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Garland County JPs OK sales tax election

by David Showers | March 17, 2016 at 3:05 a.m.

HOT SPRINGS -- The Garland County Quorum Court voted Monday night in support of allowing voters to decide on a proposed sales tax to extend the east end of King Expressway to the junction of Arkansas 5 and Arkansas 7.

Justices of the peace approved the special election ordinance in an 11-2 vote, with Thomas Anderson and Drew Hudgens casting the dissenting votes. Mary Bournival supported the ordinance after voting against it twice in committee.

"As you all know, I've been quite vocal about the process," Bournival said, referring to putting the issue before voters in a June 28 special election rather than in the November general election. "I've never been against the intent. It's up to the people to make this vote. Not us."

Collection of the five-eighths percent sales tax would begin in July 2017 to pay down a $54,695,000 bond issue, with a projected 2023 payoff. In addition to $30 million for the county's share of the expressway-extension cost, the bonds would pay for $20 million in local road projects with money allocated to the county and its four incorporated areas on the basis of population.

The county would receive $12.3 million. Allocated for areas within the county would be $7.3 million to Hot Springs, $160,000 to Mountain Pine, $104,000 to Fountain Lake and $20,000 to Lonsdale. Fees associated with the bond sale, and the establishment of debt service reserve and capitalized interest funds would account for the balance of $4.7 million.

The temporary five-eighths percent sales tax currently financing $41.8 million in capital improvement bonds that were used to build the Garland County jail will expire after the bonds are retired later this year. According to the county's financial management office, the tax raised $10.9 million last year. The county also levies a one-half percent general fund sales tax, and a three-eighths percent operation and maintenance sales tax for the jail.

Opposition to the referendum centered on the special election, with several justices of the peace asking why the tax proposal couldn't be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department set a September deadline for the county to commit to providing $30 million in matching funds for half of the projected $60 million cost of the two-lane extension. Supporters of the special election ordinance said that deadline is why the referendum must be held before the November election.

State Desk on 03/17/2016

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