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Monday, September 22, 2014, 11:33 p.m.
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Resident petitions to strike food tax

By BECKY BELL Texarkana Gazette

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 3:07 a.m.

TEXARKANA — A petition that has been circulating for months to repeal the 2 percent tax commonly known as the “hamburger tax” on restaurant and fast-food purchases has been turned in to Texarkana City Hall.

The petition, which has more than 1,400 signatures on 69 pages, was turned in to interim City Clerk Heather Soyars with an attached letter signed by Donnie Walden, a resident of Texarkana.

“My interest in this project is to give the voters of Texarkana, Ark., an opportunity to vote to repeal the 2 percent tax on restaurants and fast-food outlets,” Walden wrote. “When on the ballot, this will give the citizens an opportunity to say yes or no.”

For the past couple of years, much contention has been brewing about how much money the Advertising and Promotion Commission has distributed to Holiday Springs Water Park and Arkansas Convention Center.

The city has pledged $800,000 toward the water park, and the park will receive $250,000 each year from the Advertising and Promotion Commission for the next 20 years. The park is owned by Dr. Hiren Patel.

Soyars said she would meet with City Attorney George Matteson to discuss the petition. Matteson said he had no comment until he had an opportunity to review the documents.

Alex Reed, a former spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state’s office, has previously said that in cities where mayors are elected — as they are in Texarkana — a certain number of people have to sign the petition in order for it to go to the polls.

“Fifteen percent of those who voted in the last mayoral election must be gathered for the petition to be taken to the voters,” Reed said. This would mean because 6,890 voters participated in the 2010 mayoral election, it would take 1,034 eligible signatures to put the matter on the ballot.

Bobby Ferguson, who served as mayor of Texarkana for 24 years, said, “I think there has been an abuse of private enterprises, maintenance and rebating all the taxes to a private enterprise and furnishing a private industry, the convention center and water park.”

Although he does not agree with how the Advertising and Promotion Commission has dispersed money, Ferguson said he did not want people to think he had something against Patel or other agencies supported by the commission.

Longtime Advertising and Promotion Commissioner Debbie Haak said she wants residents to remember all the things the commission has done for the city. She said the commission helped draw more than 500 people to Texarkana for the Dixie Youth AA World Series. The commission voted to give Texarkana Baseball Association an additional $35,000 in July to make sure the tournament would be a success.

“The A&P increases the quality of life in Texarkana,” she said. “Without it, there would be no money for walking trails, no money for the Four States arena, no baseball field.”

Mayor Wayne Smith said he thinks the residents have the right to vote on the issue.

“Our state statute allows the citizens to petition the government, and I respect the citizens’ right to do that,” Smith said. “It is now up to the citizens of Texarkana, Ark., to see if they want to repeal or continue this tax. As the mayor, as any elected official should, I will respect the will of our citizens.”

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