Council deadlocks 3-3 on tax increase vote

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
The Russellville City Council split 3-3 Monday night over a vote that would have increased the city sales tax by one-cent.
Four votes were needed for the measure to pass.
The item was placed on the agenda Monday. A portion of the tax, 38.33 percent, would have been used to help pay the city school system's bond payment while the rest would have been used for the city's general fund.
Mayor Troy Oliver said the city could not adequately fund the school system if an additional one-cent was not added to the city's sales tax.
"There are dire consequences if we don't pass a tax increase," Oliver said. "We can't continue dropping the city's cash count any longer."
Russellville City Schools Superintendent Don Cox told council members last month that the school system is "basically broke." He asked the council to look at options that would help the system.
Councilman Gary Cummings, who voted against the tax increase Monday, said that he could not vote for it "right now."
Cummings said he wanted to look at other options before increasing the city's sales tax.
"We haven't looked at anything else yet," he said. "This is the first that was brought up."
Councilmen David Grissom and Lanny Hubbard also voted against the increase.
Hubbard said the feedback he received from his district was that people were against any new taxes at this time.
"People want to know what the options are," Hubbard said.
Councilman Jeff Masterson, who voted for the increase, said that it's time for tough decisions to be made if the school system is to get the funding they need.
"Years ago when the city of Russellville decided to create a city school system, that mayor and council committed to funding it," Masterson said.
"That funding mechanism was and still is a portion of the city sales tax. We, as a council, have a responsibility to ensure that portion is adequate enough to give all the local support possible without cutting city services.
"Now as the cost of operating a city has gone up, new revenue is necessary to operate. I'm confident we will come back in two weeks and step up and support all our departments. It's easy to say we're supportive, like the hen was at breakfast, but that pig, now he was committed."
Grissom, Cummings and Hubbard said they were concerned about the timing of a tax increase and wondered if it would send shoppers out of the area.
Russellville Wal-Mart Supercenter store manager Steve Brannon told council members that an increase in sales tax would put local stores at a competitive disadvantage.
"We have a lot of customers from the outlying areas outside of Russellville," Brannon said. "Many of them shop here because our sales tax is a little lower and every little but helps."
Grissom said the current economic climate would make a tax increase harder on citizens.
"The mayor even mentioned that unemployment was at an all-time high of 12.5 percent," Grissom said. "This is just not the right time to raise taxes on our citizens. I believe this entire council is committed to doing whatever we can to help maintain the high standards we have in our school system, but we haven't looked at anything else.
"Before we do anything that might hurt one person in the city of Russellville because of a higher tax, we need to explore all of our options. This is just not the time to do it."