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story.lead_photo.caption Emily Williams, office manager for a Gravette insurance agency, walks Thursday on a downtown sidewalk. Gravette is looking at taking an existing tax devoted exclusively to sewers, now that the bonds are paid off, and asking voters to repurpose it for streets, parks and recreation, sidewalks and sewer. For more photos, go to www.nwadg.com/photos. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

Voters in three Benton County towns will decide sales tax questions in the March 1 elections that could pay for improvements to roads and sewer, sidewalks and parks.

Gravette voters will decide whether to renew a three-fourths-cent sales tax. Siloam Springs voters also will decide a renewal of a three-eighths-cent sales tax.

Up next

Gravette officials will discuss more city improvements during a public forum at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Gravette Civic Center.

Early voting begins Feb. 16 for the March 1 elections.

Source: Staff report

Gateway voters will decide whether the city will have a 1 percent sales tax.

Gravette Mayor Kurt Maddox noted his town will have three exits when the Bella Vista Bypass is finished.

"We will definitely have growth," Maddox said. "How we manage that is the big thing we have to figure out."

Gravette is a town where people know each other, he said. The city plans to spend the tax money on parks and connecting sidewalks. Those amenities will keep the family atmosphere by making it easier for neighbors to stay in touch either by walking to a friend's home or visiting in a city park, he said.

Maddox hopes to draw more families to Gravette.

"If you don't design for what people are looking for, then you will only get what's left over," he said.

The city is paying off sewer bonds from a 2009 election early, probably by the end of the month, said Patrick Hall, business director.

The Gravette question is divided into four parts. Voters are asked to approve $1.6 million for streets, $2.25 million for parks and recreation, $750,000 for sewer improvements and $1.65 million for sidewalks. Costs to the city for the $6.25 million bond means $5.42 million in improvements, Hall said.

Gravette displayed park plans at a public forum Jan. 14. Drawings depicted of a sidewalk connecting schools, downtown and ball fields in Pop Allum Park. Plans included a farmers market pavilion and a dog park, more ball fields, a splash pad near the pool and a park in Hiwasse, annexed by Gravette in 2012.

The Hiwasse annexation added about 5,000 acres to the city. Another voluntary annexation of 1,000 acres closed the gap between Gravette and Bella Vista in the past year. City officials said they cut property taxes by one-fourth of a mill, but the annexation kept property tax income about the same.

Community members asked for a timeline on projects and some asked about more sewer improvements and when the city's 24 miles of dirt roads will be all paved.

Ashley Harris of Hiwasse said she looks forward to taking her children to a local park instead of driving to Bella Vista.

"I'm most excited about the trails. I'd like to see it all link up," Harris said.

The day after the forum Wal-Mart announced plans to close its store in town. That scared people a little, but Walmart hasn't been a critical part of sales tax for the last year, he said. Groceries sold in Gravette amount to less than 1 percent of the total sales tax, he said. There is a Dollar General in town, a hardware store, two drug stores, restaurants and gas stations.

Troy Blankenship of Hiwasse said he hadn't decided whether to vote for the tax. The ideas weren't bad, but he said he wanted more information and to see the city extending sewer toward the bypass to invite more business to the community.

"We need to be thinking about that now," Blankenship said.

There are sewer improvements planned in Gravette. Most of the city's sewer infrastructure is from about 1960, Hall said. He said Birmingham, El Paso and Irving streets are on the short list for improvements. Priority paving projects include Gordon Hollow Road and North Mount Pleasant in Hiwasse.

Devoting all of the bond proceeds toward sewer projects wouldn't get lines to the bypass, Hall said.

Siloam Springs

The three-eighths-cent sales tax in Siloam Springs paid for developments in the past 10 years that people couldn't necessarily see, said Meredith Bergstrom, executive director of Main Street Siloam Springs.

The tax was dedicated to infrastructure -- water, wastewater and electrical improvements. Voters will be asked to renew it, but the purpose will be evenly split between infrastructure and quality of life improvements.

The three-eighths-cent sales tax was initially passed in 2006, said Holland Hayden, city communication manager. It has generated about $8.94 million in sales tax since then, Hayden said.

If renewed, the sales tax is projected to generate $13.7 million in 10 years, she said.

The city operates its own electric utility and some of the improvements include building a substation to increase available power, upgrading another and laying additional fiber to make it easier to troubleshoot and fix problems.

Main Street put together the Siloam Springs Downtown and Connectivity Plan in 2014, but lacked dedicated funding for it, Bergstrom said.

Mount Olive Street is the gateway to downtown, she said. Wider sidewalks and trees in the Mount Olive Bridge area could mark the downtown transition. Converting parallel parking on one side of the street to diagonal will add 22 parking spaces in a prime downtown area, Bergstrom said. There are plans for an amphitheater and farmers market area and a splash pad that could be converted to a skating rink.

Downtown development re-uses existing infrastructure and highlights historic buildings, which were often built with native materials, Bergstrom said.

"We can have a healthy downtown, and we can have a healthy highway," she said.

There are businesses being built on Arkansas 412 on the east of town: a bank, Rib Crib, Furniture Factory Outlet, Burger King, and medical offices. A Panda Express already has opened.

Millennials decide where to live and from there decide where to work, said Wayne Mays, president and chief executive officer of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Forty percent of the people at work in Siloam Springs on a weekday came from Oklahoma, Mays said. A sales tax means those people help pay for improvements, instead of levying a property tax.

Gateway

A 1-cent sales tax will be the first for Gateway, which sits near the Missouri border, said Mayor Frank Hackler Jr.

"We're the only city in the county that doesn't have its own sales tax," Hackler said.

Businesses in Gateway include a couple of pawn or swap shops, a used car lot, an auto repair shop and a cabinet shop along with a sand plant and log yard, Hackler said. Voters rejected the question a couple years ago, but this time businesses are supporting the issue, he said.

"We're a small community with small needs, but every little bit helps," he said.

The city budget is funded by state sales tax, a portion of which is given to every municipality based on population. A $250,000 grant helped pay for paving a mile and a half of Clantonville Road last year, Hackler said.

People drive through Gateway to get to Eureka Springs, and Joplin and Branson, Mo., Hackler said

The city needs to expand its budget so it can attract more business, he said. Businesses ask him about fire protection, which is good with two Northeast Benton County Fire Department stations nearby, he said. They also ask about law enforcement, sewer and natural gas. It can take a half hour for a response from the Benton County Sheriff's Office on a theft call, he said.

Hackler hired a police chief this month and budgeted a couple thousand dollars for a used car this year.

"We're trying to grow a little bit out there in the country," he said.

NW News on 01/25/2016

Print Headline: Three communities face sales tax questions in March election

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