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PRAIRIE GROVE -- In a special meeting last week, Prairie Grove City Council voted to call a special election in November to seek a .50-percent local sales tax to hire more police officers and firefighters.

Revenue from the new tax would go into a separate account for police and fire personnel. The special election will be held Nov. 6, in conjunction with the November general election.

City officials conservatively estimate a half-cent sales tax would bring in about $270,000, enough to hire five police officers and firefighters for around $50,000 each, including benefits.

Council members discussed how to distribute the new tax revenues, if the sales tax passes. One question was whether to put the money in the general fund or to designate it to a separate account.

Another question was whether to allow proceeds to be used for new equipment for the police and fire departments.

City Attorney Steven Parker told Council members the ballot had to tell voters "exactly" where the money would go. The wording of the ordinance first considered by the Council indicated revenue would go into the city's general fund.

"My understanding," said Council member Doug Bartholomew, "was that it's for personnel."

Mayor Sonny Hudson agreed that when he first started talking about a new sales tax, "personnel was the only thing on my mind."

Hudson said he wasn't sure if the question would pass if the revenue could be used for other purposes.

Both fire Chief J.C. Dobbs and police Chief Chris Workman agreed with the proposal to limit the sales tax revenues to personnel costs only, which would include salary and benefits.

The Council then agreed to designate a separate account for the revenue and limit it to police and fire salaries and benefits.

Dobbs and Workman have talked about the need for increased personnel for some time.

Dobbs' short-term goal is to have one firefighter on duty 24 hours everyday. Dobbs said he would have to hire three firefighters to meet this goal. Currently, Prairie Grove has one full-time fire position and staffs other part-time positions with firefighters who work full-time for other departments, such as Fayetteville and Springdale.

Workman said federal guidelines recommend a city have one police officer for every 500 citizens. Prairie Grove's unofficial population is around 6,200, which means Prairie Grove needs another officer to meet the federal guideline, Workman said.

In addition, he pointed out the police department has an animal control officer who runs the city's animal control program. In many cities, this responsibility does not fall under the police department.

"This means we're really short two officers," Workman said after the City Council meeting.

Workman said he would like to hire two additional officers for next year, including one who would have detective duties, as well as working patrol.

Currently, Prairie Grove has a 2.25-percent sales tax rate. Of this, 1 percent is collected for the 2006 and 2009 sewer bonds; .75 percent is collected for capital improvements for street, drainage, water and sewer improvements; .25 percent is for parks and library; .25 percent is used for capital expenses for police cars, buildings, property and similar projects.

If the new sales tax passes, Prairie Grove's total sales tax rate would be 2.75 percent.

General News on 07/11/2018

Print Headline: PG Council Sends Sales Tax Question To Voters

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