County fails to pass millage in split Quorum Court vote
Move could force a shutdown of county government, says county tax collector
A vote to establish the millage rates in Crittenden County failed to gather enough votes to pass after Justice Hubert Bass used it as a means to protest school district boundary lines which have a portion of West Memphis and the tax money that comes with it in the Marion School District.
The Quorum Court is required by law to set the millage rates and pass them on to the state in November. But for the past several years, Bass has symbolically voted against the rates because he claims the money going to Marion rightfully belongs to the school children of West Memphis.
“It’s a protest vote to force them to the table and make them discuss this,” Bass said. “This is wrong.”
Bass has been vocal in the past about the need to revisit and adjust the school district lines which were drawn over 60 years ago, specifically pointing to residents who live north of Dover Road — which is in West Memphis — who are included in the Marion School District.
He claims West Memphis is losing between $3 to $6 million dollars of property taxes to Marion School District.
“That millage goes to Marion School District and not West Memphis School District,” Bass said. “There is no ordinance or written accounts that can be found on this. And it has been that way since the 1950s. All of that tax money going to Marion really should be going to West Memphis.”
County Judge Woody Wheeless asked Bass why West Memphis hasn’t brought the matter up themselves.
“I’m just curious why they have never pursued it?”
“That’s a good question,” Bass replied.
Bass said he has spoken to both Superintendent Jon Collins and former Superintendent Bill Kessinger in the past about it but never got any commitment from them to address it.
“Both of them said they want to pursue it,” Bass said. “But they never did anything about it.”
Bass said he has nothing against Marion School District. But as a representative of West Memphis he believes the money belongs there.
“What’s fair is fair,” Bass said. “I think that money should go back to West Memphis.”
Justice Tyrone McWright suggested the Quorum Court table voting on the millage rates until December and invite Collins to speak on the matter.
“Let’s put it in his lap and see what he thinks,” McWright said. “If it was 60 years, things need to change to right this. I say send the invitation to Mr.
Collins and key us in and see what he can find out.”
“I think that’s a good idea — if he will come,” Bass added.
Tax Collector Ellen Foote pointed out that even if West Memphis and Marion agreed to change the district lines, the school districts and cities have already had their elections and votes to set the millage rates and that the rates are already set for next year.
“They can’t change that no matter what because the election already has been done for next year,” Foote said. “So even if they decided to start proceedings to do this, it will not affect next year’s rates. All this does is set up what the schools already had their election on.”
Bass asked what would happen if the Quorum Court didn’t pass the millage rates this month.
“Is there a penalty if we don’t pass it in November?” Bass asked.
Foote said the state statute actually gives the county until December to pass the millage rates. However, Foote cautioned that if the Quorum Court didn’t pass them that the county and the cities and towns wouldn’t get their money.
“If it doesn’t pass in December, there will be a government shutdown,” Foote said.
It’s going to affect every city if we can’t collect the money,” Wheeless added.
“All you are doing is approving what these communities have already voted on to set them at.”
A motion to adopt the millage rate failed to get the necessary nine votes with Bass voting no and Justice Stacy Allen passing. Justices Ronnie Marconi, Vickie Robertson, and Lorenzo Parker were not at the meeting.
Allen said he wants to hear from Collins before he votes.
“I don’t want to vote yea or nay on something I don’t understand,” Allen said. “I would like to hear what Mr. Collins has to say.”
Bass said while he realizes that it is an issue for the school board, the Quorum Court can at least bring it up and get the schools to talk about it.
“Even though we don’t have a lot to do with changing that — or any at all — we are in a position to bring it to the forefront,” Bass said. “I want the issue brought to the forefront because a lot of things could change with that money and I want it brought up so that hopefully West Memphis and the superintendent will put it on the agenda.
My principle is whether it is symbolic or not, sometimes you have to take a knee. And I’m going to take a knee.”
Wheeless said it will take a court to settle the district lines.
“I understand where you are coming from,” Wheeless said. “But the process will be both school districts going to court.”
After the vote failed, Justice Robert Thorne questioned what their options were.
“What do we do now about this?” Thorne asked.
“I don’t know,” Wheeless responded. “But this is going to affect everybody’s funding.”
Foote told the court that she can’t collect any money until the county sets the millage rates.
“I can’t set up the tax books if you don’t accept the millage,” Foote said.
Wheeless said he will invite Collins to come address the court at the December meeting and vote again on the rates.
By Mark Randall