A bit­ter pill

Cave Springs faces up to its own mis­takes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Ku­dos to the lead­ers of Cave Springs.

Whew! It’s been a while since we could write that.

The City Coun­cil voted this week to take their medicine in the form of re­fund­ing about $242,000 in taxes to prop­erty own­ers af­ter Ben­ton County Judge Barry Moehring ruled the city’s an­nual prop­erty tax was not prop­erly au­tho­rized. That meant the money al­ready col- lected via the city’s

5-mill prop­erty tax was il­le­gally col­lected.

It’s a tough pill to swal­low for the small Ben­ton County com­mu­nity. The prop­erty tax usu­ally pro­vides about one-quar­ter of the city’s an­nual bud­get. Do­ing with­out it in 2017 will be ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult.

The City Coun­cil never voted on reau­tho­riz­ing the tax last fall. It’s a fairly stan­dard process for lo­cal tax­ing en­ti­ties. Ev­ery fall, they must com­mu­ni­cate to the Quo­rum Court the an­nual rate for prop­erty taxes. The Quo­rum Court then adopts an or­di­nance that for­mally au­tho­rizes col­lec­tion of the taxes by the county tax col­lec­tor.

Even though the City Coun­cil never voted in 2016, some­one in Cave Springs sub­mit­ted a make-shift mill­age res­o­lu­tion to the county once the slip-up was dis­cov­ered. But a res­o­lu­tion is worth­less if the City Coun­cil doesn’t vote on it.

City lead­ers cer­tainly could have ap­pealed, but the case against them is strong. An ap­peal would cost money, and it’s vir­tu­ally as­sured an ap­peal would not end in the city’s fa­vor. Nor should it.

Process is im­por­tant in gov­ern­ment. A city’s ac­tions — par­tic­u­larly the im­po­si­tion of taxes — can’t be put into place with just a wave of mayor’s hand or a ca­sual sub­mis­sion of yearold pa­per­work. With­out the vote of the peo­ple’s elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Moehring had lit­tle choice but to rule the tax in­valid.

The City Coun­cil knew it needed to stanch the flow of money fur­ther into a le­gal chal­lenge with such a small hope for suc­cess.

Now, per­haps, city lead­ers can be­gin work­ing to­ward a 2018 that’s less con­tentious, that strives to­ward good gov­ern­ment. A re­cent au­dit — a hor­ri­ble re­flec­tion of poor man­age­ment at city hall — has given city lead­ers clear ev­i­dence of the di­rec­tion they need to go. More scru­tiny is nec­es­sary. More pro­fes­sion­al­ism must be demon­strated. The peo­ple of Cave Springs de­serve com­pe­tent lead­er­ship, not per­sonal con­flicts wrapped up in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

And the city may need to pre­pare for an­other chal­leng­ing de­vel­op­ment: Ben­ton County Pros­e­cu­tor Nathan Smith has asked the state po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate the fi­nan­cial mess iden­ti­fied in the state au­dit.

Al­der­man Larry Fletcher said called the au­dit ev­i­dence of “negligence, and per­son­ally, it’s very em­bar­rass­ing to see a doc­u­ment like this come out about our city.”

Em­bar­rass­ing and in­suf­fi­cient. The No. 1 charge to the lead­ers of Cave Springs is to get their house in or­der, to make gov­ern­ment func­tion for the ben­e­fit of res­i­dents. If they can­not man­age that, it’s time to clean house in an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent way.

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