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story.lead_photo.caption Springdale city hall.

SPRINGDALE -- The City Council on Tuesday night showed its support for an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to extend a sales tax to pay for the state's highways "into perpetuity."

The vote was 6-1.

House Joint Resolution 1018 will appear on ballots in November's general election. The measure would continue to levy a one-half percent general sales tax, with money used to improve roads and bridges in the state. Voters approved the temporary tax in 2012 to repay $1.3 million in state bonds for highways. They also could repeal the amendment and end the tax with another statewide vote.

The continued statewide tax would bring roughly $1.6 million annually to Springdale, said Philip Taldo of Springdale. Taldo represents Northwest Arkansas on the State Highway Commission.

The council's action lets Springdale residents know council members have vetted the issue and say it's good for the city, said Mayor Doug Sprouse. It doesn't tell residents how to vote on the issue, he added.

Sprouse said the tax money has matched money provided by grants to develop the city's trail system and helped the city complete the Emma Avenue streetscape beautification. The money also supports Ozark Regional Transit and lets Springdale residents ride the buses without paying fare.

But Tuesday's vote was the third try for the council to reach a consensus of support for permanent extension of the tax.

The measure was introduced to the council on March 10 with Sprouse absent. The council chose to table it for discussion the next week during the council's Committee of the Whole.

During the March 16 meeting, four council members voted against the resolution, with only three in favor.

"I brought it back to the council," Sprouse said. "It's not just Springdale that it's helping. We have industry that depends on the highways and roads statewide. And some of those industries are located in Springdale."

"It's not how much you get, but how much you lose," Taldo told the council. "That $1.6 million is in your budget now, but it will disappear in 2023 if this measure doesn't pass."

"But without this extension, the money goes away," Sprouse agreed. "It's already enough of a struggle to maintain the roads with the money we have."

The state's share of that half-percent sales tax has helped build the Interstate 612 bypass of Springdale, the expansion of Arkansas 265 to Rogers and the Bella Vista bypass, among other projects, Taldo said. The state also will call on this money to improve Arkansas 112 through the region, improve U.S. 412 east of Springdale and build a connector road to Northwest Arkansas National Airport.

Taldo said the tax would make the state's roads safer, would support jobs and activate the economy without raising taxes.

Going forward, the tax is expected to bring $290 million a year to the state, he said. Arkansas cities and counties would share $85 million, which will be distributed based on population numbers.

The state Department of Transportation would keep $205 million, Taldo continued. The department would put 25 percent of that into capital improvement projects and congestion relief and 75% to repave all 16,000 miles of state highway.

Washington County would receive $5,675,000, including Springdale's allocation; and Benton County, $5,844,000.

"It's important for us to have good streets in Springdale, but we also drive in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Tontitown and Elkins," Taldo said. "It will improve driving for us everywhere we go."

Attending the meeting via Zoom, an online meeting platform, council member Kathy Jaycox said she endorses the measure and made the motion for approval. She was one of the members who voted against the measure last week.

She said she just hadn't received enough information at that point to make an informed vote. Council member Mike Lawson agreed.

"I called each of them that voted against it to clear up any misconceptions," Taldo said.

NW News on 03/25/2020

This story was corrected after originally calling the tax "a one-half percent sales tax on gasoline." The tax is a half-percent general sales tax.

Print Headline: City supports extension of gas tax

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