Safety and taxes and safety again

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

One of my very dear friends tells me, each time a sales tax is proposed, that in the study of American economics, no government has ever taxed itself to prosperity. I do know my friend is right. And I do wish the state of Arkansas had devised a more balanced approach to revenue generation. Sales tax is and always has been regressive; it is punishment to the wealthy and a penalty to the poor.

But regressive is one thing. Crime is quite another.

Our city suffers an alarmingly poor safety reputation, a reputation not fully deserved, but one built on perception, which as the saying goes, “becomes reality.” Crime rates and crime indices for Blytheville are undeniably bad. While many of us may not feel unsafe, we are all aware that precaution is a way of life. We are on higher alert.

And yes, this may be a national problem, but that is no comfort when the problem is striking at home. Fear of crime means more than discomfort. It stops visitors from coming to our city, no matter how appealing an event may be. Fear stops support of local evening activities, be it church, a night at the Ritz or a ballgame. Fear stops potential residents from even considering Blytheville as a place to live. In a word, high crime rates are damaging to our economy, on all fronts.

The Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce board has voted unanimously to support the sales tax proposed by the city, a tax fully dedicated to public safety. Their reason: We must have more competitive police salaries to attract and keep quality officers and we must expand the police force to lower crime rates effectively.

Policing, like all other 21st century professions, has changed. It is tougher than ever, it is highly competitive and in an era when commuting is a way of life, law enforcement is no longer a “home town” job. The Blytheville police salary structure, as it stands, does not incentivize officers to either join or stay on the force; the city needs more money to create a better structure.

It is the city’s professed need for more money that, as always, stirs opposition. Many citizens, with government trust at an all-time low nationwide, believe that the lack of money is really mismanagement of money. Heaven knows Blytheville has had its trials on money issues, whether it is unnecessary spending, tax delinquency, water company copiers or shifting funds from one budget to another. Municipal finance is an overwhelmingly complex organism, and one much easier to complain about than to fix. We need to stop the crime problem. If you are opposed to the tax because you are not happy with the city’s management, I hope you will rethink the timeline—crime needs immediate attention. We simply cannot hold public safety as a hostage, while we wait for the city to reach our own varied views of ideal fiscal management.

This sales tax is a half-cent, and it sunsets in ten years. It is, BY LAW, to be used specifically for our public safety needs and BY LAW it will serve as a supplement to general funding for public safety. A small portion of the money, through a bond vote, will move the police to a new facility on Highway 61 South—a bargain, and a move much needed, which you can verify for yourself by a quick visit to the current police headquarters.

Blytheville is not a dying community, as naysayers love to tag it.

School choice, new retail, thriving industry and wonderful people comprise this community. Like all cities, however, we must face our problems and do our best to solve them rather than merely point fingers and complain. I urge you to vote “yes” on May 9. Vote “yes” for this tax and vote “yes” for the bond.