Both Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill and Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon are pretty happy with the passage of Issue 1 this week.
The ballot measure called for a Constitutional amendment to make permanent a 1/2-cent sales tax devoted to roads. According to unofficial vote totals from the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, it passed with 55.27 percent of the vote, 649,487 to 525,601. The issue passed in the county with 53.11 percent of the vote, 8,111 to 7,160.
“We and the county get about $650,000 from this tax,” Gaskill said. “And with the 3-cent gas tax, that money goes to the Department of Public Works, for our Street Department.”
He added that the tax, which initially went into effect by Constitutional amendment as a 10-year temporary tax in 2013, more or less coincided with the beginning of work on the Highway 412 bypass.
“I took office in October 1997,” he said, “and a month after I did, I got a letter from the state saying they would build the bypass when funds became available.”
The tax funded the bypass, which opened on Oct. 9, having been completed at a total cost of $41.6 million. It is also funding both the ongoing widening of Highway 49 North to four lanes as far as the North Industrial Park, and the ongoing widening of Highway 412 west to the Lawrence County line. The project will eventually result in a four-lane highway from the Missouri state line all the way to Walnut Ridge. (Although the bypass is only two lanes, the Arkansas Department of Transportation has acquired the right-of-way to permit two more lanes to be built when funds become available.)
The Paragould City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in support of passage of Issue 1 at its Nov. 25 meeting.
“I’m pleased that we can continue to rely on this source of funding,” McMillon said. “The Road Department gets 17 percent of its funding from this tax. So it’s pretty important to us.”
McMillon also acknowledged the relatively close vote in favor of making the tax permanent. “I’m not surprised that it was that close,” he said. “I understand the arguments on both sides, and I figured it could go either way.”
Unlike the Paragould City Council, the Greene County Quorum Court did not adopt its own resolution in support of retaining the tax permanently. Although the vote on the resolution at the Sept. 21 meeting was 5-4 in favor, it needed six votes in favor (a majority of the full court) to pass.
McMillon also noted pleasure at the passage by the voters of a county ordinance to permit wider use of the remaining 3/8-cent to fund more things within the scope of law enforcement. But he also acknowledged closeness of the vote, 54.1 percent in favor to 45.9 percent against. “It’s difficult to explain to the citizens,” McMillon said. The passage of the ordinance permits the already-in-place tax to be used not just for maintenance and operations of the jail (for which it was originally passed by a vote of the people) but also for things like sheriff’s department vehicles, department salaries and other items that would otherwise come out of the County General fund. Such money from the County General Fund could then be used for other purposes. “And it lets us use the money from the U.S. Marshals Service for other law enforcement purposes as well,” he said. That money, $70 a day per federal inmate housed in the jail, came to $7,070 for the 101 federal inmates held on Nov. 6.