County's revenue sources aren't plentiful as some think
In the Feb. 27 issue was a report on the Benton County information meeting in Decatur on the preceding evening where Mike Clifford of Bentonville asked the county judge something like: Why does Benton County government think it has revenue problems? Considering the population and economic growth experienced in the area, you should have plenty of money.
Apparently, it is time for this "old" man and former justice of the peace (1989-1992) to remind Mr. Clifford and others of the realities of Arkansas' county government revenue sources.
First, the Arkansas Constitution limits county government's property taxation to 5 mills for general operation and 3 mills for roads. Except that cities are entitled to 50 percent of the Road Tax amount collected within the city. However, in Benton County, three cities get an extraordinary share: Bentonville and Rogers (90 percent) and Siloam Springs (80 percent).
When the totality of property taxes collected in the county is considered, public schools get 90 percent, the cities get about 6 percent and the county gets about 4 percent.
Second, by law, any countywide sales tax must be shared with the cities on a per capita basis. Thus the cities (based on the last index year of 2010) get 80 percent of the sales tax and the county government gets 20 percent. The county percentage will decrease in 2021 after the 2020 census as the cities have added population by taking portions of the county territory. My estimate, using the best available U.S. Census estimates, is that the county share will decrease to about 16 to 17 percent of the total collections.
Third, The Arkansas Constitution requires the county to provide the entire county with the following services (funded all or in part): jail, circuit courts, parole and probation, child support enforcement, juvenile court and services, election services, prosecuting attorney and public defender services, veteran services and public health services.
The Constitution also requires county government to provide for the health and safety of the residents outside of the cities. In Benton County, the citizens have decided that is the following: law enforcement (sheriff), emergency medicine (ambulance), 911 service, planning, search and rescue service and fire service equipment. Additionally, Benton County transfers a substantial sum each year to the Road Department to maintain roads and bridges because the road revenue is inadequate to meet the needs of the citizens.
Fourth, the Constitution requires county government to provide tax assessment, tax collection and treasury services for the entire county: county government, public schools and the cities. The schools and cities are required to reimburse the county for the services on a constitutionally established formula.
Mr. Clifford and dear citizens, if you have suggestions for how to generate more revenue or better utilize the revenue the county government receives, please contact your justice of the peace or appear at a meeting of Quorum Court and relate your ideas.
Robert M. Anderson
CentertonCommentary on 03/13/2018
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