City treasurer adds voice to group concerned about state tax database

The Pine Bluff city treasurer said Thursday that research he conducted led him to believe that recent concerns voiced by city aldermen over whether local taxes are being properly collected may have some merit.

Speaking at a community town hall meeting on the 71602 ZIP code hosted by Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays, City Treasurer Greg Gustek said that he and city Department of Finance Director Steve Miller investigated the accuracy of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration’s online address database that is used to properly figure local taxes.

“After this was discussed at Tuesday’s Coffee with the Chiefs, we decided to see what we could find out,” Gustek said. “I put in my Pine Bluff address, which is in the 71602 ZIP code, and the system rejected me. It said that my address was in White Hall. So I then entered my address and changed the ZIP code to 71601. It still said I lived in White Hall but it did calculate the correct Pine Bluff tax information.”

Gustek said that he contacted the DF&A and that the agency will have one of its agents investigate why the system refused to accept his address as being in Pine Bluff.

Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps, who said that he worked with the DF&A for 37 years, said that he is certain that errors are being made because of confusion over the 71602 ZIP code and the errors are costing Pine Bluff tax revenue.

“I am sure that a lot of these businesses who come into this area to do work don’t take the time to go onto the DF&A website to figure out which local tax to collect,” Stepps said. “Even though it is illegal, a lot of them are just going by the ZIP code and if it comes up as 71602 and White Hall, then that is the tax they go with, even if the residence is in Pine Bluff.”

Stepps said that residents need to be educated about the importance of filling out their U.S. Census forms.

“When people don’t fill out their forms, we end up with the potential for receiving less funding from the federal government,” Stepps said.

Mays discussed the importance of maintaining updated city boundary maps and had several such maps produced by the Arkansas Geographic Information Office on easels at the front of the sanctuary of St. James United Methodist Church, where the meeting was held.

“We need to make sure that our boundaries are correct,” Mays said.

One of the maps showed the city limit demarcation line between Pine Bluff and White Hall passing through the middle of stores in the Woodlands Plaza shopping center on U.S. Highway 270 near the intersection with Jefferson Parkway.

“I would love to know how the correct taxes are figured for those stores,” Stepps said.

While Mays said that he fears an annexation of adjoining areas of Pine Bluff by White Hall prior to the 2020 Census, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that such an event cannot happen in secret.

“There has to be a vote by city government before any annexation can take place,” Hollingsworth said. “It is a public process.”

Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker said that the city council request to the U.S. postmaster general to let Pine Bluff be the sole holder of the 71602 ZIP code will be sent by the first of next week.

“We approved this in the council Monday night,” Walker said. “We are asking that White Hall be assigned a new ZIP code and that Pine Bluff have the 71602 ZIP code exclusively. We are also asking that mail for Pine Bluff addresses be processed at the post office on Eighth Avenue.”