GIS official: ZIP codes not important in debate, but accurate maps are

ZIP codes have no bearing on tax collections, Arkansas Geographic Information Officer Tony Davis told city officials Tuesday, but he did suggest the city look at updating its boundary maps.

The Pine Bluff City Council 71602 ZIP code special committee members Ward 4 Aldermen Steven Mays and George Stepps and Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker were joined by Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and Assistant to the Mayor Evelyn Horton for the conference call discussion with Davis.

Mays asked Davis what role ZIP codes play in tax collection — specifically because of the 71602 ZIP code shared by Pine Bluff and White Hall — and Davis had a succinct answer.

“The ZIP code has absolutely nothing to do with city boundaries,” Davis said. “A ZIP code is technically not even a boundary. It is a route system. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other.”

Stepps said that he was concerned that Pine Bluff may be missing out on local taxes that are collected by vendors who rely on ZIP codes to determine local taxes instead of Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration data.

“Really anyone who figures tax information based on ZIP codes is breaking the law,” Davis said.

Davis accessed his database at various times during the conference call — including address-specific data within the 71602 ZIP code — to aid in the clarification of several points.

Davis demonstrated that the Department of Finance and Administration database keeps track of where the tax dollars from each household are supposed to go even in neighborhoods where Pine Bluff and White Hall meet.

Davis said that keeping boundary data current is important for any municipality.

“You need to have your city attorney find the most recent annexation data and make sure that it has been filed with the county clerk and with the Secretary of State,” Davis said.

Davis said that all municipal annexations must be filed with these two state agencies to ensure that subsequent mapping data is accurate.

“The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department produces political boundary maps based on the data they get from the Secretary of State’s Office, so the maps are only as good as the data that is on file,” Davis said.

Hollingsworth agreed that the city needs to be proactive in keeping its records updated. She also said it is important to emphasize to the public the importance of participating in the U.S. Census.

“Toni Pitchford with the Census Bureau said that the 2010 Census saw only a 60 to 65 percent questionnaire return rate for Pine Bluff when the national average is 80 to 85 percent,” Hollingsworth said.