In the last of a three-part series in support of the half-cent economic development sales tax to be voted on tomorrow, Clark County Judge Ron Daniell joins Dr. Lewis Shepherd and Bill Wright in discussing reasons why this measure must be passed.
The bottom line is that this is not just another tax but an unparalleled opportunity to compete with other counties in Arkansas to bring in new business and industry and to expand the ones we have. These are not empty words, Clark County. If we don’t help ourselves economically, who will? The answer is no one. So please, show your trust in our city and county officials, and in the vision of the Clark County Strategic Planning project, by voting “yes” to the economic development sales tax tomorrow.
Downs: Judge Daniell, before we talk about the importance of passing the economic development sales tax tomorrow, we need to clear up some questions that have arisen about the status of the jail.
Daniell: This matter has been under study for several years, but at this time, we do not have a plan to build a new jail. If you remember, in April 2007, the Quorum Court agreed to table the jail issue and come back later with a fresh start. Without a complete business plan that answers these questions – how much is it going to cost? How will we pay for it? Where will it be located? How much money will be required to run it? – we will not build a new jail.
Downs: In your opinion, do we still need more jail space?
Daniell: Well, I think we do, but we have to give Clark County Prosecutor Blake Batson a lot of credit, too. He’s moving defendants through a little quicker and streamlining the process.
Downs: If we do build a new jail, will this require a new tax on down the road?
Daniell: We may or may not not need it, but I don’t think so. In fact, I have a plan I’m working on that, if it all comes together, wouldn’t cost any additional tax money.
Downs: Tell us about it.
Daniell: In about three years from now, the government is planning to build a new National Guard Armory north of town. We’ve put Clark County’s name on the list to obtain the old Armory Building at 410 Crittenden to be used as the needed addition to the jail. It will be 2010 before the new Armory is built. The old building has a kitchen, which we need, and it’s the right size.
If the Army tells us we can have it, we’ll get the Jail Standards Board to come down and see if the building will meet our needs. Obviously, we can’t say for sure that our request will be approved, but we’re optimistic. If it is approved, then at no additional cost to taxpayers, we could use the one-mill jail tax that brings in about $200,000 a year for renovating the Armory.
Downs: Now to the economic development sales tax we’ll vote on tomorrow. In a recent letter to the editor in the Daily Siftings Herald, the question was asked, “If the tax passes, what assurances do we have that our funds will be collected properly and spent wisely?”
Daniell: The people of Clark County need to trust me and the Quorum Court and know that we are going to try to do the right thing for the county. If the tax is passed, collections will be made every quarter, which means that we will start Oct. 1, 2007, and will end Sept. 30, 2014. By law, we’re going to make sure the tax does not run past that date.
Downs: How are names being gathered for consideration for the executive board that will be responsible for how the tax revenue will be distributed?
Daniel: We haven’t received any names yet. I’ve had some people ask me about it, but to me, the first thing we need to see is whether the tax passes. If it doesn’t pass, we don’t need the names, but if it passes, I want to get a notice out that I want resum/s sent in. I hope to get 200 or 300 applications from people who will tell me why they want to be considered, whether they have any experience in economic development, give me strong points about why they would make a good member of the board.
Downs: I know the decision on selecting the names will ultimately be yours, but will you seek advice from other people from the Clark County Strategic Planning Commission and others from throughout the county?
Daniell: If the half-cent economic development tax is passed, I will be seeking advice from people throughout the county to assist me in making appointments to the board. Choosing the five most qualified people to represent the entire county, not just one area, will be a major undertaking. Those five will include three representatives out in the county and two from Arkadelphia, since it is the biggest city in the county. Once the sales tax is passed, I will start moving forward on this project.
Downs: Another question: “Will this executive board be working closely with the Clark County Strategic Planning Committee and the Clark County Industrial Council and utilizing their data on the types of industry we should be trying to recruit?
Daniel: If the economic development tax is passed and we get the full-time industrial development person and staff we need, the CCIC will probably cease operation. If so, I do hope that someone from that group and the Strategic Planning effort will work closely with the board to provide advice and guidance.
Downs: Let’s say that once the tax is passed and the five-member executive board is in place, a prospective industry wanting to come to the county asks for an economic incentive. How will this work?
Daniell: In addition to the state money the prospect can receive, the five-member board can offer $50,000. But if the prospective industry wants more than the board can offer, the board will have to ask the Quorum Court for additional economic incentive. For example, if the prospect – or an existing industry – wants a total of $150,000, it enters into a contract with the county in which the industry promises to create a certain number of jobs that will yield $150,000 for Clark County. If the prospect fulfills that promise within a specified time, the debt is forgiven. If it does not fulfill the promise, however, the industry must pay back every cent to the county.
Downs: What importance do you place on the passage of this tax?
Daniell: At first I was a little doubtful, but that was before I got all the statistics on the number of students we are losing in the schools and the jobs we have lost since 2000. And as county judge, I can tell you that our income is decreasing a little every year.
Decreased population affects the county budget, so it stands to reason the economic development tax has the potential of creating more jobs and increasing the population, which in turn will strengthen the budget. Otherwise, if the tax does not pass tomorrow, we’re going to have to consider making some serious cuts in our services and in employee benefits, even possible layoffs.
Downs: Are you optimistic that the tax will pass?
Daniell: Well, it’s like when you’re running for office. One day, you go out and, boy, you come back and you’re ready to tackle the world. The next day, you get your wings clipped. You hear good responses and you hear some negative, but for the last week or so, I’m hearing a little more positive than I am negative.
Downs: Last question: If you were speaking to a group of Clark County citizens about the importance of the tax, what would you say?
Daniell: I’d just say to look at the literature we’re passing out, how many students we are losing in the school district. That’s the main thing that hit me. The school kids going away to different counties and the jobs lost and the declining amount of money coming into the county every year. I know this is not going to be the perfect answer and that there will be some mistakes, but we’re all going to have to work together. And if we make mistakes along the way, we will correct them and move forward, doing what’s right for the betterment of the county.
Next week: A conversation with Jim Burns on what accounts for the price of gasoline in Arkadelphia.