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Managing any large enterprise requires a collection of never-ending decisions, and that's true for city government. Cities are living, breathing entities, so their management demands constant evaluation and adjustment.

That's particularly true here in Northwest Arkansas, where population growth and economic fortunes are generally on the rise. And where, when it comes to infrastructure, communities are almost always behind schedule.

What’s the point?

Springdale leaders have put forward a responsible collection of bond proposals and projects for voters. We recommend voting for all of them.

On Feb. 13, municipal leaders in Springdale will ask their voters to make some critical decisions for the city. Early voting begins this week.

Mayor Doug Sprouse and the City Council have developed ballot questions they believe are right for Springdale's future, which seems to get brighter every day. They hope voters will show up and cast ballots that give them the tools they need to meet these community needs. We think they're on the right track with a well-developed list of projects that each offer something of value for the citizenry.

The approaching election will ask voters for the resources and permission the city needs for street projects, fire stations, parks, an animal shelter and an expanded city hall/police department. Even those who may not directly rely on one or the other of those services can feel good about the investment because of the collective potential they all hold in advancing the community's interests.

Whether it can be called a tax increase depends on one's attitude. Shoppers are already playing the 1 percent sales and use tax shopper, and that will continue for nearly another decade regardless of this election. Voters originally approved the tax in 2003 to finance critical east-west street expansions -- like Huntsville Road, Don Tyson Parkway and others. In 2006, voters reauthorized the tax and extended bonds to pay for construction of a $50 million ballpark that eventually became home to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

Those old bond issues helped create the promising opportunities facing Springdale today.

The 2018 version will pay off the old bonds (about $45 million remains) and authorize new bonds totalling nearly $180 million more for new projects.

DROP CAP If voters want to accomplish any of the projects listed on the Feb. 13 ballot, they must first vote "For" Question No. 1. If that question fails, new bonds cannot be issued and the projects shown on the ballot won't be funded in this election.

Advocates for the bond issue and critics have different ways of looking at this renewal.

Critics will note, accurately, that the 1 percent sales and use tax voters first authorized in 2003 will eventually expire if this new bond issue is rejected. That's set to happen in nearly a decade. They'll contend any extension of that tax is a "tax increase." Extending a tax does mean more money, over time, is collected. But Springdale residents (and visitors) have been paying this tax for about 14 years. Approval won't increase the rate of taxation at all.

Advocates for this bond issue suggest Springdale has needs that can be met in the next few years by authorizing a new set of 25-year bonds. On balance, that means an extra 15 years of tax collection beyond the 10 years the current tax is authorized.

Here's the choice voters must make: Vote for the bonds and give city leaders the funding necessary to complete a new set of projects, or reject the bonds, then keep paying the tax for about another decade without advancing solutions for the city's needs.

Given Springdale's responsible management of its last bond issue projects, we recommend residents vote "For" the mechanism for financing more projects for the benefit of the city, its residents and its business community.

DROP CAP Once a ballot is cast on the funding, the next five questions will determine how any bond money gets spent. City leaders have identified needs through conversations with taxpayers and with their first-hand knowledge of city operations.

Those questions would authorize spending for:

• Street projects (bond maximum of $92.7 million) -- The City Council will decide which projects to fund, but Mayor Sprouse has advocated to start with expanding Gene George Boulevard, creating a new north-south path west of Interstate 49. That would create new development opportunities along a path that already includes Arvest Ballpark and the new Arkansas Children's Northwest.

• Park and recreation needs (bond maximum of $21.3 million) -- Building the new Shaw Family Park in the far northwest area of town and renovating Randal Tyson Recreational Complex. Any remaining money would be used for projects at other parks.

• Fire stations and equipment upgrades (bond maximum of $17.6 million) -- Construction of three fire stations, one at Ball Road and Downum Road in the city's far northwest; one at Kawneer Drive and East Huntsville Avenue in the city's industrial area; and one on Har-Ber Avenue across from Hellstern Middle School.

• Criminal justice/city hall (bond maximum of $42.6 million) -- An expansion and renovation of the City Administration Building focused on expanded space for the Police Department, the citys' dispatch center, the city prosecutor and Springdale's busy district court. That in turn would free up space in the existing city hall for consolidating other city services and offices.

• Animal services (bond maximum of $5.6 million) -- An expansion or new construction for the city's animal shelter, which is entirely inadequate to meet today's demand and to create the best scenario for pet adoption rather than pet euthanasia.

We would vote in support for all of them, because Springdale isn't the city it used to be. It's grown, and it's growing. It needs this injection of capital spending not to keep up, but to keep from falling behind. Voters can also pick and choose which projects they want to support, and perhaps one or two won't be as popular as the others.

But they're all projects that will advance Springdale into a better future.

DROP CAP What little opposition we've heard appears to target the spending for the criminal justice center/city hall expansion or the animal shelter. Some argue those just aren't needed.

City leaders can make a compelling case otherwise. City government needs room to deliver services to its citizens. The plan to expand the current city hall is reasonable given the city's growth and its future needs. Likewise, the city needs top-notch animal services, including a shelter that can showcase animals for adoption and treat them all humanely. That need will not go away or get smaller.

Our sense is a few critics just want Springdale to turn back the clocks to what it used to be, with more of a small-town feel and attitude, and back when nobody had to spend this kind of money. But times and the cost of doing business have changed. Springdale can ill afford to think small. The bond projects are not extravagant, but they will position the city to meet the needs of its residents in the years to come.

Mayor Sprouse and the City Council have laid out a collection of proposals that make responsible use of a revenue source that already exists to improve the community and the services available to residents.

People ought to vote for that.

Commentary on 02/04/2018

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