Library expansion and wastewater system improvements were the topics of the second in a series of town hall meetings to discuss the proposed sales and use tax re-funding and improvement bonds. The meeting was held Monday at the Magness Creek Elementary School cafeteria.
Mayor Bill Cypert hosted the meeting; speakers were Leroy Gatlin, director of the Lonoke-Prairie Library Board; and Gary Walker, chairman of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission; each presented projects proposed by their organization.
Most attention on the evening was directed toward the wastewater system projects and the nearly $9.4 million bond that would fund them.
Walker explained that the seven individual wastewater projects would be done regardless of the outcome of the bond issue. Using a sales tax to fund the costs would minimize rate increases, Walker said.
Voters will go to the polls April 9 to decide seven questions, whether to: re-fund an existing $11 million improvement bond and city sales tax;
•approve a $15.4 million bond for parks and recreation improvements;
•approve a $10.9 million bond for construction of a new interchange between Cabot and Austin on U.S. Highway 67/167;
•approve a $6.3 million bond for improvements and expansion of the Cabot Veterans Park Community Center;
•approve a $3 million bond for relocation and expansion of the Arlene Cherry Memorial Library;
•approve a $9.4 million bond for wastewater system improvements;
• and approve a $590,000 bond for drainage improvements to the Highland subdivision area.
Each project will be a ballot issue; if all projects are approved the total would be about $51 million.
Cypert emphasized that there would be no increase in the sales tax; the existing sales tax would be allowed to continue with the revenue paying the bond debt. With current revenue, the bonds would be paid off in 13 years, he said.
Cypert said the $11 million principal on the 2005 improvement bond would be retired in 2016.
Cabot has grown; more people are using the facility, Gatlin said. Contrary to the perception that the Internet has drawn from libraries, it has brought new growth, he said.
The library has experienced increased demand on all services, Gatlin said. Book circulation was up 71 percent in 2012 with 150,000 books moving through the library. Library visit are up 105 percent, with 70,000 visits made to the library last year, Gatlin said.
Not used but everyone found some form of information through the library, including using the Internet services provided by the library. “Everyone does not have a computer at home,” he said.
Program participation at the library has increased 91 percent; 1,312 students enrolled in the summer reading program, Gatlin said.
With so many students, many of the summer activities were forced outdoors, Gatlin said. But with last summer’s heat and early-morning temperatures already 90 degrees and more, many events had to be curtailed, Gatlin said.
“This is why we need a larger building,” Gatlin said. That building has been found in the former Knight’s Grocery Store at the corner of West Main and South Tenth streets, Gatlin said.
The city is in process of buying the building, though the sale will not be finalized until after the April 9 special election, Cypert said. The offer and acceptance for the building was conditional to the bond being approved, he said.
Cypert also said the current library would be converted to a Senior Citizens Center; the present center would be converted to a community use, or would be sold.
Changing to the wastewater system improvements, Walker explained the changes needed to meet the needs of a population that has grown “tremendously.”
Many of the changes are to fix shortcomings inherited by the commission, Walker said. The shortcomings show up as sewer overflows and leaks, and expensive-to-operate lift stations, Walker said.
The leaks and overflows are shortcomings that must be fixed at the direction of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Walker said. “Fixed” means changing the system to meet the demands on it, he said. The system improvements would meet that requirement.
But, Walker added, regardless of the outcome of the bond election, the improvements would be made. The bond would spread the cost to the estimated 61,000 people in Cabot’s trade area, rather than only the 11,000 ratepayers, he said.
If the bond is not approved, wastewater rates would be increase 100 percent by the end of 2014, with series of increases to follow as each phase of the improvements is completed, Walker said.
Though approving the bond would not avoid increases, the increases would be smaller, he said.
In other concerns, Walker assured that wastewater service cannot be extended to anyone outside the city’s water service area or outside city limits.
The longest, most expensive change would be the installation of a larger service line from the Arkansas Highway 5 area to the Polk Street connection, but that is not solely for the benefit of the Greystone and Magness Creek areas, Walker said. The larger line is needed to meet future needs, he said.
The wastewater system is limited to the city’s water service area, and the northwest is the only area in which the water can be expanded, Walker said. Cabot is “boxed in” on three sides by other water systems preventing expansion in other directions, he explained.
The water service areas are defined by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Walker said.
Other improvements are to be made throughout the city, from replacing eroded concrete lines in the downtown area, to improving the system along South Pine Street to the Arkansas Highway 321 areas, Walker said.
On another concern, the commission builds trunk lines, but builders are required build the “feeder” lines to the trunk lines, Walker said.
The next town hall meeting was Tuesday, March 12, and detailed the North Terminal Interchange and the plans for the Community Center.
The final town hall meeting will be 7 p.m., March 26, at the Junior High School South Cafeteria.
All the project presentations are available online at www.voteforcabot.com.