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Separate bond issues to pay for a new police and courts building and renovations to the city's airport are to be considered under one ordinance Monday by the North Little Rock City Council.

The ordinance would authorize the issuance of capital improvement revenue bonds of $10.875 million for the police and courts building, labeled in the legislation as Series 2019A, and $4.925 million for a new terminal, hangar and related facilities at the North Little Rock Municipal Airport, listed as Series 2019B.

Both bond issues are to mature no later than 15 years after issuance with interest not to exceed 4% for each year. Stephens Inc. will be the underwriter. Friday, Eldredge & Clark law firm is the bond counsel.

Mayor Joe Smith said he expects the City Council to approve issuance of the bond to move forward on the two projects. The police and courts building has been scheduled to break ground in November. There hasn't been a start date announced for work at the city airport.

Once the City Council approves the bond issuance, there is a 30-day referendum period from the legislation's effective date to allow any challenge of it.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to bid it out by November," Smith said. "After that [30-day] point in time, then we will go out to market to see what amount we can bid the bonds out."

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The $5.7 million in improvements planned for the city's airport, 8200 Remount Road, have been a contentious issue with the City Council. Smith had to cast a tie-breaking vote July 22 to pass legislation, 5-4, that was to authorize the city to seek a bond issue for the airport improvements.

The airport bonds are to pay for a new general aviation center, a corporate aircraft hangar and expanded parking. Also, the project includes space for a $1.125 million restaurant to be privately owned and managed by the locally owned Homer's restaurants. The airport would lease the space for the restaurant operation.

City Council members Beth White and Debi Ross, two of the four who voted against the airport bonds last month, said Friday they would rather have the two bond issues separated.

"I was disappointed to see the two as 'A' and 'B' combined in one piece of legislation," White said.

Ross said she still has questions for City Attorney Amy Fields, who had been out of town on city business.

"I'm just really wanting to ask legal to see if we can have two bonds combined like that," Ross said.

Despite the reluctance from half the City Council last month, Smith said he believes the measure will be ready for a vote of approval at Monday's 6 p.m. meeting.

"I would think so," the mayor said. "We've approved the projects, approved the loan. It's just another step we have to go through. I would assume they would go ahead and pass it and start the ball rolling. The Police Department is full-steam ahead. It wouldn't be prudent to vote against it."

Aside from the airport bond issue, Smith has planned to include $1.1 million that is supposed to come from the sale of city property on North Buckeye Street approved in February to Bruce Oakley Inc. Union Pacific Railroad tracks on that property includes a railroad easement that must be released before the sale can close, Smith said.

"I have one eye on the closing of the Buckeye property," Smith said. "There are some issues about what [the railroad] will have to do and how they have to do it. We're working with the railroad and with Oakley to figure out what to do.

"That's a million-dollar down payment [for the airport project]," Smith said. "If that land purchase fell through, that would cause some problems out at the airport. A lot of things will happen in the next four to five weeks."

The $30 million police and courts building -- or Justice Building, as Smith has referred to it -- is to be built on the former site of the National Guard Fisher Armory in the same 2600-2700 block of Poplar Street as the North Little Rock School District Administration Building. School district offices are to move out once the Justice Building is completed, then the school district building also will be demolished.

The school district owned the Armory site as well as its own building's property. All parties agreed to a land exchange last year, along with a $500,000 payment by the city to the National Guard to acquire the properties.

The new police and courts building was part of a 1 percentage-point sales tax increase North Little Rock voters approved in a city election in August 2017. One-half is a permanent tax that will fund city operations. The other half of the tax revenue is to be collected for only five years for capital improvements, which include the police and courts building.

The building was originally budgeted at $20 million of the tax revenue, according to city estimates at the time of the election, but construction estimates later increased to $30 million.

Metro on 08/25/2019

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