Important governmental functions, including the collection of taxes and performing census counts, have no relationship to ZIP codes, according to officials.
Government officials at the local, state and federal levels discussed this and other issues Tuesday morning as part of the monthly meeting of ICVR Coffee with the Chiefs held at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Executive Director the Rev. Jesse C. Turner said that he gathered the panel together to allow experts to answer some of the questions arising in the community over the 71602 ZIP code and the fact that it encompasses sections of Pine Bluff and all of White Hall.
“This is an issue that has been discussed frequently in the news and in the community and we have people here today who can, hopefully, bring some clarity to these issues,” Turner said.
U.S. Census Bureau official Toni Pitchford said that the population data gathered by her federal agency is in no way connected to or dependent upon ZIP code information.
“We get the boundary information we need from cities to identify where we are supposed to be counting,” Pitchford said. “Postal ZIP code population numbers have absolutely nothing to do with the population count carried out by the U. S. Census Bureau.”
Pitchford said that the most important issue for Pine Bluff residents on the topic of population numbers is ensuring that as many residents as possible are counted in the 2020 census.
“Residents need to understand what an accurate population count means to them,” Pitchford said. “Over $440 billion in federal funds are distributed annually based on census population counts. An accurate count means that an accurate amount of money goes to each city.”
Concerns over whether Pine Bluff is receiving the proper amount of local tax receipts were addressed by Roberta Overman and Tom Atchley with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
As manager of the DFA sales and use tax section, Overman is responsible for collecting state and local taxes from businesses.
“When local sales taxes were first enacted, all jurisdictions were assigned a four-digit numeric code,” Overman said.
Overman said that Jefferson County is designated 3500 and Pine Bluff is designated 3501 under the DFA system.
Overman said that all businesses are required to utilize the DFA’s online address-based look-up system to determine the correct local tax collection jurisdiction.
Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps asked Overman what can be done to eliminate the problem of vendors from outside of the area coming to do work in Pine Bluff and not using the DFA address look-up system.
“How does the tax go to the right place if the vendor doesn’t use your system?” Stepps said.
Overman said that her office receives calls on a regular basis from both customers and businesses pertaining to local taxes being collected incorrectly.
“All sellers are required by law to use the DFA address-based look up system to figure local tax,” Overman said. “Nobody should be figuring taxes based on ZIP codes alone.”
Stepps said that his concern was over those vendors who do not use the DFA system despite it being illegal not to do so.
“My concern is that if vendors are using the ZIP code to determine which local tax to pay, it is a serious problem,” Stepps said.
Overman said that some of the erroneous tax collection efforts are caught when the DFA conducts field audits.
Atchley, the excise tax administrator with the DFA, answered a question posed by Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays, who asked whether city boundaries are important tax collection efforts.
“City boundary lines are most important when it comes to collecting the right tax amount,” Atchley said. “But ZIP codes are not. It is actually common across the country for ZIP codes to cross city boundaries. In some cases ZIP codes actually cross state boundaries. A ZIP code is a method that the U.S. Postal Service uses to deliver mail. That is all it is.”
Jefferson County Assessor Yvonne Humphrey said that no system is perfect but she works every day to ensure to the best of her ability that the correct taxes are collected from each county resident.
“We don’t worry about ZIP codes,” Humphrey said. “We worry about things like school district boundaries to make sure that all of the districts get the correct tax revenues. Are mistakes made? Sure. We are human and the machines we use have glitches from time to time. But by and large things get done the way that they should. Anyone with specific concerns related to anything that has been discussed today should find out which agency is responsible for the area where you believe a problem is and take your concerns to them.”
Turner attempted to have United States Postal Service Pine Bluff Postmaster Nathaniel Balentine address the audience via speakerphone in light of his last-minute inability to attend, but the volume was not loud enough for him to be heard.