 1 percent sales tax the city could not expect to see much progress, but it might at least improve property values and help the city grow.
Glennis Cook and Carl Franklin spoke up to complain about paying additional taxes on top of what they already pay to the city and county and for school millage.
For four services - propane, satellite, electric and water - Glennis Cook said he and his wife, Cedarville Treasurer-Recorder Sandy Cook, will pay an additional $37 per year. Alderman Tim Breshears noted that amounted to about $1.50 each per month.
“We have zero (city) taxes,” Isenhower said. “If you’re not going to pay in anything, you can’t expect to get anything for free.”
Breshears added that “it’s time for the people of this town to help themselves.”
Resident Wayne Sandusky gave his thoughts on the tax, which he said is necessary for the city to provide services.
“Nobody likes taxes, and nobody likes taxes less than I do, but you have to start somewhere,” Sandusky said. “You’re not going to have services, you’re not going to have a street department or a fire department if you don’t pay for it.”
Cook retorted that the city should be able to continue to operate under their current budget.
“We’re trying to improve; that’s the point,” Isenhower said.
According to the ordinance passed on July 19, 75 percent of the revenue gathered from the one-percent sales tax would go to the road department, while 12.5 percent each would go to the police and fire departments.
Once the money is collected and deposited into each department fund, the city council will decide how it its budgeted within the departments, Isenhower said.
Isenhower has said that improving roads is the main purpose for the tax, and hopes the city’s work to make improvements during the past two years will not go unnoticed.
“I hope we’ve established some confidence in knowing that the city can be ran with efficiency,” Isenhower said. “You just have to ask yourself if you can trust the people sitting up at the table here.”
Residents also heard from Don Rosson, Cedarville’s assistant fire chief, on how the fire department would use the tax money.
Money from the tax would go to a new brush truck to help fight grass fires and turnout gear for new firefighters, Rosson said. Improvements in the department could mean an even lower ISO rating than the current rating of 4.
Keeping equipment updated and in compliance helps keep the city’s ISO rating low, which in turn has a positive impact on house insurance rates, Rosson said.
Isenhower noted several times during the meeting that the decision to pass or fail the tax is up to voters.
“It’s not our decision. We’re here to answer questions and tell you where your tax will go if it passes. I’m not here to sway you … We just want you to be able to make an informed decision,” Isenhower said.