Zipping up fruitless discussion

Hopefully, Pine Bluff City Council member Steven Mays has finally heard the same answer from enough sources to set aside his errant fixation on the matter of the 71602 ZIP code.

In a series of meetings and conversations, the most recent of which was held via conference call with Arkansas Geographic Information Officer Tony Davis, Mays and other city officials yet again were told that the ZIP code of a given address had no bearing on what taxes might come from sales at that location.

We cede that Mays and the other supporters of his quest were acting out of a concern over potentially missed tax revenues due the city of Pine Bluff. In times such as these, we can ill-afford to let any taxpaying entity misdirect what is rightfully the city’s due.

So, as well-intended as this effort might have been from the outset, the concern has been addressed and the matter should be laid aside, as the focus on the 71602 ZIP has turned out to be irrelevant. As Davis explained: “The ZIP code has absolutely nothing to do with city boundaries. A ZIP code is technically not even a boundary. It is a route system. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other … Really anyone who figures tax information based on ZIP codes is breaking the law.”

“Nothing,” that should be the definitive last nail in this misguided coffin.

Davis did, however, go on to note a lingering issue that is relevant and in need of attention: city boundaries. Davis stated that keeping accurate and up-to-date boundary maps is a necessity 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 during the conference call.

In this revelation, Mays’ efforts have some value. While it had no bearing on his original area of inquiry, having an outside expert identify an actual area of concern is a good outcome as accurate boundaries do bear directly on tax revenues. Moreover, the issue of accurate boundary maps has a pretty straightforward solution.

As Davis went on to clarify: “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.”

This does, however, lead to another area of need in city management. There is no one employed full-time by the city who is an expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is the term used to describe the technology used by planners, inspectors, public administration experts and many others tasked with monitoring the safety, growth and future of a community. In short, a GIS expert specializes in map making and the analysis of spatial data.

This kind of expertise can be important in resolving property disputes, zoning, roadway maintenance, drainage and a litany of other common functions of city government. Of course, GIS experts don’t come cheaply, but neither does the proper management of a city.

While Mays may have followed a wild goose on the matter of ZIP codes, his efforts have not been totally in vain. Through his pursuit of that issue we have now identified a pair of issues that are relevant and need attention.