Three rural revenue offices scheduled to close by Dec. 1 may be able to keep their doors open.
"We've extended an offer to all the offices that were scheduled to close," said Preston Means, assistant commissioner of revenue. "We will continue to pay salary and supply costs if the city or county would cover the rent, utilities and the data connection to Little Rock -- basically all the costs except for salaries and supplies."
A great deal of public opposition was generated when state officials announced 33 rural offices throughout the state would be closing. Locals have said the closure of the offices in Mammoth Spring, Horseshoe Bend and Cave City would make it less convenient for them to conduct business.
The part-time offices aren't the only ones feeling the blow of budget constraints in the state. Ten five-day offices were to close. Four other offices were to merge. The measures were estimated to save the state $640,000 annually.
"There was a performance audit conducted of revenue offices in the state and it looked at the cost figures and the costs per transaction," Means said. "The audit made recommendations for closures based on the high cost of doing business."
Clerks were told they would not lose their jobs but be transferred to larger revenue offices.
Means said the recent proposal came about after some cities and counties contacted the state office and offered the same deal to keep the one-day-a-week offices open.
"It was hard to say no to that because it made sense," Means said. "We decided to extend the offer to all the small offices scheduled for closure."
Means said he has received commitments from seven cities or counties who have accepted the offer and will keep their offices open. In order to allow local governments to meet and discuss the proposal, the closings, originally scheduled for Dec. 1, have been postponed until mid to late December.
Before the offer was presented, several petitions were circulated in Cave City to try to convince legislators to keep the one-day-a-week office open, but they were never sent in, Cave City Mayor Carl Johnson said.
The Cave City office has been in operation for more than 20 years and is provided to the state rent and utility free. The additional cost to the city is estimated at $3,600 annually to provide the office with telephone service and a computer line that connects the local office to revenue headquarters in Little Rock. The council has approved the offer.
"We already furnish everything else for them anyway," Johnson said. "The way I understood it was they would move it right back in when the council approved it (the contract)."
Horseshoe Bend Mayor Bob Spear said he received the offer from the state, but with the telephone line and computer costs expected to total more than $6,600 alone, keeping the office open would cost more than $10,000 annually -- money Horseshoe Bend doesn't have to spend.
"We just simply can't afford it," Spear said.
Mammoth Spring City Council hasn't decided whether they will accept the state's offer but is to decide at the Dec. 1 council meeting. Secretary Raynea Busch said the computer costs are expected to be between $5,000 and $8,000 annually for the office.
Rep. Paul Miller said he thinks the scheduled closing of the offices were a type of retaliation to legislators who voted against the governor's school consolidation plan brought about by the Lake View lawsuit.
"It's just not right and I'm not going to vote for it," Miller said. "Arkansas is just a rural state and we're just having a battle with those city boys."
Miller said although he understands not all cities will be able to pay to keep the rural offices open, he hopes that many will foot the bill for at least a year.
"My intention is to get them (the rural offices) opened back up and have them operate for a year," Miller said. "Then the next legislative session which begins January 2005, hopefully I will get these funded by the state again. I'll be pushing hard."