Great communities don't stand still.
That's why every 10-15 years, voters in hustling and bustling communities in Northwest Arkansas will be asked by their government and civic leaders to reinvest in infrastructure projects touted as vital for the future.
What’s the point?
In Fayetteville’s proposed $226 million bond issue program, for which voting starts Tuesday, we recommend voters support all 10 questions.
Starting Tuesday with early voting, Fayetteville voters will have an opportunity to (1) continue a 1 percent sales tax that has existed for years and (2) deliver their verdict on nine spending options that could give city leaders authority to issue bonds (debt) up to $226 million. The money collected through the sales tax would, according to city bean counters, pay off the bonds at worst in about 16 years, but more likely in about 12, if voters approve all nine project options appearing on the ballot.
The nine funding questions hit on all the usual suspects: projects for streets, trails, drainage, parks, upgrades of city facilities, a new police station and three new fire stations. The City Council also asked voters to allocate up to $3.17 million to spend on "economic development," such as job training and incentives that could be used to lure businesses to town.
Then there's the real anomaly: A
$31.7 million project to build a new parking deck near the Walton Arts Center ($10 million) and spend the rest to construct a "cultural arts corridor" that unifies -- through landscape design -- the Dickson Street entertainment district, the arts center, TheatreSquared's new performing arts facility, the expanding Fayetteville Public Library, the Fay Jones Woods natural area by the library, and the developing arts campus of the University of Arkansas just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
We think voters ought to say "yes" -- or more accurately, "for" -- the 10 questions on the ballot.
First, let's address the tax itself. If voters say "no" to the first question, which is refinancing about $12 million in debt still lingering from the last bond issue in 2006 and authorizing the 1 percent sales tax to continue in support of the new bonds, all the other questions are moot. The tax would continue for a few more years to pay off the old debt, then it would go away and Fayetteville would give up one of its strongest tools for making big-dollar investments in the community.
But would that be wise? We doubt that's what Fayetteville residents want. Surely, nobody has missed the fact that Northwest Arkansas continues its impressive growth. Private development is happening all around the region. Fayetteville residents have typically had no hesitations about devoting tax revenue to new and upgraded parks, expanded trails that make bicycle transportation and walking viable options for safely getting around town, upgraded sewer treatment facilities to protect the environment, and street infrastructure to handle vehicle traffic and improve access to critical retail areas.
In the minds of some, perhaps, preserving Fayetteville's character means standing still, not changing anything. But when newcomers continue to pour in and private interests continue to invest in new developments, the community's character is best preserved by strategically investing in desirable projects that keep us from choking on the growth. A lack of investment would slowly erode so much about what residents and business owners love about the town.
Taxpayers are already used to paying the local sales tax. As long as they believe in the projects city leaders have asked them to approve -- and we think this list of projects is worth believing in -- why give up that powerful tool of investment?
Several projects on the ballot are needs: spending on roads, expansion of the city's firefighting capabilities, a long-needed police station to replace cramped quarters downtown. Others, such as the spending planned for parks and trails, might be classifieds as "wants," but Fayetteville residents have consistently supported development of both to the point that one could make the case they see them as needs, in terms of protecting the quality of life.
Beyond that, it makes sense for the city to establish funding for economic development, to promote the city's place in the changing Northwest Arkansas economy and to support training for its residents so that they're ready to meet employment needs.
Then there's the cultural arts corridor, designed to transform an asphalt parking lot into a modern urban park destined to become a gathering spot for locals and a land of opportunity for strong festival-like experiences that will attract visitors from afar as well as local residents.
City leaders have wisely pledged to ensure the parking spaces are replaced with nearby facilities before construction on the new park area will begin. That protects the interests of one of Fayetteville's most successful past investments -- the Walton Arts Center -- and more recent ones like TheatreSquared's performance venue.
This "civic space" has so much potential to become the new heart of Fayetteville, keeping the Dickson Street and downtown areas a vibrant place filled with people and activities.
Fayetteville has gone through strong, deliberative processes to develop what voters will see on the ballot, starting with early voting Tuesday through Monday, April 8, and final balloting on Tuesday, April 9.
Can voters make a commitment to invest strongly in the community knowing it will take just a dozen years or so to pay off the debt? We think they should.
Not everyone's wishes can ever be covered by a bond issue, but Fayetteville leaders have done an admirable job of spreading the investment around and addressing key areas in need of attention.
We recommend voters step into the voting machine, take a breath, then count to 10 like this: For, for, for, for, for, for, for, for, for and for.
Commentary on 03/31/2019