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EDITORIAL: Citizens should be given voice

Self-government — that’s what being an American is about.

Government works best when citizens decide their own fate.

The closer government is to the people, the better government is.

Obviously, the masses cannot vote on every issue.

That is why we have a Republic, a representative form of government.

However, when it is possible for citizens to have a direct vote on issues that directly affect them, it is best.

That is why voter referendums on local issues make good sense and make for good government.

If a legislator truly runs for office to represent citizens, then that legislator would welcome any opportunity to hear from citizens, whether it is through their collective voice in a referendum or in a face-to-face meeting, such as a town hall.

In Jonesboro, citizens have an opportunity to speak to their elected state legislators in a town hall meeting Monday evening, regarding the proposed lowering of the municipality’s homestead exemption, property tax trigger.

Legislators will have the opportunity to listen.

People often complain they do not have a voice in local, state or national government.

Monday evening they will have a voice, if they choose to exercise it.

We encourage Jonesboro residents to show up — and speak up.

We encourage the legislative delegation to show up — and listen.

At issue is whether city residents will have an opportunity to vote either for or against lowering the current $60,000 homestead exemption to $10,000.

It should be clearly understood, that at this point the issue being considered by members of the county’s legislative delegation is not whether to lower the exemption, but is whether to allow citizens to have a say in whether to lower the exemption by placing it on the November ballot.

If the measure dies in the state House of Representatives because of a lack of sponsorship, then basically it represents a refusal by members of the delegation to allow Jonesboro citizens the right to have a say in their own city’s future.

Whether state representatives support the lowering of the exemption should not even be a consideration.

This is a question about citizens having a voice, not a question about property taxes.

If members of the delegation do the right thing and allow citizens to map out their own future, then the people of Jonesboro will decide the tax issue themselves, and that is the way it should be.

Why would any legislator want to deny any citizen of the right to vote on any measure?

When it comes down to the decision about the lowering of the assessed property value at which homeowners will be required to begin paying property tax, the issue can be complicated. Should homeowners bear some of the burden of funding city services? Should business owners carry the bulk of the tax burden? Will the modest amount that residential property owners could have to pay with the lowering of the exemption be worth the services the city provides its residents?

All those questions are valid and important.

However, they are questions for another day and they are most appropriately questions for Jonesboro residents themselves, not for legislators.

The town hall meeting should focus on the question of whether the issue is on the ballot for citizens to decide and not so much on the homestead exemption trigger itself.

The state House of Representatives is not even considering the exemption, it is considering the right to vote on the exemption.

Citizens should be at the Jonesboro Police Department headquarters for the town hall at 7 p.m., Monday.

We suggest the message they should send the legislature is, “Let us decide our own future.”

Citizens should show up en masse and not because they support the lowering of the exemption or because they oppose it.

Jonesboro citizens, you should crowd the meeting hall because you believe local issues should be decided at the local level.

— Editor Jim Zachary