Monday, October 15, 2007

No Chance of a Hat Trick

Dug Begley's article in The Morning News points out that Fayetteville residents are facing property tax increases from the city, the county, and the school district. That convergence makes it unlikely that voters will be enthusiastic about any of them, regardless of the merits, but for different reasons.

Washington County wants to raise property taxes from 1.1 mills to 3 mills, getting $7.4 million to replace Woolsey bridge, Harvey Dowell bridge, Orr Road bridge and Tilly Willy bridge. Most Fayetteville residents couldn't find those bridges on a map, and they might ask why they should vote to raise their taxes while the county government hordes more than twice that much in reserve. Long odds at best.

The Fayetteville School District has let it be known that it will be coming for a property tax increase for renovation of construction of a new high school facility. Fayetteville already has the highest school millage rate in Northwest Arkansas. Asking to bump that by 4 to 10 additional mills while having supported the TIF project is quite bold. The outcome will depend on how the school board handles the decision about the location of the high school, but support for increasing taxes to build a new school west of I-540 would be a very difficult sell.

Having learned the fiscal dangers of always increasing the regressive sales tax to operate city government, the City is considering an increase in property tax rates to balance the budget and maintain services. The real estate interests want the city to continue building infrastructure to accommodate growth, but they don't want to pay impact fees or property taxes. Bill Ramsey and the Chamber of Cowbirds, who also opposed the impact fees, hope to "keep that sales tax engine alive," so they don't have to pay increased property taxes and so others will bear the tax burden. Some City Council members think that additional savings could come from budget cuts or a hiring freeze. Of the three proposals, this property tax increase seems to have the best chance of enactment.

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