NWA editorial: A bitter pill

Cave Springs faces up to its own mistakes

Kudos to the leaders of Cave Springs.

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

What’s the point?

The Cave Springs City Council made the right decision to forego appeals of a finding that will cost the town nearly a quarter of its annual budget.

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 collected 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 tax 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 pretty 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 year-old 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.

Commentary on 08/12/2017

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