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Voters OK up to $51M in bonds

Similar themes ran through city officials’ responses following release of the unofficial results of Cabot’s special election on the Sales and Use Tax Refunding and Improvement Bonds - “excited,” and “time to get going.” With a turnout of about 6.5 percent of nearly 13,000 voters registered in the city, about 72 percent of the 833 votes cast in the election, approved the ballot measures.

Total of the bond issues could reach $51 million; funds to pay off the bonds will come through revenue collected in the city’s one-cent sales tax. In his presentations, Mayor Bill Cypert said estimates based on no further growth showed the bonds would be paid in about 15 years.

There were seven issues on the ballot; unofficial results of the election:

•Refunding the 2005 bond and sales tax ($11m) 613-213

•North Terminal Interchange and connector to the railroad overpass ($9.5m) 594-238

•Highlands Drainage improvements ($500,000) 546-277

•Library Expansion and Renovation ($2.6m) 612-215

•Community Center Expansion And Renovation ($5.46m) 602-225

•Wastewater Collection System Improvements ($8.2m) 598-231

•Parks and Recreation New Infrastructure ($13m) 594-238

The Election Commission has 10 days following an election to certify the counts. On Tuesday, Lonoke County Clerk Larry Clarke said there were seven ballots, six absentee and one provisional, not yet included in the count.

The push for the improvement bonds began in 2011 after the first of a series of town hall style, public meetings promised by Cypert during his election campaign.

The strongest issue heard at the April 2011 meeting was for more and better parks and recreation facilities in the city.

At the following Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, a full house of supporters for improved facilities prompted the commissioners to revive a plan that had been shelved for lack of funding. Estimates were that the plan for ball fields, new outdoor swimming complex and other facilities would cost upwards of $13 million.

Initial plans to seek a sales tax to underwrite the improvements were opposed by Cypert, whose plan was to seek refunding of the current tax and improvement bonds for a number of city projects. Cypert said an additional sales tax would discourage economic growth.

Discussions between other city commissions and departments developed the plan that was proposed to voters on April 9.

Under the proposal, the existing 2005 improvement bond that had funded the new wastewater treatment plant, the railroad overpass between Austin and Cabot; funds to complete the Cabot Veterans Park Community Center; new animal shelter and streets improvements.

The 2005 bond, itself, was a refunding of a 1999 bond that paid for water improvements.

In his presentations, Cypert pointed out that the 2005 improvement bond would be paid off in 2016, 15 years ahead of schedule. The 2013 improvement bond would be paid in 20 years if revenue stayed at the present level.

The projects approved by voter are:

Parks and Recreation New Infrastructure, and Community Center Expansion and Renovation – total of $13.5 million. The largest part of the project will a 9-field baseball complex, outdoor pool complex and walking track; two softball fields at Allman-Bevis Park on South First Street and other park area improvements. The nine-field complex will be west of the intersection of Arkansas Highway and Kerr Station Road.

Expansion of the Community Center will include a second building with expanded banquet and exercise rooms. Improvements would include banquet seating for 600 to 800, stage and kitchen and adequate parking

North Terminal Interchange with U.S. Highway 67/167 and Arkansas Highway 38 at the Railroad Overpass - estimated cost $19 million, with $9.5 million from the city and the remainder from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. The Interchange will also connect with Willie Ray Drive on the west side of the highway.

Highlands Storm Drainage - $500,000: the improvements are to improve drainage of the flood-prone area.

Library Relocation, Expansion and Renovation - $2.5 million: a partnership between Cabot and the Lonoke/Prairie Library System to renovate the former Knight’s Grocery Store at the corner of South Tenth Street and West Main.

Cabot purchased the building in late 2012 with the condition of awaiting results of the bond election.

With that approval, the Library board will proceed with renovations and closing of the current library on North Grant Street.

Cypert said in presentations that the building would become the Senior Citizen Center, or would be sold.

Wastewater Collection System Improvements - $8.2 million: of the four town hall meeting held beginning in February, the wastewater system improvements drew the most attention, and the most criticism with perception that the improvements were solely for the northwest area, including Greystone and Magness Creek. Water Commission chairman Gary Walker explained the system improvements were being done to reduce costs and bring the system into compliance with requirements enforced by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

The improvements would be done regardless of the outcome of the election; the bond issue would take the burden of the cost off ratepayers, he explained.

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