Tax funds to fight crime.
MORE THAN TWO MONTHS ago, business and community leaders in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County knew they faced a crisis.
Crime was increasing. The city was without a jail and there was no money to build a new one. There was a fear that low-salaried police officers would move to higher-paying positions in Little Rock.
A coalition of leaders came together with one purpose -- the passage of a permanent county-wide 1-cent sales tax, with all of the potential $6 million raised yearly earmarked to fight crime and improve public safety.
"It is related primarily to drugs, but there has been a dramatic increase in break-ins, in thefts, car thefts and just the general kinds of things that high police visibility can affect," says Jim Berry, president of the Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce.
"It was really starting to affect people throughout the community."
The tax had the support of the chamber of commerce, a ministerial organization, a citizen's group and the city's businesses. Even the county judge and the mayor worked together, something that residents say seldom happened before Jerry Taylor was elected mayor last year.
Even with no organized opposition, the tax barely passed Nov. 23, 3,423 votes for to 3,144 votes against.
"Other than all the support we had, if there was one reason we won, it was that we had a very good depiction of how the money was going to be spent," Berry says.
International Paper Co. allowed its public relations spokesman, James Lee, to work full time on coordinating the campaign to pass the tax. Supporters focused on personal contact, using telephone calls, direct mail and speaking to civic, business, employee and church groups. The entire campaign, including preparation, lasted only a month.
"If there were two people standing still on the street corner, we'd talk to them about the tax," Lee says.
County Judge Jack Jones and Taylor worked together to get the tax passed. Lee calls the partnership a "double team."
The coordination was necessary because, by state law, only the county can build and operate a juvenile detention center. But only Pine Bluff has the money to fund crime prevention programs.
"Jerry Taylor has really worked closely with the county and I really believe he is trying to solve the problems of Pine Bluff," Jones says.
"There seemed to be a communication problem |before Taylor was elected~. I thank the Lord on a regular basis that there is no communication problem now."
In different capacities, Jones has worked in county government for 17 years. Until recently, he says, there was little cooperation between government agencies.
"Things are changing," says Jones, who has been county judge for five years. "People are demanding it. Mayor Taylor and I are committed to keep doing things together to benefit all the citizens of Jefferson County."
Rev. Jesse Turner, associate pastor of the Elm Grove Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Westside Ministers Union, acknowledges that Pine Bluff is having problems with juvenile and nuisance crime.
He says a root cause for crime throughout the country is that moral values have taken a turn in the wrong direction.
"There is no strong moral base to work from," Turner says. "A lot of kids don't have values that tell them that stealing is wrong, that you need to work for a living. We're not getting enough people to support and help these young kids. So they're just growing up like wild grass, and they do whatever they think they can do.
"So, from a pastor's standpoint, there's going to have to be more of a preaching a gospel of help and a gospel our young folks need in terms of values."
Taylor says the easiest part of Jefferson County's crime problem is finished: passing the tax. Funds now will be available for more jail space, higher police salaries, more police officers, etc.
"The hard part is ahead of us," Taylor says. "Expectations may be higher than we can produce."
How Jefferson County's Public Safety Tax Will Be Spent
* $4 million annually goes to Pine Bluff
* $1.5 million annually goes to Jefferson County
* $500,000 goes to Altheimer, Wabbaseka, White Hall, Redfield, Humphrey and Sherrill
How Pine Bluff Will Spend the Money
Law Enforcement -- $2.6 million
* 20 new police officers
* Expansion of auxiliary police and explorer programs
* Additional officers for property crime investigation
* Payment for 34 beds in new jail
* New and replacement law enforcement equipment
* New fingerprint identification technology
* Improved pay for all public safety employees (police and fire)
Crime Prevention and Personal Safety -- $1.1 million
* Youth intervention programs
* Resource police officers in schools
* Increased police presence through neighborhood foot patrols and expanded street crime units
* Street lighting operations and expansion
* Expanded fire protection program to reduce fire rating
$245,000 held in reserve for future public safety needs
How Jefferson County Will Spend the Money
Law Enforcement -- $1.3 million
* 6 new deputy sheriffs for patrol duties
* 4 new deputy sheriffs for the drug task force
* Improved pay for deputies
* Juvenile detention facility operations
Crime Prevention and Personal Safety -- $200,000
* Rural fire protection
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|Title Annotation:||Across Arkansas; Jefferson County, Pine Bluff to use $6 million to improve public safety|
|Author:||Smith, David (American novelist)|
|Date:||Dec 13, 1993|
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