Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Monday, February 26, 2007

More Tax Cuts for Arkansans

In addition to the state’s largest tax cut in history (reducing the sales tax on groceries by 50%) more good news arrived this week on a variety of tax cuts. These measures are designed to boost the economy, make Arkansas more attractive to business and retirees who carefully study tax implications before moving to a new state, and help many of our most vulnerable residents.

Increase in Homestead Tax Credit Becomes Law

An increase of $50 in the homestead tax credit was signed into law. Currently, homeowners in Arkansas are eligible for a credit of up to $300 on taxes for their principal residence. The new maximum credit of $350 will become effective with the 2007 assessment year and will appear on property tax bills in 2008.

There are approximately 696,000 homesteads in Arkansas and it is expected that about 538,000 homesteads will we benefit from some or all of the additional $50 tax credit.

The homestead tax credits are financed by a one-half percent sales tax collected by the state, which, in turn, reimburses the counties for the property taxes they did not collect because of the tax credits. According to the state finance department, a $60 million balance was on hand at the end of last year. Governor Beebe has stated, “We were able to determine that we could conservatively and reasonably [increase the credit] and still be sound going into the future.”

Income Tax Cuts for Working Poor Move Closer

It looks like state income tax cuts for low-income people are on the horizon. The House tax committee has endorsed a bill that would exempt approximately 62,000 Arkansans from paying state income tax.

In its current form, the bill would eliminate the following groups from state income tax:

Single people with an annual gross income tax (AGI) of less than $10,200;
Married couples filing jointly with less than two dependents and AGI less than $17,200;
Married couples filing jointly with two or more dependents and AGI less than $20,700;
Head of Household filers with AGI less than $13,700.

Arkansans with income above the federal poverty level but less than 33% above it would receive tax credits to partially offset state income tax. The state finance department estimates 89,000 taxpayers would be eligible for these credits.

This is a step in the right direction. Just imagine a family of four (or more) trying to make ends meet on less than $20,700 a year. If this bill becomes law, it would provide tax relief for people in low-paying jobs and cut the workload at the Department of Revenue at the same time.

A Bill Advances to Equalize Taxes on Military Officers and Enlisted Personnel

Under existing law, enlisted military personnel do not pay state income tax on the first $9,000 of pay. However, officers are taxed on all military pay over $6,000.
The $3,000 difference seems strange to me and apparently to Rep. Sandra Prater, D-Jacksonville, as well. She has introduced a bill that would make the first $9,000 of military pay exempt from state income tax, regardless of rank. The bill passed the House and Senate and has been sent to the Governor.

Reducing Sales Taxes on Utilities Paid by Manufacturers

Bills to reduce the sales tax that manufacturers pay on natural gas and electricity seem to be sailing through the legislature. If signed into law as expected, the sales tax paid on utilities used by manufacturers would decrease from 6% to 4.5% on July 1, 2007. Another scheduled decrease would drop the tax to 4% on July 1, 2008.

State officials say the decreases will reduce state revenue by $20.2 million next fiscal year and $30.5 million the next year.

Perhaps your first reaction to this news might be “What about the taxes I pay on utilities? I’d like to pay less, too.” But the situation bears a closer look.

Arkansas needs to retain the industry it has while at the same time it must recruit more economic development to the state. The 6% sales tax on utilities puts Arkansas at a disadvantage. Most of the neighboring states charge manufacturers lower or even zero sales tax on utilities.

The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce is a strong advocate of this tax cut. If it passes, Arkansas will be in a more favorable position to recruit new employers. Arkansas is still trying to land a huge Toyota plant and there are other possibilities on the horizon.

I say go for it - I’m tired of hearing about the ones that get away, especially now with the recent loss of manufacturing jobs in this area.

For more information on these subjects:





Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Tax Cut Benefits Everyone in Arkansas

Effective July 1, 2007, the state sales tax on groceries will be cut in half – from 6% to 3%. The details are still being worked out but this much is definite: When you buy groceries for human consumption, you will be taxed 3% less than the current rate.

The average savings is estimated to be at least $200.00 per year for a family of four.

Other items you buy at the grocery store will continue be taxed at 6%. That includes such things as paper products, cleaning supplies, pet food, diapers, personal grooming items and miscellaneous household supplies.

The reduction in sales tax is possible because the State of Arkansas has a huge surplus on hand and that surplus seems to be increasing each month. One recent estimate is an $844 million surplus in the state’s coffers by June 30, 2007.

There are innumerable ways to spend the surplus – roads, education, tax rebates and reductions, health care, ad infinitum.

But here is the plain truth: No tax is more regressive and repugnant than a tax on food! Everyone has to eat and levying a sales tax on food simply means that the lower a person’s income, the higher the percentage of their income they must spend in order to feed their families.

I urge the legislature and Governor Beebe to eliminate the remaining 3% tax on groceries in the near future. But that might be hard--it would have been better not to tax food in the first place, as other states have done. But this tax cut is a step in the right direction.

Note: County and city sales taxes remain unchanged. It’s possible some local governments may find it possible to lower their tax rates in the future but they remain in place for now. For instance, Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville all have sales tax rates of 2%. In addition to the city taxes, Benton County assesses an additional 1% while Washington County’s sales tax rate is an additional 1.25%.

Please watch for an additional article I expect to write soon on other tax cuts already signed into law or under consideration in the legislature.

For more information:




Monday, February 19, 2007

What is the Economic Impact of Hispanic-Owned Businesses in NW Arkansas?

Seeing signs recently in Fayetteville about a Korean restaurant preparing to open triggered thoughts of the many small businesses in NW Arkansas owned and operated by immigrants.

Minority-owned businesses are nothing new, of course. They have been the backbone of America since immigrants first came to America. As the immigrant population grows throughout the U.S., so does the number of businesses owned by minorities.

According to a new study by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City think tank, immigrants have been more likely to be self-employed than native-born residents in every U.S. census since 1880. Further, immigrant entrepreneurs have been an overlooked and little-understood piece of cities' economies. The research shows that more businesses are being started by foreign-born vs. native-born entrepreneurs in major cities, driving growth in sectors from food manufacturing to health care.

NW Arkansas mirrors the nationwide trend.

Benton County’s overall population grew by 22% in the five-year period 2000 to 2005. At the same time, the Hispanic population grew 78%, from slightly over 13,000 to nearly 24,000. Hispanic population in Washington County showed a slightly smaller percentage of increase, 73%, while the overall population increase in Washington County was 14%. Translating that to numbers means the Hispanic population grew from approximately 13,000 to more than 22,000. Certainly no other ethnic group comes close to such an increase in our area.

So, it’s no surprise to see to see more and more signs in Spanish while traveling in the two counties. There are restaurants, grocery stores, auto sales and repair shops, clothing stores, daycare centers, real estate agents, notaries public, Spanish-speaking radio stations and newspapers, and more.

For many immigrants, entrepreneurship is the best way to rise above a menial, low-paying. Immigrants are known for their willingness to work hard to obtain a brighter future for themselves and their children.

However, they face many significant roadblocks, notably the language barrier and lack of available business loans. Another problem stems from the perception of banks and chambers of commerce the immigrants brought with them from their native lands.

It sometimes takes years for immigrants to feel secure enough to divulge business and personal information to banks. Many immigrants do not comprehend what a banker means when asked about their “business plan.” Their plan is to join with family members and work long, hard hours.

There is no doubt that minority-owned businesses contribute greatly to our local economy but the amount of the impact is difficult to determine. No one in NW Arkansas has made a thorough study. Some area chambers of commerce are reaching out to the Hispanic community, as are some banks. However, a comprehensive study is lacking.

The cost of such a study is the biggest obstacle. The Skyline Report, an economic summary of the real estate market in NW Arkansas which I frequently mention in my blog, is prepared for Arvest Bank by the Center for Business and Economic Research of the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. I’ve read estimates that the Skyline Report costs $250,000 annually. While certainly expensive, this comprehensive analysis is extremely useful for measuring the real estate market.

I believe the economic impact of Hispanic-owned businesses is being overlooked at best and ignored at worst. It is time for a thorough study of their importance in NW Arkansas.

The Hispanic population is the largest minority group in NW Arkansas and the U.S. There is no sense in burying our heads in the sand any longer; Hispanics, as well as other ethnic groups, are here to stay.

Perhaps one of the banks could see the benefits of such a study or area chambers of commerce could join together to fund an analysis. It needs to be done.

For more information:



+--+Massachusetts+news (copy and paste this entire link to read the article)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

4th Quarter Skyline Report Released on NW Arkansas Housing Market

This past week the Skyline Report for the 4th Quarter of 2006 was released. Announced at a breakfast sponsored by Arvest Bank for Realtors®, developers, and others on Tuesday, February 13, Kathy Deck (Interim Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research) summarized the trends as presented by the data for the 4th quarter of 2006.

The Skyline Report is an economic summary of the real estate market in NW Arkansas, prepared for Arvest Bank by the Center for Business and Economic Research of the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. As Realtors®, we are very fortunate to have this kind of statistical analysis available to us, since it provides scientifically prepared data which confirms our sometimes-anecdotal experience of the real estate market.

The 4th quarter summary provided some interesting statistics. For the past several years, the results have revealed a tendency of builders and developers to build too many homes, especially expensive homes, which are now sitting on the market. However, this report showed some changes in this behavior, which I would interpret as positive indicators for the NW Arkansas housing market. But there was bad news as well as good news, depending on whether one lives or does business in Washington or Benton County.

According to Kathy Deck, the number of building permits drawn in Benton County has “fallen off a cliff,” particularly in Rogers. They were significantly down in the 4th quarter of 2006. For the housing market as a whole, this was a very necessary step because of the extreme oversupply of homes available in Benton County. The result has been that the number of complete but unoccupied homes in Benton County fell for the first time in many quarters, while the annual absorption rate continued to grow. This means that homes on the market are being purchased by people continuing to move into the area. There are still homes being built but at a slower pace, and employment growth continues at over 600 new jobs per month, which bodes well for continued absorption of homes. Another positive factor is that the price point of the permits pulled indicates a recognition of the need for more affordable housing. In Benton County this was for homes between $100,000 and $150,000 (not including the value of the land).

The data for Washington County, on the other hand, posed some warning signals. Although the number of building permits for Washington County was also down, and the number of homes under construction in active subdivisions was also down, the number of complete but unoccupied homes in Washington County continued to rise, while the absorption rate fell slightly. This means that homes currently on the market will take somewhat longer to sell, compared to Benton County. And with regard to the price point of permits pulled, the price point during the 4th quarter of 2006 was between $150,000 to $200,000 (not including land), which means that more expensive homes are still being built, despite a somewhat inflated supply already available in Washington County.

What this means for buyers is that it is a very good time to purchase a home, since interest rates are still low and there is a lot of housing inventory to choose from, especially if the buyer wants to purchase a new home. For sellers (including builders of new homes) this means that buyers are now calling the shots, so sellers need to price their homes competitively. Conditions are still “worse” in Benton County than in Washington County for builders with a lot of new unsold homes.

Some of the statistics of the report summary include:

1. There were 21,037 lots in the 301 active subdivisions in NW Arkansas in the 4th quarter, up from the previous quarter. Using the most recent annual absorption rate, the supply of remaining lots in those active subdivisions is sufficient for 47.0 months (almost 4 years worth).

2. In the 4th quarter of 2006, there were 2551 complete but unoccupied houses, compared to 2956 in the 3rd quarter. Benton County experienced a decline of 25.5% in available complete inventory from the 3rd quarter of 2006, but an increase of 92.4% in available complete inventory from the 4th quarter of 2005. This is to be compared with the 3rd quarter increase if 229% increase in inventory between the 3rd quarter of 2005 and 2006. In comparison, Washington County experienced a 28.1% inventory increase over the past quarter and a cumulative increase of 33.4% over the past year.

3. From August 16 to November 15, 2006, there were 1784 existing houses sold in Benton and Washington Counties. This is a decline of 21.1% from the same time period in 2005. Even as recently as the 3rd quarter, the decline (compared to the 3rd quarter of 2005) was only 3.1%. What that means is that home sales during the 3rd quarter of 2006 continued relatively stable, while in the 4th quarter the number of home sales declined significantly.

4. In the 4th quarter of 2006 in NW Arkansas, the average sales price of existing houses declined from 4th quarter 2005 levels by 4.5% in Washington County (compared to a continued increase of 2.3% in the 3rd quarter). In Benton County the average sales price continued to climb by 8.0%. .

5. There were an additional 19,811 residential lots that have been at least preliminarily approved in NW Arkansas. Adding these proposed lots to those in active subdivisions yields a whopping 114.8 months of inventory in NW Arkansas (that’s 9.6 years for those who don’t want to do the math).

6. Surprisingly, although construction is down, in terms of employment in NW Arkansas the Construction sector continued to have the highest growth rate. Manufacturing lost jobs, while all other sectors increased. The 2nd highest sector was Professional and Business services, while 3rd was Health and Educational services. Other sectors grew more slowly.

So what does this all mean for buyers and sellers of homes?

As with my analysis of the previous, 3rd quarter 2006 report, the same trends apply. If no new subdivisions are approved, even in the ones already approved and underway, there are a lot of homes out there, ready for sale—over 4 years worth in active subdivisions and almost 10 years worth in additional subdivisions already approved if these are built out. Economists might see the drop in new building permits as a negative factor, but I see it as an indication that builders and developers are finally getting smart and putting on the brakes to conform to the current reality. A further aspect of this data means that many of the approved subdivisions may not get built out quickly, given the supply of already finished homes on the market now.

Home prices as a whole are not going down, at least in Benton County. There may be some individual sellers who had their homes priced too high (from the recent seller’s market) and have adjusted them to current market conditions (a buyer’s market). But although home values are not increasing at the double digits of the past several years, there is still appreciation taking place. In Washington County, however, home prices have come down. What this means for buyers still sitting on the fence is that a significant adjustment has already taken place. It may continue into the present quarter, but I would foresee that by the time the good weather hits during the 2nd quarter of this year, prices will begin to go up again as more buyers hit the streets.

All in all, the “sky is NOT falling”, and I see the outlook for the NW Arkansas housing market as positive. Contrary to the national media hype, what’s happening in California and elsewhere is not happening here, and buyers seem to realize this. Anecdotally, business has been picking up despite the bad weather, and because inventory is still high, buyers have a lot to choose from. But because of the overbuilding as indicated by the Skyline report, some of those high-ticket homes may continue to sit for awhile.

One thing I should mention is that that Skyline Report is a phenomenal undertaking. What the Center for Business and Economic Research does is obtain data from the different cities about subdivision approvals, building permits, etc. Then they send out university students to physically examine what is happening on each lot in active subdivisions. They note whether lots are vacant, started (i.e. a slab), under construction, finished but not occupied, or occupied homes. The center also examines data from the NW Arkansas Multiple Listing Service as to home sales data and prices for homes, i.e. average and median prices for different areas

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Recent Census Estimates 839 Homeless in NW Arkansas

As the once-small towns of NW Arkansas grow, and the area becomes more urbanized, problems found in larger metropolitan areas are beginning to surface. One of these is homelessness.

Here the homeless are mostly invisible. Most people like it that way – if they don’t see the homeless, it is easy to put them out of mind. But the reality is that more than 800 men, women, and children are homeless in Benton and Washington Counties.

839 is the preliminary count of homeless people conducted over a 24-hour period January 25-26 by the four major cities of NW Arkansas (Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville).

The homeless situation in NW Arkansas is certainly not unique. There are homeless people all over the country, in cities and towns both large and small. I honestly don’t know whether the number of people needing help in NW Arkansas is higher or lower than national averages.

But I am shocked to learn that nearly 400 children are homeless! It is difficult to comprehend that 400 children in prosperous NW Arkansas face uncertainty, hunger, cold, and discomfort every day.

Some of the causes of homelessness are well known – mental health issues, lack of education or job training, drug/alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, and marital problems to name a few.

But I feel another major issue is the cost of living in NW Arkansas. It has become too expensive for the average worker. Many of the homeless actually have jobs but wages have not kept pace with the cost of living. Some walk to work, others ride a bicycle, the bus, or find someone who will give them a ride. I think some people are so discouraged and disheartened they come to believe their situation is hopeless.

The Northwest Arkansas Housing Coalition, which began in 2003, has an ambitious goal – to end homelessness within ten years. It represents about 30 organizations and cities in seven counties.
Census data will be used to formulate short and long term plans to help the homeless. The data will also be used in the coalition's Department of Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care applications for federal assistance.

I applaud the coalition for everything they are doing and all they hope to do to help human beings who have so little. Their efforts are in dramatic contrast with those of some other cities, such as Orlando and Fort Myers, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Those cities have burgeoning homeless populations and are passing laws that would make it difficult to provide aid to them.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Last Chance to Influence Decision on Fayetteville’s High School Expansion

February 15, 2007 is the last day to have your voice heard regarding the future of Fayetteville High School(s). The decisions at hand are twofold: whether to convert from one to two high schools and whether to add 9th grade to high school.

The Future of Fayetteville High School Select Committee has been encouraging the public to make suggestions and comments to help with the recommendation process. The committee has been meeting for months and plans to meet February 15 to finalize its report.

The report will be presented to the school board February 22.

A city’s public school system is a matter of great importance to all its citizens. Quality of life, perception of the city in general, real estate values, property taxes and more are all affected.

If you haven’t already commented, please take time to peruse the Future of Fayetteville High School Select Committee’s website. There you will find answers to many questions plus a blog. There is also a comment form.

Voice mail messages for the committee may be left at 479-973-8679. (Note phone number 973-9679 on the comment form is incorrect.)

The deadline for your input is prior to the committee meeting February 15, 2007.

Link to committee’s website:

Link to my blog article dated July 24, 2006: