Local billboard owners said a proposed ordinance taxing billboards in Ash Flat is unfair.
"I feel if you single out one business it's pretty discriminatory in nature in itself," said Cleatus Wiles, who owns and operates Wiles Outdoor Advertising in Ash Flat, at the Dec. 16 city council meeting.
The ordinance will assess an annual fee of 10 cents per square foot of advertising space on billboards. The fee is to be paid by billboard owners. City businesses with billboards on the same property advertising their business will be excluded from the annual fee.
City attorney Larry Kissee told the council the Arkansas Gross Proceeds Act, which charges a 3-percent tax, excludes billboards.
Wiles said that beauty shops, barbers, abstract and title companies, livestock auctions, doctors' offices, daycares and attorneys are all exempt from tax, although all business owners, including himself, pay income tax.
Not only billboards, but advertising in general is exempt from tax, she said. Connie Gray of Harrison owns property that would be affected by the ordinance.
Gray said advertising is the backbone of commercial business. It expands sales, which correlates into more jobs and more growth to the area, she said. The exclusion of billboards to taxes is giving up $1 for a return of $10, she said.
"Some people don't like billboards the same way as people don't like gray hair," she said. "Is it appropriate to charge me for my gray hair?"
Wiles said he has five structures in the city limits of Ash Flat. Only one stands on his property. He pays rent for the other space, he said.
The proposed city law would cost Wiles approximately $480 a year, said Wiles' son, Chad, who works in the business with his father. The local company owns five advertising structures in the city limits with approximately 4,800 square feet of advertising space.
If the city were to approve the tax, it would simply trickle down to Wiles' customers, primarily local small business owners, Cleatus Wiles said.
The local company is already paying taxes on another business. The company sells storage buildings and carports for an out-of-town company. In 2004, the local business sold approximately $190,000 of storage buildings and carports for the company, Cleatus Wiles said. In 2005 that figure will be more than $200,000, he said.
Kissee had warned the council that billboard owners will fight back, possibly in court, if the council proceeds with the ordinance. The legal battle could cost the city more than the tax would bring in, he said.
The council tabled the issue until the ordinance is prepared by Kissee. The ordinance was expected to be presented at the Dec. 16 meeting, but Kissee had been ill and unable to complete it in time.
Jerry Garrett, market manager for Lamar Outdoor Advertising of Jonesboro, also attended the meeting.
The council gave the county a used Dodge Durango for District Court Judge Mark Johnson's community service program.
The county's 1982 Suburban is unrepairable, Johnson said. He had originally asked the council for $2,000 to help fund the cost of a replacement vehicle.
The Durango had been used by the Ash Flat Police Department, which is expecting a new vehicle to be delivered in the coming weeks.
Until the new vehicle is delivered, some officers will occasionally ride together in the same vehicle, Police Chief Mike Zeiger said.