Today's Paper Newsletters LEARNS Guide Asa Hutchinson 2024 Today's Photos Public Notices Crime Distribution Locations Obits Puzzles Digital FAQ Razorback Sports

Fayetteville readies for Election Day in bond vote

by Stacy Ryburn | April 7, 2019 at 1:05 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Leilani Law reviews Thursday the descriptions of Fayetteville's bond referendum before voting early at the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville. Early voting in Fayetteville's bond referendum began Tuesday and will continue at the courthouse Monday. Voters are being asked to continue the city's 1-cent sales tax to pay for about $226 million over 10 bond issues for various projects. Election Day is Tuesday, and voters can go to any six vote centers that will be open.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Groups for and against the city's bond initiative are making a final push to voters before Election Day.

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to continue the city's 1 percent sales tax. A series of 10 bond measures will appear on the ballot, each covering a different category of project.

Vote centers

City residents will be able to cast ballots from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at any of the locations. Voters must present a photo identification.

• Central United Methodist Church, 6 W. Dickson St.

• Covenant Church, 4511 W. Wedington Drive

• Sang Avenue Baptist Church, 1425 N. Sang Ave.

• Sequoyah Methodist Church, 1910 Old Wire Road

• Shiloh Community Church, 4262 W. Mount Comfort Road

• Trinity Fellowship, 1100 Rolling Hills Drive

Source: Washington County Election Commission

The issues

Voters will decide if they want to continue the city’s 1-cent sales tax to pay for about $226 million in bonds for various projects. The questions as they will appear on the ballot are:

• Refinance outstanding bonds: $12.2 million

This would allow the city to pay off debt from the 2006 bond referendum and authorize the new bonds.

• Street improvements: $73.9 million

Projects such as improvements to U.S. 71B from Cato Springs Road to Lake Fayetteville; connecting Rupple Road from Tanyard Drive to Weir Road; citywide pavement maintenance and overlays; redoing Zion Road from Vantage Drive to Crossover Road; connecting Sain Street from Front Street to Joyce Boulevard; improvements to Arkansas 112 from Howard Nickell Road to Van Asche Drive; about 20 others.

• Trails: $6.9 million

Would build about 10 miles of trails, including St. Paul Trail from the Razorback Greenway to Dead Horse Mountain Road; improvements at and near the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard/Interstate 49 interchange; Sublett Creek Trail from Mission Boulevard and North Street to Poplar Street; four others.

• Drainage: $15.8 million

Would address flooding issues in key areas, such as Missouri Creek near Rolling Hills Drive; Sunbridge Drive and College Avenue; Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Razorback Road; Morningside Drive; and others.

• Parks: $26.4 million

Projects such as completing another phase of Kessler Mountain Regional Park; establishing a paddle park at the West Fork of the White River; improvements to Veterans Memorial and Lake Fayetteville parks; work at other community parks; nature attractions and buying Lewis Park.

• Economic development: $3.2 million

This would create a fund to put toward public-private partnerships, lure investments and stimulate workforce development and job training programs in the city.

• City facilities: $3.2 million

City Hall, the police station on Rock Street, the parks building on Happy Hollow Road and the Town Center plaza all would undergo renovation.

• Cultural arts corridor and parking downtown: $31.7 million

Building a 3-acre civic gathering space to replace the parking lot at the corner of West Avenue and Dickson Street; turning the Fay Jones Parkland west of the library into a nature attraction; street improvements; and building a parking deck.

• Police headquarters and equipment: $37 million

Building a police headquarters at a location to be determined, plus a support building for vehicle storage and evidence and a new firing range.

• Fire stations and equipment: $15.8 million

Building three fire stations on the south, central and northwest parts of town, plus equipment.

Source: Staff report

Total estimated amount on all the bonds is about $226 million. Early voting is underway and will continue Monday at the Washington County Courthouse.

The measures cover transportation, trails, drainage, parks, economic development, renovation to city facilities, new police and fire facilities and an arts corridor downtown.

The first question must pass for any of the other items to pass. That question allows the city to pay off about $12 million in debt from the 2006 bond referendum and authorize the new bonds.

Conduit for Action Economic Issues IEC filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission with a stated purpose to advocate for the defeat of the tax renewal and bond issues.

Joe Maynard, a resident with Conduit, said people should vote no firstly, because it's a special election. Special elections cost taxpayers money, and should only be used in emergencies, he said. None of the items is an emergency, he said.

Moreover, voter turnout in a special election is always low, Maynard said. That tilts in the city's favor, he said. There also are few polling sites.

Secondly, the city should be able to work within its budget, Maynard said. For instance, half of the hotel, motel and restaurant sales tax goes to parks. That should be enough, he said.

"If you were a government and you wanted to grow for growth's sake, this is the way you would behave," Maynard said. "I know that a lot of people talk about democracy, but I guess democracy's OK as long as you can get the right people to vote."

George Shelton, a political consultant with 10 for Fay, a campaign supporting the bond measures, said he's seen a wide swath of support for the bond issues. The group has sent out mailers and held events to garner support.

The police and fire unions, Fayetteville Youth Baseball, Chamber of Commerce, Walton Arts Center Council, Dickson Street Merchants Association, TheatreSquared and the library's board have come out in support of the measures.

Those groups have been active and engaged, and recognize what's centrally important to the city, Shelton said.

"We try and remind people of the broad base of support the community has shown for these 10 initiatives and why they're so important," he said.

Money from the 2006 bond referendum went toward the College Avenue bridge, the arterial street loop around the city known as the Mayor's Box, improvements to College Avenue between Maple and North streets, the intersection at Old Wire and Mission Boulevard, restoring the Maple Street and Lafayette Street historic bridges and other projects.

The sales tax rate in the city is 9.75 percent. The city's portion is 2 percent, with Washington County at 1.25 percent and the state at 6.5 percent. An additional 2 percent hotel, motel and restaurant tax also is collected to pay for parks and tourism.

One penny of the city's portion of the tax is what voters are being asked to continue. It generated about $22.3 million last year and is projected to generate about $22.6 million this year.

The City Council will issue the bonds for any of the projects voters approve. The dollar amounts listed on each measure reflect maximums, and the actual amounts will depend on financing and interest rates at the times the bonds are issued.

The cost of a special election can vary depending on turnout. The 2016 millage election to expand the Fayetteville Public Library cost $14,603, according to city records. The 2015 civil rights ordinance vote cost $39,155 and the 2014 one cost $36,955. Officials won't know the exact cost of the bond referendum until after it takes place, Chief of Staff Don Marr said.

Registered voters eligible to cast ballots in Tuesday's election total 52,742, according to the Washington County Clerk's Office. As of Friday, 1,184 residents voted early, according to the Washington County Election Commission. Fewer voters came out early for the successful bond referendums held in Rogers and Springdale this year and last year, respectively, according to Washington and Benton county vote counts.

However, thousands turned out early for Benton County's sales tax referendum March 12 for a new courthouse. Early vote totals were about 4,700. The measure failed with about 9,700 people voting.

In 2016, about 1,700 people voted early in the millage election for the library. Two measures to raise property taxes in the city to pay for the expansion's construction and operations passed with about 6,100 residents casting votes.

The early vote count for Fayetteville's bond referendum likely won't hit the number from the 2016 library vote, said Jennifer Price, Washington County election commissioner. However, the final day of early voting usually has the most turnout, she said.

It's difficult to extrapolate the results of a special election based on the early vote count, Price said.

"It's always fun to look at all the different numbers, and I certainly do. But sometimes I worry if I'm drawing too much of a conclusion from something that I'm looking at," she said. "Do I have enough data to be able to say, definitively, 'Yes that's a trend,' or, 'No that's not a trend,' or, 'That's an anomaly for this election?'"

The government's role isn't to pay for arts, or endeavors in city planning, Maynard said. He said the city is on a path to create problems, and ask for more money to fix the problems it created with its own policies in the first place.

"For me personally, I don't want anybody to hurt me or take my stuff. That's government's role," Maynard said. "Expanding beyond that is debatable at every level, in my view."

Shelton said he's feeling positive. The primary focus for the campaign now is to get as many people out to vote as possible, he said.

"There's been so much pushing us all the way to this week," Shelton said. "Now we're in a position where all we have to do is remind everybody why this is so important to our city and make sure that they do their part and turn out and vote."

NW News on 04/07/2019

Print Headline: City readies for bond vote


Sponsor Content