Tuesday, March 26, marked the last of a series of “town hall” meetings to present the sales tax re-funding and improvement bonds in an open forum for public comment. Though lightly attended, city officials out-numbered residents in some meetings, remarks showed the improvement bonds and projects are not universally supported.
The first of the meetings was held Feb. 26.
Water and Wastewater Commission chairman Gary Walker faced opposition based on the schedule of rate increases that would take place regardless of the sales-tax supported bond, and the perception that the system improvements were solely for the northwest region of the city.
The Commission is seeking approval for issue of a $8.2 million bond for the improvements.
Walker’s presentations explained the wastewater system shortcomings that must be corrected to meet requirements of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Walker also explained that rate increases would be significantly lower if the improvement bond is approved.
Walker remarked that a sales tax would take a large part of the expense of the required improvements off the ratepayers. Anyone doing business at Cabot would be helping pay the costs, “I think this is the most equitable way of paying for it,” he said.
Parks and Recreation chairman Maggie Cope faced the ire of residents after the announcement of the location that would be used for the proposed baseball field – outdoor pool complex. The location was announced at the Feb. 26 meeting.
The Parks and Recreation Commission began seeking large-scale facilities improvements after being encouraged by large turnouts to the first general town hall meeting held by Cypert a few months after he took office. At that and a following commission meeting, a large number of residents called for more extensive recreational facilities.
If approved, the 50-acre complex would be situated on Bill Foster Highway (Arkansas Highway 321) across from the Cabot School District Academy of Excellence and would include traffic access to Kerr Station Road.
The complex would include nine fields and the pool complex, as well as other services.
Residents in the area criticized the location, citing safety and privacy concerns and fear of increasing traffic loads.
In response to the traffic concerns, the city council at the March 18 meeting approved a request for a traffic study by AHTD contingent on the bond approval.
Cypert answered concerns of timely use of the funds and of the funds being used for what was promised with a personal guarantee of overseeing the projects. He pointed out his part in managing the new wastewater treatment, “That came in on time and under budget.”
At each town hall meeting Cypert repeated that approving the improvement bonds would not entail increasing any taxes. All the bonds would be funded by the existing city one-cent sales tax, Cypert said. “There is no new tax, just what is already being collected,” he said.
The 2005 sales and use tax refunding and bond improvements will be paid off in 2016; based on current revenue and growth projections, the proposed bonds would be paid off in about 16 years, Cypert said.
“This does not involve a new tax,” though it does call for continuing the current one-cent tax, he said.
Voters will face seven issues on the ballot, with the first issue, that of refinancing the 2005 bond with a continuation of the sales tax, being the most crucial, Cypert said. “That has to pass before any of the improvement bonds can be applicable,” he said.
The other projects include the North Terminal Interchange which would connect U.S. Highway 67/167 to Arkansas Highway 38 and the railroad overpass to the east and access to the west of the highway. That project calls for a $9.5 million bond.
The interchange would relieve much of the traffic now congesting West Main Street, would also spur commercial and residential development, Cypert said. Each would mean more revenue and an early pay off for the bonds, Cypert said.
The city would not be alone in meeting the cost with AHTD contributing nearly half the $19 million estimated cost, he said.
Highlands drainage improvements would require about $500,000, Cypert said. The funds are not available in city budget, and FEMA grants have not been forthcoming, he said.
Other projects include the relocation, expansion of the Cabot Arlene Cherry Memorial Library, the renovated former Knight’s store at the corner of 10th street and West Main with a $2.6 million bond.
Other buildings coming available at the location opens the possibility of a educational center for Cabot, Cypert said.