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Ballot set for special election in August to extend Fayetteville sales tax

by Ron Wood | June 9, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
FILE -- Jessica Pollard looks at a variety of books Thursday, May 27, 2021, inside the Dickson Street Bookshop in Fayetteville. The store was closed for several months during the pandemic. Government sales tax revenue kept growing. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Washington County Election Commission approved Tuesday the ballot for Fayetteville's upcoming special election to extend an existing sales tax.

Fayetteville is asking voters to continue the city's 1-cent sales tax in a special election Aug. 10. The tax generates about $22.5 million for the city each year and is shared 60% to general operations and 40% to capital improvements. That works out to about $13.5 million in operations and $9 million in capital improvements.

"This is the smallest ballot we've ever had for the city of Fayetteville," said Jennifer Price, executive director of the Election Commission.

Eight, in-person polling sites will be opened for the special election.

The tax is set to expire in June 2023. A successful election would continue the tax for another 10 years.

Voters last renewed the sales tax in an Oct. 11, 2011, special election by a nearly 75% margin. Voters also supported the tax in a 2002 special election.

Should the extension fail, the city would have to make across-the-board cuts to make up for it, according to city officials.

The Election Commission also agreed Tuesday to ask the Washington County Quorum Court to consider bonuses for poll workers from federal covid relief money.

The county has been discussing bonuses to employees from the fund, and Price said she thinks those who worked the general election last year deserve consideration.

"They'll look at all the departments, but a lot of times our poll workers, I feel like, are overlooked as an employee of the county, and I think that they should be considered in this as well," she said.

Price said a lot of poll workers are older, and they handled more than 98,000 voters in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, an average of about 1,000 per day, including the early voting period. Also, voters were not required to wear masks, though most did, Price said.

"Anytime a poll worker had to deal with a voter, especially those supervisors, it was much closer contact than you would have even at the grocery store," Price said.

Price said $100 each would make the total between $40,000 to $50,000. Most poll workers made about $140 working 13 hours on election day.

"If there's federal money through the CARES Act and employees within the county are being considered for bonuses, recognizing the work of poll workers who worked the biggest election in Washington County's history during a global pandemic, I mean it's certainly something that we should recognize," said Max Deitchler, election commissioner.

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