After passing a measure Thursday to hold a special election in March for a 1-cent sales tax renewal, Alma city officials may have to change the measure to remain in compliance with the law.
During their regular monthly meeting, Alma City Council members approved an ordinance that would allow for a special election March 11 for city residents to vote to continue a 1 cent sales tax set to sunset in October.
By law, after a city adopts an ordinance it must notify the county’s election commission. Once notified, the date for the election can be set.
Public finance attorney J. Shepherd Russell, a managing partner with Eldredge & Clark L.L.P. in Little Rock, said he was abiding by state statute 7-11-205 under Elections when he advised that the special election could be set 60 days or more after notifying the election commission of the ordinance.
"I told them it would have to be 60 days after they passed the ordinance, that’s what I advised," Russell said.
According to Kenneth Chitwood, chairman for the Crawford County Elections Commission, the date for special elections regarding tax levies must be set 120 days after notifying the commission. He referred to statute 26-75-308 under Taxation.
"It’s been on the book for years - any special election has to be held with 120 days notice," Chitwood said.
As of Friday morning, the election commission had not been formally notified of the ordinance and the special election is set for only 81 days from today.
Chuck Baker, Alma city attorney, agreed with Russell.
Statute 26-75-308, cited by Chitwood, states in section (a)(2) that a special election shall be called "for a date no later than one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of action of the governing body."
It’s Baker’s assessment that the election commission has incorrectly interpreted the law.
"They’re reading it backward, I think," Baker said.
Though Crawford County Clerk Teresa Armer was the first to take issue with the date of the election, she later said she agreed with Baker after discussing the law with him and a representative from the Secretary of State’s office.
Armer said that according to the state representative, the election date would depend on how the ordinance reads.
"If we get the ballot (ordinance) today, we’re going to assume that March 11 is a good date, unless I hear otherwise from the secretary of state’s office," Armer said.
Though it would be a tough "push" to have it ready, Armer said her office would begin working on election ballots as soon as she received the ordinance.
If the election date is approved for March 11, residents will have an opportunity to approve the 1 cent sales tax as permanent revenue for the city, with no sunset date.
Alma Mayor John Ballentine said the tax monies would be used for fire trucks, to help with the city’s share of the costs of the bypass, to improve downtown and road maintenance.
Also during their meeting Thursday, city council members approved Christmas bonuses for full-time employees for $200. The city currently has no part-time employees. The mayor received a $500 bonus.