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CONWAY -- Differences on how best to finance a Faulkner County animal shelter have lingered into a 12th year even as yet another funding proposal has emerged.

Jim Baker, the newly re-elected county judge, favors the latest plan, but it has drawn some opposition. And no one seems to know whether it will go before the Quorum Court at its Dec. 18 meeting or in January, when a new Quorum Court takes over.

At least one issue is being resolved this year, though. Baker said the county has given the directive to refund almost $500,000 to a voluntary animal-shelter tax fund. He said the check will go out before January.

Justice of the Peace Bill Dodgen of Conway recently proposed a 0.25-mill property tax to fund operations of a shelter once one is built. Dodgen said last week, though, that he might have to revise the number upward, depending on how much revenue it would generate.

Baker said the tax would generate about $300,000 annually, enough to finance operations, but only if the county joins with the city of Conway in a joint shelter operation, as some people have previously suggested. The city has a shelter but needs a larger one; the county does not have a shelter.

Baker said the tax proposal has "a chance."

According to the county tax assessor's office, a 0.25-mill levy would translate to about $10 a year on a house that sold for $200,000.

Millage rates vary among school districts. The millage in Conway, the county seat, now totals 50.6, according to the assessor's office. That's $2,024 in annual property tax on a $200,000 home.

Donna Clawson, chairman of the Faulkner County Animal Shelter Advisory Board, said revenue from Dodgen's proposed millage could get a shelter "up and running."

The shelter issue has "just gotten so political," Clawson said. "Twelve years ago when we said we want an animal shelter, no one thought it would be 12 years. [At] the rate it's going, it's going to be 14 [years]."

Justice of the Peace Randy Higgins, a member of the Quorum Court's Budget and Finance Committee, which is to review the proposal, has some concerns.

Higgins said the matter was raised without being on the agenda, despite a recently approved transparency ordinance saying that proposals should be submitted before meetings.

Even if the measure gets on a future agenda, Higgins said he's already heard from several constituents who oppose a tax increase. He said he also has "talked to several people who are for the animal-shelter funding no matter what."

"The concern has always been, how do we get the money" for operations once a shelter is built, Higgins said. "I do want to hear the debate. ... But I'm not typically in favor of tax increases at this point. That's overwhelmingly what I'm hearing from my constituents."

Even without an increase, Higgins said he thinks the Quorum Court "might still be able to find [the operational funding] in the budget somewhere."

But "for most of the Quorum Court to get behind it," Higgins said, justices of the peace need to see "a definitive plan." Such a plan, he said, needs to be specific on such matters as the square footage planned for a shelter.

Clawson said she just last week got a copy of an architect's plan that the county judge had obtained. She said she hopes Baker presents it at the Quorum Court's next meeting. "It's gorgeous," she said.

"Presently, they [shelter supporters] are trying to find a big enough piece of property that will be adequate for the shelter for decades," Clawson said.

The plan, which has not been approved, features a 10,000-square-foot building on a 5-acre piece of property. Prepared by Rik Sowell Architects, the plan includes areas where the building could be expanded in the future.

Like Baker, Higgins said cooperating with the city of Conway "is the best way to go."

"It doesn't make any sense to have a city shelter and a county shelter. ... The animals don't care," Higgins said.

In January, the county paid $499,025 to buy property on Conway's South German Lane for a shelter, using revenue from a voluntary 1.5-mill animal-shelter tax that began in 2006.

The county decided to lease the building to the sheriff's office for two years, then turn it over to the shelter. But shelter advocates became upset when they realized that the office was renovating the facilities for its use, meaning work on converting the buildings into a shelter couldn't begin for two years.

Since then, many advocates have decided that it would be best to build a shelter from scratch.

Clawson has estimated it will cost $850,000 to build a shelter. The shelter fund is at roughly $1.3 million, not counting the almost $500,000 refund, she said.

State Desk on 12/03/2018

Print Headline: Tax proposed to fund animal shelter

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