City and County

Quorum Court meeting turns to public forum on sales tax

By Joe May
Special to The Arkadelphian

What was thought would be a simple ordinance to disperse tax funds from the  newly re-approved economic development tax proved to be a controversial subject at Monday evening’s meeting of the Clark County Quorum Court as several citizens voiced their opinion on the issue.

An ordinance sponsored by Justice of the Peace Darren Buscher provided that tax funds collected from the sales tax approved on June 8 by voters would be transferred to the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County.  What rankled several in attendance were two clauses in the measure.

Section 3 calls for the EDCCC’s board to “disperse [the] proceeds as may be necessary to fund and promote economic development projects…”  Section 4 states that the board shall “promulgate guidelines and policies for the use of the proceeds….”

Justice Albert Neal objected, stating that at a community meeting held before the election at Mt. Olive Baptist Church, citizens were told that the quorum court draft the guidelines.  He suggested tabling the measure “until the quorum court and the EDCCC can get their act together.”

He noted that the court cannot control the money “if it gets shipped off to the EDCCC.”

“We need to know more about this,” he said.

Justice Vanilla Hannah agreed, asking, “Who would select the criteria for whoever receives these funds? 

She added that she wanted assurance that minority businesses in the county would have equal access to the funds.

“This gives total control to the EDCCC and that is a concern to me,” she stated.

Justice Jenna Scott noted that there were several in the audience who wished to speak on the issue.  After sine discussion, the court agreed to suspend the rules and allow residents up to three minutes to comment on the issue.

Johnny Harris, a minister and retired educator spoke first, saying that he had identified 20 minority-owned businesses who are interested in receiving grants given out by the EDCCC from the tax receipts.

“We don’t care who handles it,” Harris said.  “We just want to have input. Many times African-American supporters have been overlooked.”

“We passed this tax to see something done this year … I want the people to know how it’s being spent.”

— Nick Stover, local auctioneer

He noted that some who received grants in the past later closed their businesses or left the area.

“Minority businesses would like to participate,” he said. “We do vote and we do pay taxes. It’s kind of nonsense to pay taxes with no input.”

“I want the people of Clark County to rule.”

— Brown Hardman, Arkadelphia resident

“We just want to be treated in such a way that we can say Arkadelphia is a good place to live,”  he said.

Businessman Nick Stover then addressed the court, saying, “I support economic development in this county, but I want it done where it’s visible for every taxpayer to see how the money is being spent.” He pointed out that the EDCCC is spending $85,000 to plant an unused portion of industrial property in pine trees that will be harvested in 25 years. 

“We just want to have input. Many times African-American supporters have been overlooked.”

— Rev. Johnny Harris, Clark County pastor

“We passed this tax to see something done this year,” he said. “I want the money spent for the betterment of Clark County, but I want the people to know how it’s being spent.”

J.L. Griffin, the interim CEO of the EDCCC then spoke, noting that the group’s meetings are open to the public.  He stated that during his tenure on the board, he knew of nothing that had been hidden from public view regarding EDCCC spending.

He told the court that if they wished to draw up the guidelines under which the group operates, “that would be find with me.” He noted that the court could even choose to “do away with the EDCCC and disperse the money themselves, but whoever does it will have their hands full.”

He stated that it was his idea to plant two plots of 135 and 191 acres in pine seedlings, but stated that the work had not yet commenced. He also stated that any loans given to businesses from tax funds under the auspices of the EDCCC would go through a local bank.  

Questioned by citizen Cassie Gonzales as to whether the EDCCC’s funds were mingled with those of the Arkadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which shares a building with the group, Griffin replied that the bills, which he signs, are coded as to which entity they belong to, but he admitted that while every attempt is made to keep the funds separate, “they probably do co-mingle a little bit but the Alliance does not fund money to the Chamber.”

Following more discussion, Griffin remarked, “It sounds like the quorum court should make the guidelines and give them to the EDCCC.”

Justice Tom Calhoun pointed out while the court does have an economic development committee, the job of drawing up such guidelines falls under the pervue of the EDCCC.  The court would then revise and approve the guidelines, he said.

Former Justice Brown Hardman addressed the court, stating that had been told the court would be drafting the guidelines for the EDCCC. “I want the people of Clark County to rule. We were promised that the quorum court would make the guidelines and now this ordinance sends all the money to the EDCCC.”

Stover spoke up again, stating that locals simply “want the ordinance to be specific and it’s not.”

“Let the court come up with the guidelines and we’ll live by them,” Griffin said.

Tucker stated that he was “disappointed” by the statements made at the meeting. “There’s so many good things going on in this community,” he said, noting that industrial prospects are expressing interest in the area because of what it has to offer. He chastised those who were “fussing” over the issues, noting that a compromise can be reached on the matter. 

“What can be done about this?” Hannah asked.

Tucker replied that as the court had already agreed to place the issue on its second reading at the next meeting, it could either be passed, voted down or modified.  He suggested letting the EDCCC draft the guidelines and the court review them and make any necessary changes.

In other business, the court:
*Passed to appropriation ordinances.
*Placed on its first reading an ordinance that would make Juneteenth a county holiday. Justice BJ Johns suggested adding Columbus Day as well.
*Heard Tucker say that the county would be switching its  health insurance providers from United to Blue Cross/Blue Shield to save $46,000.

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