BENTONVILLE -- The city is considering asking residents to approve $266 million in bonds for capital projects by extending a 1% city sales tax.
The City Council got its first look at the bond proposal at the Jan. 11 Committee of the Whole meeting. Plans call for the council to vote at its Feb. 9 meeting to call a special election. The election would be April 13.
Capital projects that voters would be asked to approve include $160 million for streets, $30 million for parks and recreation, $18 million to address drainage issues, $6 million for radio communications, $4.5 million for library expansion, $3.5 million for a fire training facility and $1.4 million for a police training facility, according to the city.
Eighty percent of the revenue raised by the city's 1% city sales tax goes to pay for bonds and 20% goes to ongoing capital needs. The city would maintain the same ratio if the sales tax is extended, according to a presentation from Jake Harper, city director of finance and administration.
The city would use part of the $266 million in new bonds to refinance the about $23 million in current bonds. Refinancing the debt allows the city to issue the new bonds using the existing 1% sales tax, Harper said.
City voters in 2007 passed a $117.9 million bond issue paying for law enforcement, parks and a host of street improvements. The city issued four series related to that bond issue -- 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2017, Harper said. The debt is from the last three series, he said.
"Drive around the city and you see the impact of bonds," Harper said.
The 1% sales tax brings in approximately $15 million a year.
Residents will be asked to approve the bond issue of up to $266 million with $23 million going to re-fund bond debt and issuance cost, and $243 million for new projects and issuance cost, according to the presentation. The 1% sales tax would expire in 2046.
The ballot would include nine questions for residents -- one question to authorize the sales tax extension, one to authorize the bond re-funding and seven for individual projects.
Bonds are how the city prepares for growth and manages traffic, according to the presentation.
The presentation lists 10 potential arterial road projects, including Southwest A Street, 10 potential collector street projects including O Street, and 15 potential intersection upgrades, including several on Walton Boulevard.
A steering committee developed a prioritization list for the street projects, said Dennis Birge, city transportation director. The projects are spread out across the city, he said.
Projects would include renovating Phillips Park, the downtown Quilt of Parks, the Eighth Street Gateway Park, west Bentonville trails and upgrades to the Melvin Ford Aquatic Center.
Renovating Phillips Park would include 10-13 ball fields, batting cages, concessions and restrooms, new lights, a splash park and playground.
The work would allow the city to host state and national sports tournaments while providing a boost to the local economy, according to the presentation.
The Quilt of Parks includes renovating and creating public places. Additional event space downtown would be used for First Friday, a farmers market, Bentonville Film Festival and Bentonville Half Marathon.
Renovating Dave Peel Park would include the playground, restroom and plaza area.
There also would be The Commons, a plaza area with food trucks, outdoor dining, great lawn, stage and water features.
The A Street Promenade pedestrian boulevard would connect The Commons and Dave Peel Park to Lawrence Plaza and Compton Gardens.
The Eighth Street Gateway Park would be on 100 acres in west Bentonville. The park would include trails, a destination playground, a dog park, a skate park, festival areas, passive areas, public gardens, court games and tree preserves.
The bonds would help the city work on 25 projects to reduce flooding and provide for effective stormwater drainage-control systems.
Officials selected the projects based on drainage studies, concerns from residents through the city's 311 system and known flooding issues, according to the presentation.
Drainage would be improved for more than 500 homes, and road flooding would be reduced.
Plans call for a 6,400-square-foot addition and renovation to 10,000 square feet of the interior of the library building.
The addition would include a children's department with a larger storytime area and larger craft space. There also would be a teen zone and activity room/maker space.
"The proposed improvements are important to enhance Bentonville Public Library's already vital role in our city by continuing to offer more services, materials and programs our patrons expect from a first-class library," Director Hadi Dudley said. "An expansion is necessary to better align the library with growth in population, school enrollment and city development cited in the 2018 Bentonville Community Plan."
Also, a needs assessment done in December by Tulsa Consulting services said the city's radio equipment is outdated, has been discontinued and the infrastructure is dilapidated. The assessment recommends a new system to include mobile and portable radios, dispatch consoles, tower sites, communication towers, training and maintenance.
A new radio system would allow for multiagency interoperability, meaning the city departments and other law enforcement agencies could communicate on the same software channel in emergency situations.
Bentonville and Bella Vista are the only Northwest Arkansas cities without interoperability communication, according to the presentation.
The city seeks a new radio system that would mirror systems in Benton County, Rogers, Springdale and Siloam Springs. Bentonville's system is incompatible with the county and cities, according to the presentation.
A proposed fire training facility would provide training on high-risk, low-frequency events; improve firefighter safety during fire training; and provide regular, scheduled training opportunities, according to the presentation.
Having a training facility would ease public concern with live-fire training in donated structures.
"While firefighters must continually hone their skills to stay current with construction and trends, these training fires can often be more hazardous than an actual structure fire," said Deputy Chief Kevin Boydston. "A specifically designed fire training/burn building will allow us to greatly increase our firefighters' safety, provide consistent training, meet regulatory standards and have little to no environmental impact."
The facility would use propane gas instead of material such as wood. This feature eliminates black smoke columns released into the atmosphere causing environment and health issues. A site hasn't been selected for the facility.
Bentonville is the only city in Northwest Arkansas without its own police training facility for emergency personnel, according to the presentation.
The training facility would include a virtual deescalation and judgmental use-of-force training simulator, a 100-yard live outdoor range, a police dog training area and training building used to house range equipment, according to the presentation.
The outdoor range would be built on 20 acres that the city owns near the Bentonville Armory just off Regional Airport Boulevard.