Broad strokes, not find details normal for special election ballot

Members of the Heber Springs City Council had called meeting Monday, Dec. 7 to discuss the ballot for an special election to be held in March. The council is expected make a final decision on the special election during their regular meeting Thursday, Dec. 17 at the Heber Springs Community Center.

In March Heber Springs voters will be asked to retire the current bond issue, and issue new bonds. This bond extension is estimated to generate $11 million worth of revenue for brick and mortar infrastructure repairs.

Mayor Jimmy Clark explained that repairs to infrastructure have been ignored in the area for so long, now is a good opportunity to take care of those needs.

“We got to all understand the total mission should be economic development and that’s what public safety does with a fire station, what the drainage issue would do. It’s not a new tax, it’s a new issue, and the way you do it is just like how we built this facility (the community center). We went to the public, told them what we could do, what we would have, what it would cost,” Clark said.

Mike McBride, with Stephens Inc. financial services, explained to the council why projects listed on the ballot are grouped the way they are.

“It’s almost irresponsible to say ‘this is exactly what you’re going to get,’ because we don’t know what interest rates are going to do. At the end of the day, we’re not exactly sure how much money we’ll end up with. We have a good idea, but we might still miss interest rates and if we do, you’ll have to cut back on some of these projects. That’s why it’s done in that manner,” McBride said.

The estimated $11 million would be divided up approximately into $4.6 million in public works, $4 million in parks and recreation, and $2.4 million in public safety.

The public works allocation would include an estimated $3.5 million storm water/drainage improvements, streetscape such as street lamps, sidewalks, streets, and equipment. The public safety part would including constructing a $1.25 million central fire station, a fire engine, new police vehicles, and possibly moving city hall offices, so that the police department could have the entirety of the current municipal building.

The parks and recreation part would include the trail system, aquatics center, Spring Park, and improvements at Sandy Beach, which could include building a pavilion, improved lighting, and expanding the area for beach volleyball tournaments.

Alderman Ali Sugg reminded the council that many people had been commenting about a public outdoor pool.

“Well, they’re not going to get a pool for $600,000,” Clark said.

The aquatics center cost the city $6 million, and is not utilized as much as the city would like. Most aldermen expressed reluctance towards suggestions of an public outdoor pool because they are “operation and management nightmares,” due to the upkeep and staffing concerns. The council has included $600,000 for a splash pad type amenity in this round of projects.

“I’m just putting that out there that if we actually want to try get this thing passed, we’re got to give people what they want. A splash pad is what people voted for last time, and they didn’t get it,” Sugg said.

The council is also looking at purchasing a strategic piece of property near the trail system, the Young Businessmen’s Club Park. There was an ensuing discussion about the property because a chemical defoliant was used on the property at one time.

A handout provided at the special called city council meeting reads in part:

“The bonds described below that are approved may be combined into a single issue or may be issued in series from time to time. If the bonds for one or more of the purposes are approved and one of such purposes is the Refunding Bonds, there will be levied a new 0.625 percent sales and use tax, the net collections of which remains after the deduction of the administrative charges of the State of Arkansas and required rebates, will be used solely to retire the bonds and obligations with respect thereto. The tax will replace the City’s existing 0.625 percent sales and use tax levied 2006 for the sole purpose of retiring bonds. The effective date of the tax will be the day following the date the existing tax expires. The rate of taxation will be 0.625 percent even if bonds for more purposed are approved. No bonds will be issued for any purpose unless the Refunding Bonds are also approved. The 0.625 percent sales and use tax will expire after the bonds have been paid or provision is made therefor in accordance with Arkansas statutes.”

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