Economic development to keep going even without tax - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Economic development to keep going even without tax

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INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax five years ago to stimulate the economy in Independence County and create jobs.

During a special election, residents decided Tuesday that enough was enough.

The Independence County clerk's office reported that nearly twice as many people voted against the proposal to renew the economic development sales tax for another five years. The results showed that only 714 voted in favor of the sales tax, while 1,349 opposed it.

Now that voters have decided not to reauthorize the sales tax, many are wondering what happens next.

The county can keep collecting revenue from the economic development sales tax until April 1, 2014. Economic development officials said they'll use that money to stay afloat a few more years, while they search for different sources of funding.

"We are going to continue the program," said Larry Jones, the economic development director. "The program has about $2.3 million as well as a 47-acre, partially developed business park, so we'll continue the program based on the funds that we have."

Jones said the special election results did take him by surprise, but suggested that he can see why the tides turned against the tax.

"There's been a number of other local initiatives and sales taxes approved in Independence County at the county and the City of Batesville local level," he said. "There was, I think, a general feeling that our sales tax is just too high."

Anti-tax sentiment likely grew after voters approved two sales tax increases in 2012 – one to benefit the county's fire departments; the other to fund a new community center and sports complex in Batesville.

"All those initiatives have great value," Jones said, "but when you add them together, they create a total sales tax, which is burdensome."

Jones expects the economic development program to still run for several years even after the sales tax is taken off the books.

"We'll have about $2.3 million in funds," he said, "so we'll continue to utilize those funds for economic development purposes as long as they're available and then we'll be exploring other opportunities for funding."

Jones said the economic development commission will "probably" have to scale back some of the incentives that it has awarded in the past to attract new industry and help existing businesses grow.  

"We respect the voters and their determination," he said, "and we'll move forward with other sources of funding."

Jones also hinted there's a chance that supporters will try to get the sales tax back on the ballot, but at a later time.

"That's really not been determined," he said. "That is a possibility, though."

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