FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's justices of the peace voted Thursday to increase the property tax rate from 3.9 mills to the maximum of 5 mills allowed by law.
The Finance and Budget Committee voted 6-4 to recommend the tax increase to the Quorum Court. The increase was included in the ordinance the county approves each year setting the property taxes for cities and school districts.
Washington County’s Finance and Budget Committee will continue working on the 2019 budget next week. Chairman Bill Ussery said Thursday he plans to call another budget meeting for Nov. 13 to try and complete work on the budget before the Nov. 15 Quorum Court meeting.
Source: Staff report
Treasurer Bobby Hill said the county could see about $3.5 million a year in additional revenue if the Quorum Court approves the millage increase. Hill said the 3.9 mills levied brings in about $12.2 million a year.
Also Thursday the committee asked Sheriff Tim Helder to bring the committee a plan to charge cities a daily fee for holding prisoners in the county jail beginning Jan. 1. Helder said the county charges the federal government $62 per day to hold federal prisoners. Madison County is also charged $62 per day for prisoners. Helder said Fayetteville is charged a one-time booking fee of $62. He said the estimated cost for housing inmates is covered by the $62 per day charge.
Helder said an initial estimate is the fees charged for housing felony prisoners would bring the county about $750,000. Fees for prisoners charges with misdemeanors would bring in some additional revenue, Helder said, but cities would have more discretion on whether misdemeanor inmates were booked into the jail.
The justices of the peace have been working to match revenue with the growing expenditures. The committee discussed the jail fees at several recent meetings and on Thursday moved on to consider the property tax increase as well.
Tom Lundstrum, justice of the peace for District 7, said the Quorum Court needed to consider the millage increase, even though he said he would vote against it.
"This county is going broke," Lundstrum said. "We need to look at real revenues. That means property taxes or sales taxes."
Justice of the Peace Bill Ussery, committee chairman, asked the panel to consider the millage increase after the discussion of the jail fees concluded. Ussery said most of Arkansas 75 counties are at the maximum 5 mills for their general fund.
Ann Harbison, justice of the peace for District 14, said the county has lost millions of dollars while costs have gone up.
"We need to do the hard thing and increase the millage to 5 mills," Harbison said. "We cannot continue to cut, cut, cut. It's time we stand up and do our jobs and take the consequences."
Eva Madison, justice of the peace for District 9, objected to the timing of the proposal, coming just two days after an election where voters could have considered the proposal in casting their ballots. She said having the discussion two days after the election was "embarrassing."
"If we were going to raise taxes, we should have been very up front with the voters," Madison said. "If there was a time for a millage increase it was last week."
Ussery and Butch Pond, justice of the peace for District 15, both said they had been quoted in the newspaper about the possible need for a millage increase.
"We were elected because they trusted our judgment," Pond said. "I think most of them know we wouldn't even be considering this if we weren't strapped."
NW News on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: County eyes property tax increase