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Harrison to vote on sales tax for community/aquatic center

by Bill Bowden | May 3, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

Harrison voters will decide the fate of two sales-tax proposals that would finance construction of a community/aquatic center and the operation of city parks.

Early voting will begin Tuesday at the Boone County Election Center, 414 W. Central Ave. in Harrison.

Election day is one week later, on May 11, at the same location.

Mayor Jerry Jackson said the city is asking voters to approve a total 0.5% in sales taxes -- a 0.25% tax to fund a $20 million bond issue for construction of Creekside Community Center, and a 0.25% tax for operations, maintenance and improvement of all park facilities.

The bond tax would sunset in 18 to 20 years, according to the project's Facebook page.

The other tax would be permanent. Revenue generated from that tax could also be used for capital improvements, acquisition of facilities, job creation and economic development, according to a legal notice of the election published in the Harrison Daily Times.

Harrison voters rejected a larger proposal in 2019, but the new community center has been scaled back from $40 million to $20 million, Jackson said. In 2019, the city was asking for a 0.75% sales tax for construction and a 0.25% sales tax for operations and maintenance.

Jackson said the elimination of a water park from the original plan trimmed millions of dollars.

He said the community center will still include an indoor competition swimming pool as well as a therapy pool and a pool for children.

The city purchased the old Harrison Junior High School property for $50,000, and the community center would be built there, incorporating some of the school buildings, including a gymnasium, Jackson said.

According to the Facebook page, the project would also include 2½ miles of paved, lighted trail extension and improvements at the city's sports complex, which has four baseball diamonds.

ETC Engineers & Architects of Little Rock designed Creekside Community Center.

Mizan Rahman, president of the firm, said it has designed a dozen or more similar community/aquatic centers across the state.

He said the firm is on a mission to improve Arkansas communities and promote safety by providing a place where children can learn to swim.

"It's a mission, of course, and we also really like doing it," said Rahman. "And we feel it is important for the community to have facilities like that and to enhance quality of life."

Rahman said Paragould was the first Arkansas city to get a community/aquatic center. That was about 20 years ago.

He said Batesville has the largest one. After initially rejecting a $50 million project in 2010, Batesville voters in 2012 approved 0.5% in sales taxes to raise $28 million for construction and 0.5% in sales taxes to fund operations for streets, public safety, parks and recreation, said Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh.

On March 9, voters in Mountain Home -- 48 miles east of Harrison -- approved a 0.5% sales tax to build a $38.6 million multipurpose/aquatic center, improve parks and fund park operations.

Rahman said community/aquatic centers are serving a function historically filled by YMCAs. Because of financial issues, there are fewer YMCAs, he said.

"When I was a sports-crazy young kid, I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA and the Boys Club," Jackson, who grew up in Omaha, Neb., recently wrote in a column for the Harrison Daily Times. "These local organizations were all about sports back then, and that was fine with me. I couldn't get enough.

"I didn't pay much attention to some basic facts about those clubs," Jackson wrote. "It didn't occur to me to be grateful that it was a clean, safe place. It just seemed natural that my friends and I were always welcome there and that there were wholesome, productive activities for us to do."

In the article, Jackson said Creekside Community Center will include computer labs, e-gaming, party rooms, a walking track, "plus every sport you can think of and some you can't."

"Every day, hundreds of people will come to the Center to gather, work and play," wrote Jackson. "On weekends, that traffic will swell to the thousands. The increased downtown activity will spill over into greater business activity on the square."

Jackson said he had talked with representatives of the YMCA.

"They were closing more than they were opening, and they weren't interested in a small town such as Harrison," he said.

The community center will do for Harrison kids what the YMCA and Boys Club did for kids in Omaha when he was growing up, Jackson wrote in his newspaper article.

"Our kids will feel valued, respected and supported by their community," he wrote. "They will have access to suitable activities in a good environment. They will have a beautiful place to hang out and play some games with friends.

"They will grow up knowing that, no matter who their parents are, they are important because they are citizens of Harrison."

Jackson said former Arkansas Razorbacks basketball star Sidney Moncrief will be at the old Harrison Junior High gym at 515 S. Pine St. at 11:30 a.m. today for an event to promote the community center vote.

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