Tuesday election calls on Russellville voters for extension of 1-cent sales tax

By Tammy Keith Published September 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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— Residents of Russellville will vote Tuesday in a special election to decide whether to extend a 1-cent sales tax for a proposed aquatic center, a new fire station, streets and drainage, and other projects.

The sales tax, approved by an 80 percent margin in 2007, is set to expire Dec. 31.

Roy Reaves, chairman of a committee promoting the city’s sales-tax extension, said it is vital for the growth of Russellville.

“I can’t think of many things that are more important than continuing this tax,” he said Thursday. “There’s not a viable option.”

Reaves, chairman and CEO of the central region of Liberty Bank, said that every community has needs and Russellville is no exception.

“It’s critical that we get a new fire department,” Reaves said. “The old one was built in the ’60s for six firemen, and now we have 30-plus. [The station is] bursting at the seams, and the condition of the building is that it leaks,” and there isn’t enough room for the size of modern-day fire trucks, he said.

One of the most-discussed projects for the city is the proposed aquatic center.

Reaves said the center would cost $5.5 million to build and $1.5 to operate over the seven-year period of the proposed tax extension.

ETC Engineers & Architects Inc. of Little Rock has designed a plan for an aquatic center that includes three indoor pools — including one with 10 lanes — and an outside pool, said Mack Hollis, recreation and parks director.

The aquatic center’s location is still being debated. Vick Field and Hickey Park are the two primary locations under consideration by the Russellville City Council.

In an earlier interview with the River Valley & Ozark Edition, Russellville Mayor Bill Eaton said that the aquatic center is a “quality-of-place” issue and that the public is demanding such a facility.

“It started as kind of a brainchild after Arkansas Tech’s indoor pool was closed, and there were a lot of people who used that and found themselves with no place to go,” he said.

Tech officials said the pool costs were “unsustainable,” and the pool was closed in December, leaving the city without an indoor pool facility. M.J. Hickey Pool, which opened in 1978, is the city-run outdoor facility.

Reaves said $1.3 million of the sales-tax proceeds would go to parks and recreation for new walking trails, a new soccer field, soccer lighting and additional backstops at Hickey Park.

“Over half the money goes to streets and drainage,” Reaves said, adding that improvements have been made, but more are needed.

City Council member Martin Irwin said the sales-tax extension is “absolutely necessary.”

“Without it, we’re dead in the water. We can’t buy new police cars; employees will not get a raise; we are absolutely dead in the water,” Irwin said.

If it doesn’t pass, “we’ll have to take a carving knife to our budget,” Irwin said.

“Sales tax is absolutely the very best tax money there is; it’s our primary source of funding,” Irwin said. “Everybody who stops in Russellville and spends a dollar contributes to it, so the burden’s not just on the citizens of Russellville.”

Irwin said he is optimistic that the tax extension will be approved.

“I hope that it passes,” he said. “I’m probably hearing mostly in favor. There are some antis, ... and there always will be.”

Jeff Pipkin, executive director of the Arkansas Valley Alliance for Economic Development, issued a press release supporting the continuation of the tax.

He called the tax extension “vitally important to the future progress of the city.”

Pipkin is also president and CEO of the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said that during the last six-year tax period, the city has collected more than $40 million in tax revenue, the majority of which has funded capital-improvement projects related to streets and drainage.

He said if voters approve continuation of the tax, revenue projections are estimated to reach nearly $50 million over the next seven-year period.

“Streets and drainage improvements will receive over half the money, while one-eighth of a cent will go to City Corp. for federally-mandated wastewater-system upgrades, and one-sixteenth will be utilized for citywide economic development,” he said in the news release.

Reaves presided over a town hall meeting Aug. 29 at which the tax extension was the topic.

“I thought it went well,” Reaves said. “Most everyone there was very, very supportive.”

Residents had questions, Reaves said, adding that he believes officials answered those questions.

“The majority of the people want our community to grow,” he said. “They want jobs; they want economic opportunities. To do that, it takes continued growth.”

Reaves said continuation of the sales tax is key.

“As long as we get the message out, it certainly will pass overwhelmingly,” he said.

Voting will be at the Pope County Election headquarters office, 1509 E. Main St.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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