The BSD Millage, Part 2: How Batesville tax rates stack up

This article is the second in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

The upcoming school millage vote affects property tax, but not all millage votes do. For instance the vote to build the community center affected the local sales tax rate.

In order to consider a tax increase, voters need to know about our current tax rates. Here’s how both our property taxes and sales taxes stack up against other areas.

Our Sales Tax Rate

In 2010, Batesville voters said no (by 70 votes) to a $45 million project.

The proposal was adjusted, and in 2012, voters said yes to a $25 million project that included a 100,000 square foot Community Center, $2.1 million baseball complex, and $800,000 soccer complex and rodeo arena.

The community center opened in June 2017, and one year later had 8,400 members.

In 2008, voters said yes to a 1/4 cent sales tax increase that allowed the county to offer an incentive package to attract industry to the area.

When Pilgrim’s Pride shut down operations in Batesville in 2013, which affected 400 employees, the Independence County Economic Development Commission was able to attract Ozark Mountain Poultry to the area, and retain 250 employees, because of this incentive.

Arkansas has the third highest combined average state and local sales tax rate in the nation, at 9.43 percent.

Batesville is above the Arkansas average, at 10 percent. Sulphur Rock is below average at 8 percent. To check a rate for a specific address, click here.

See chart below for how Batesville’s sales tax rate compares to other cities in Arkansas. It is currently the same as Fayetteville and Bentonville, and below Conway.

Our Property Tax Rate

Currently, Batesville has an average school millage for Arkansas.

Passing the minimum plan would put the district’s millage in between Fayetteville and Bentonville school districts (see chart below).

Bentonville and Fayetteville school districts are growing (at rates of 7.5 and 6.3 percent, respectively, since 2016). The Batesville school district is growing at a similar rate, 6 percent.

Passing the complete plan would position Batesville as having the second highest school millage rate in the state (see chart below).

It would also place Batesville as having the highest overall total millage rate in the state (includes school, city, and county millage rates).

…compared to other states:

Arkansas property tax rates are lower than most other states. (Arkansas has the fifth lowest median property tax rate in the nation.)

Summary:

Property tax rates in Batesville and in Arkansas have some room to grow. Sales tax rates do not.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read the first article in the series, click here.

Author Rachel Kelley describes the long road to a published book

In her final version of her new book, Rachel Kelley chronicles several life events through the lens of faith — a life-threatening accident, an unexpected move from Tennessee to the hills of Mountain View, her path to raising 6 kids, seemingly impossible financial situations, and how the book itself would ultimately land in the hands of author John Grisham.   

On Saturday she will be presenting her book, Rachel’s Raft, a faith-based autobiography, to the public at a Christmas open house held annually by The Bread of Life bookstore here in Batesville.

But it took five years, and challenges she said she never expected to be so hard before getting to the final version.

Rachel Kelley wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote for three years actually, grabbing any spare moment she could to churn out another page.

When she finally finished, she had a manuscript of about 150,000 words — more than 600 pages.

“It was huge,” she said of the first draft of her book. “It’s a snippet of my personal journey with the Lord through the last several years, and if it happened, it was in there.”

Kelley said the finished product was so overwhelming that she set it aside for two years, until someone suggested an editor, a local from Lyon College, who had assisted on other books.

Kelley said as they talked, the main story became clear: “How God led us [her family] through a process of whittling away more and more from our lives…and how God would give me small steps, and every step became increasingly harder.”

With her editor’s help, throughout the course of 4 months the book was gleaned down to a reasonable 50,000 words, she assures potential readers, but adds it was very hard to let go. “I just had to cut it and not look back.”

Her mom, an artist, designed the cover and then the whole thing was uploaded and self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing, which she says was the easiest part of the whole process.


“It’s so personal. It’s like releasing a diary to the general public,” she said of finally seeing her words in print.

The availability of self- publish options has motivated many unknown authors to share their work. The drawback to self publishing rather than going through the traditional channels is that it is up to the author then to promote and sell copies. But Kelley says she’s not going to stress about that.


“Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain,” she says of the next steps. “I feel like I was faithful in writing it, and that’s the main thing… People have been really positive and genuine in their responses, and so the feedback that I’ve gotten — that’s the way He’s blessing me.”

Kelley will be signing her book from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Bread of Life bookstore on Saturday. Those wishing to purchase a copy can do so there, or at amazon.com.

Dinner with Georgeanne: ‘Pinkalicious’ Pasta

The bonus, and don’t give up on me, is that the pink noodles are actually made from lentils.

Does anyone else live in a household where people want to eat dinner every. single. night?! On my best days, creating a family meal is inspiring, and even an artistic expression. But on my worst days, it’s a chore void of any excitement or creativity.

On one of the latter aforementioned afternoons, my six-year-old wandered into the pantry and was ecstatic to find “pink” noodles. She asked if we could eat those for dinner, and since I had no better plan, I was grateful to have a starting point.

I had turkey meat in the fridge and found a jar of Bertolli vodka pasta sauce. After browning the meat and simmering in the sauce, I added the cooked noodles. The result? A “pink” pasta  (yes, technically it’s more red/orange, but don’t ruin this for us!) that my daughter dubbed “Pinkalicious Pasta.”

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The bonus, and don’t give up on me, is that the pink noodles are actually made from lentils. So they’re chock-full of protein, and even have fiber. They do not taste earthy or even any different than other noodles to us. Trust me. Try them.

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Ingredients:

1 10 oz pkg Lensi Red Lentil Fusilli

1 32 oz jar vodka sauce

1 lb ground turkey

Brown turkey. Drain, and add vodka sauce. While that simmers, boil noodles according to package directions. Combine and serve!

My girls love it topped with mozzarella, and you can can’t go wrong topping with fresh basil.

‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ actress headlines local fundraiser

On Thursday, Nov 14, she traveled to Batesville and spoke to a gathering of 111 people at the Cherish Life Gala.

Robia Scott was born in Queens, New York, and has toured Europe with Prince, acted in the first three seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and appeared in “Beverly Hills, 90210”.

On Thursday, Nov 14, she traveled to Batesville and spoke to a gathering of 111 people at the Cherish Life Gala, a formal evening of fundraising for The Alpha Center, held at Compass Church.

Scott’s most recent acting role was in the movie “Unplanned“, which is based on one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the country, Abby Johnson. The Alpha Center offered a free preview of this movie at the local AMC Theater on March 28. The movie hit theaters the next day and has since grossed $19 million worldwide.

Scott shared about how the timing of the release of the movie coincided with the Reproductive Health Act in New York, and said it especially alarmed her to discover that more African American babies are being aborted in New York City than are being born.

She also shared about her conversion to Christianity, which occurred in her life while she was working on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer“. As a result, she subsequently quit Hollywood in order to become a minister, and did not go back to acting until “Unplanned”.

After Scott concluded her talk, a local resident shared via video testimony about her experience with The Alpha Center. She said when she found out she was pregnant with another baby, her initial plan was to abort. However, after seeing the ultrasound, and speaking to the local volunteers about her situation, she chose to parent the baby. When the video concluded, with the support of her family members who were also in attendance, she stepped onto the stage with her young baby and thanked those who support the organization.

The night marked the official end of Amanda Steel’s time as Director of The Alpha Center, as she handed the baton to the new Director, Danielle Adams.

Following in a long-standing tradition for this fall event, the dinner at the gala was prepared and served by John 3:16.

To read more about Scott, visit her website.

Both book authors, Robia Scott and Rachel Kelley pose together at The Alpha Center’s Cherish Life Gala on Nov 14 at The Compass Church in Batesville.

THE BSD MILLAGE, PART 1: An auditorium and a gym

This article is the first in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

Batesville School District wants to upgrade its facilities, and fund it via a personal property tax rate increase. It has offered three proposals for citizens to consider.

The Auditorium

All of the three improvement options center around two large additions: an auditorium and a gym.

Russellville School District’s auditorium, which seats 1,875, was used for an event 26 weekends last year, according to their Executive Director, Chrissy Clayton. She said their building hosted 170 events throughout the year, 6 of which filled it to capacity. Thirty of those events were rentals (non-district). The 130,000 square foot Center was completed in 2012, after the people of Russellville said yes to a 6.9 millage.

Hannah Cummings, Theatre Director for Batesville High School, and Josh Poff, Band Director for BHS, visit with Daniel Stahl, the technical director for Russellville’s The Center For the Arts on Sep 14, 2019 during a fact finding trip for the upcoming millage.

Batesville School District no longer has an auditorium.

Its previous auditorium was built in 1951 and was in use by students until last school year, for a total of 68 years.

The cost to renovate the old auditorium up to code would cost 97 percent of what a new building would cost, according to the district’s Buildings and Grounds Steering Committee member Courtney Beal.

To build one that meets the minimum requirements for a 5A school, the district says, would cost $17 million. They want to build a new one.

The Gym

The district also wants to build a new gymnasium, since the current school gym has been used for 50 years. When it was built, the school was classified as 3A, and the population was 33 percent less than now. Also, the only team using it in 1969 was the men’s basketball team.

The school’s architect says a new gym would cost $15 million. Same story with the renovations. It would cost more to renovate than build new.

To build these two facilities, and update existing facilities, the district is asking local property owners to contribute $45 to $85 million.

The Cost

PLAN A, the lowest option, a $45 million bond:

An increase of $13.50 per month per $100,000 of a person’s property value (to include homes, real estate, business, vehicles)

That tax amount increases for Option B and Option C.

Fear

Asking locals to pay a higher tax is not an easy ask. Tight budgets could get tighter. Those on a fixed income would have less. (Click here to read what the local tax collector had to say.)

One of the FAQs, according to the school district’s information, is whether the millage will affect Senior Citizens at the same rate. The answer is yes.

Some of these concerns were expressed by citizens who attended the town hall meeting at the community center on Tuesday, Nov 12.

To hear more concerns being expressed, watch the district’s first meeting, which was broadcast live on White River Now’s social media page, and as of Nov 17, had 4,600 views.

Why should I invest in these two buildings? Will they help the economy grow?

Years ago, voters said yes to a millage for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) to build a 1,500-seat auditorium, hoping it would provide economic growth. The college completed Independence Hall in 2001 and made the final payment in 2018.

According to the Strategic Community Plan Report released by Impact Independence County in 2015: “Despite being a nearly $50 million a year industry, Independence County’s tourism sector has been on a steady decline, both in terms of visitor interest and revenue, for more than a decade.”

Which means that unfortunately, building the largest auditorium in town did not increase tourism revenue during that decade.

Still, the facility is widely used. Examples of recent events there include: former NASA Engineer, Dr. Christine Darden, presented to more than 1,000 local middle school and junior high students on Apr 11, 2019, and Lee Greenwood held a concert there on Sep 7, 2019.

Currently, Batesville School District is not in the running for hosting events. They lose out to places like Russellville, chosen to host the State Thespian Festival in Feb 2019, which lasted three days and included 1,222 high school students from around the state and 98 guest artists, including a producer from New York City. This is their third time to host, and they say they were chosen because of their facility and people.

Will local growth eventually alleviate some of this new tax burden?

Tourism

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has shown growth for nine consecutive years. Batesville wanted to experience that growth, so voters said yes to hiring a full-time position devoted entirely to growing the local tourism. Kyle Christopher was hired in 2016, and since then, the tourism industry in Batesville has been increasing. Last year, visitors paid close to $1 million in taxes to our community, and travel expenditures in the county were up 4.2 percent.

If the tourism industry in Batesville continues to grow, Batesville will grow, and the millage debt can be paid off sooner. (More tax payers means more money for the school and higher property values for land owners.)

Industry

In 2002 (the year after Independence Hall was completed), Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville sold their first mower. They now employ more than 700 people. They manufacture and store their zero-turn mowers in more than one million square feet of facilities, according to their website. They currently host their annual meeting in Little Rock. Batesville does not have the facilities to host a large event like this one.

Banking

Banking deposits in Independence County increased 18 percent in 2018 compared to 2014, according to data reported in the 2018 Economic Report for Batesville and Independence County (Report is available on First Community Bank’s website.)

Healthcare

In 2017, White River Medical Center welcomed its first class of resident doctors, and now has 29 Internal Medicine residents. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) clinic in Batesville welcomed its first class of residents this summer, and at full capacity will have 18 family medicine residents. Many residents do not come alone. They bring family members with them. Which increases the population and economy.

According to the American Medical Association, a physician who practices in Arkansas provides an average yearly economic benefit of $1.8 million to the community where they practice. (Jobs are created to support them. The average number is 11 per physician.)

Unity Health, located in Searcy, has graduated 27 residents since they started in 2015, and has retained 5, or 18.5 percent, to work within their hospital system, according to their Graduate Medical Education Manager, Leslie Provence.

If Batesville follows that same pattern, the area would retain 4 physicians and their families every year. Which means, unless those physicians are directly replacing a retiring physician, the local economy could experience economic growth of $7.2 million per year.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read part 2 in the series, click here.

Tomahawk Chop opens on Main Street

Tomahawk Chop Company is the newest business downtown, adding another entertainment activity to the growing district — and a somewhat unusual one at that.

“It’s an ax throwing entertainment center,” owner Mike Moss described of the new business, located next to door to the Main Attire boutique and The Royal on Main, downtown’s new luxury hotel.

He said Batesville is overdue for more activity-based businesses.

“You can go to the movies and you can go bowling or you can go to a bar… but there’s not much for people to do so we decided to do this,” Moss said, adding that his son Drew is involved in the undertaking as well, handling marketing and IT. Both have enjoyed ax throwing as a personal hobby.

“It’s gaining a lot of interest. It started in Canada, and has come down through the Northeast and is making its way across the United States,” Moss said. “It will garner enough interest to be popular for quite a while I think, because it’s easy to do and you don’t have to be great at it to have fun.” 

Moss said the fact that everyone can do it is one of the reasons he chose the building downtown: it has a wheelchair ramp and he wanted that accessibility.

“We looked around town at different locations… There were a couple on Harrison Street, and we thought about high traffic areas. But parking lots can be kind of hard to get in and out of, and this is kind of an eclectic activity, so downtown kind of made sense… People that come down here come for a purpose, and it’s growing here — you’ve got The Melba, several stores, 109 that’s about to be opened back up, The Pinto, Big’s… It fits with the vibe.”

The space is currently being built out with lanes, each one 10 feet wide and built according to regulation for the leagues associated with the sport:  World Axe Throwing League, International Axe Throwing Federation, and National Axe Throwing Federation. The center will offer about 5 lanes, plus a seating area and a snack bar. Patrons will pay for an hour of play, with the second hour discounted. Admission to the center will be limited to ages 14 and up, with all participants required to sign a waiver.

“You’ll go through a 10-minute safety orientation with one of our staff. They’ll show you how to do it, how not to do it, and make sure you have all the proper attire like closed-toed shoes and no loose jewelry,” Moss explained. “The axes weight between 1.8 and 2.4 pounds each, so it’s a little bit of a workout. You’ll use both hands most of the time, but we’ll have some little axes you can throw with one hand.”

Tomahawk Chop Company is detailing their progress on their Facebook page which has already garnered over 1,000 followers prior to even opening. 

Moss says he gets frequent calls from people anticipating their first visit.

Dinner with Georgeanne: ‘Hodge Podge Soup’

The dilemma:
To make broccoli cheddar soup and add potatoes? OR, to create potato soup and add broccoli?

A few weeks ago, I opened my front door, and immediately noticed a crispness in the air.

Finally… the much anticipated fall season was in the works.

As I’m day dreaming about all things pumpkin and thinking there’s no way my morning could get any better, it did.

My phone rang. On the other end was a dear friend needing my help to help create a soup. Her husband was craving both broccoli cheddar and potato soup.

The dilemma:

To make broccoli cheddar soup and add potatoes?

OR

To create potato soup and add broccoli?

We decided the way to go was to make potato soup and add broccoli (mainly because bacon is more acceptable with potato soup). This has quickly become a staple for both of us, and it’s soup-er easy 😉

Modifications: My husband requested more protein, so white beans were a late (and great!) addition.

HodgePodge Soup

To cook, put everything into the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours or on high  for 3. Stir midway through cooking if possible.

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Optional prep – My family likes the matchstick carrots and the broccoli florets chopped smaller, but if you’re in a time crunch or not serving picky eaters, it isn’t necessary. 

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Top with cheese, chives, bacon, sour cream, or any other of your favorite soup toppings! We usually serve alongside salad and bread. 

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 Cost = $13.75 excluding toppings, garlic 

and pepper, according to Wal-Mart 

grocery app. 

Local historian releases latest: A History of the Ozarks, Vol 2

Brooks Blevins, notable local historian and author, released the second volume in his three-part series A History of the Ozarks and I have been eager to pick up this book ever since.

Volume 2 is subtitled “The Conflicted Ozarks” and deals with the time period surrounding the Civil War. 

Blevins’s thesis: in the period before, during, and after the Civil War, the Ozarks existed as a unique region that simply cannot be defined.

The complexity of the people tucked into the nooks and crannies of the hill region made it a place unlike the rest of Arkansas, unlike the rest of the South, and unlike the rest of the country, Blevins explains in the book.

It was marked deeply by the myriad of immigrants and American Indians who had made the place home. It was a place that due to both geography and intentionality, existed separately from other defined cultures of the time. The only consistent narrative is that there is no consistent narrative. The only stereotype is the complete absence of a true stereotype.

People were diverse, as far as backgrounds, beliefs, ways of life. And in the context of the Civil War, allegiances too.

Blevins emphasized this reality with the introduction of a strange character named Elias Boudinot, who was the son of a Cherokee leader and a white woman. He was born in the Ozarks, raised with the Cherokee, educated in the Northeast, and published a “pro-slavery rag that not only lambasted abolitionists but championed education and industrialization.” The only thing typical about Boudinot and his mish-mash of allegiances was that, in the Ozarks during this time, there was little in the way of “typical”.


EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK 
"...the Ozark region was conflicted in the age of war and reconstruction. Occupying a liminal regional space, a cultural borderland, the Ozarks was part Southern, part Western, part Midwestern. Not completely at home in either the cultural South or the cultural North, the region fittingly and tragically found itself a literal borderland in 1861, straddling the line that demarcated the Confederacy from the Union but never neatly delineated secessionists from Unionists, thousands of each populating both sides of the old thirty-six-degree thirty-minute line as well as the hills of the Indian Territory. It was a blueprint for true civil warfare..."

The book does ask the reader to have a foundational knowledge of Arkansas history and geography. But it is still very much read-able and enjoyable even if you’re iffy about the strength of your local history chops. (This book will take you miles towards developing that understanding, to be sure.)

Brooks Blevins is a Lyon College alumnae, former Lyon College professor, and the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. He is the author or editor of nine books, including A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1; Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South; and Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State.

A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2, is currently available for purchase at the Old Independence Regional Museum.

REVIEW: As usual, Blevins’s depth of research shows, and the author’s passion and experience with the subject matter is obvious. Overall, Brooks Blevins, as always, does the Ozarks proud as a representative native, and as one of the region’s current scholars. We are lucky to have both professional historians like him, and also the handful of amateur sleuths out there who have worked hard to preserve, understand, and tell others the real story of the Ozarks, one that exists beyond the hillbilly stereotypes imposed on the region.

Trying to stay open, Humane Society makes changes, including board and director

Megan Trail, former supervisor of the Humane Society of Independence County, was recently named as the new director, and despite the organization’s financial hardships, she said she is happy to be asked.

“That place has my heart,” she said of the organization. “I love running a shelter. I hope to be there forever and ever.”

Trail’s passion is a reminder of her mentor and Humane Society founder Bev Finch, whose care for the animals and service to the humane society has been highly appreciated, and recognized by several media outlets throughout the years. Click here to read more about Finch.

Finch said Trail has worked at the shelter in all capacities, and therefore knows what to expect from the employees. She describes Megan as a “very passionate animal lover with a good head on her shoulders.”

“[Megan is] competent, hard-working, able to see the big picture, and wants what’s best for the shelter.”

OBSTACLES AHEAD

The average amount the humane society currently spends on an animal prior to its adoption is $265. They charged $50 per adoption in 2011, $75 per adoption in 2015, and now charge $100 for dogs and $90 for cats. In order to get closer to a break-even point, leaders say they have had to identify ways to cut expenses per animal.

“We met with the vets last week, and the first thing we changed are medical procedures,“ said Trail. “We don’t want to over-vet the animals. We have to decide what vet services are necessary and what can be put to the side.”

Additional reductions involve cutting the number of staffed positions from seven employees down to five, and two of the five are part-time.

FINANCIALS

Based upon comparable humane society organizations, Batesville’s has bled money at triple the rate as its closet bleeder, which is the Harrison humane society. The data is based on a six-year period of financials available upon Propublica (2012-2017).

This has led to a yearly decline of net assets.

See chart below for a visual of their change in cash and savings from one year to the next. Red means a decline, black means an incline.

Large, timely, one-time donations, as well as passionate volunteers like Trail and Finch, have kept the doors open until now. The shelter is hopeful for volunteers and donors to keep the doors open in the future. There are 11,000 more animals out there who may have to go without help in the absence of a place like the local humane society.