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Special elections slated for Sept. 14 in Pea Ridge, Garfield

by ANNETTE BEARD NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | September 1, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

PEA RIDGE -- Registered voters in the city limits of Pea Ridge and Garfield will go to the polls Sept. 14 to decide whether to add a one-cent city sales tax in Pea Ridge and whether to continue a half-cent city sales tax in Garfield.

Pea Ridge

In Pea Ridge, there are two items on the ballot -- issuance of bonds to pay for street work and a 1% sales tax to pay for the bond. The first quarter of the sales tax revenue is for the bond repayment. The remainder is to be distributed between four departments -- Streets, Fire, Police and Parks.

If the bond issue passes, but the sales tax does not, then the bond issue is a moot point. It can not be secured without the tax.

There is currently a 1% city sales tax that was adopted in 1984. The revenue from that tax is divided, by ordinance, to city departments: Street Department, 40%; Police Department, 24%; Administration, 10%; Fire Department, 5%; Ambulance, 7%; Parks and Recreation, 6%; Library, 5%; and Court Administration, 3%.

The city derives revenue from several sources, according to the city bookkeeper, Starla Billington. Those sources are state and county turnback based on population, building permits, property tax (which is two years behind) and franchise tax, which is earmarked for Weston Street and City Hall.

Impact fees, charged to developers, are allocated per city ordinance. Impact fees are designed to help pay for city infrastructure affected by increased population in the city. The division is Police Department, 2.4%; City Hall/safety, 19.5%; Fire Department, 3.2%; Street, 65.4%; Library, 2.9%; Parks, 4.4%; and Street/Park facilities, 2.2%.

The fire and ambulance departments were combined years ago, so the current Fire-EMS Department receives 12% of the 1984 sales tax revenues.

City officials have hosted several public town hall meetings with all city department heads present to provide information and answer questions about the tax request and the proposed use of the revenue. Few people attended the meetings. All information is available at City Hall and on the city's website.

Street Department

Paving streets, improving drainage and installing sidewalks are among the plans for the Street Department if voters approve the two measures. The bond is for a maximum of $5.8 million. Several streets are on the plan for improvement and maintenance. Street Department superintendent Nathan See said he plans to use department personnel for as much work as possible to "stretch the dollar further and get more projects for our taxpayers' money."

Hazelton Road and Patton Streets are two streets planned for paving and upgrades to provide an east/west corridor. He said sidewalks are also planned in order to provide connectivity through town for people walking.

Other streets on the plan include Greer Street, It'll Do Road, Lee Town Road, McCulloch Street, West Street and North Davis Street. Specifics on each street are on the city's website.

Fire-EMS Department

Fire Chief Jared Powell said staffing is the main priority for the department as city officials seek to transition to a full-time department. He said equipment is also needed as some of the equipment is nearing the end of its useful life. He said the air packs are about 17 years old and have a 20-year life.

"We're a combination department. I don't ever see us going away from needing volunteers," Powell said, emphasizing that the revenue would pay for medic personnel to staff the ambulance. He said the city has recently hired two full-time medics and is seeking a third.

Other equipment needs include modern extrication equipment, a washer and dryer for turn-out gear, radios and pagers for first responders and a facility upgrade to provide quarters for full-time personnel as required by law, Powell said.

Police Department

Police Chief Lynn Hahn has said body cameras for officers, computer software, computers and stun guns are some of the greatest needs for his department. He said the stun guns the department owns are old and outdated. The software needed costs about $48,000 and is used by officers when filling out reports.

Hahn said body cameras provide safety and accountability for both the officers and members of the public. He said there is an initial cost for purchase of cameras, as well as an annual fee for storage of data.

Hahn said the addition of a secure room at the police station for ammunition and firearms is needed. He said there is a secure room for evidence, but law prohibits intermingling the two.

"As the city grows, we will need more officers," he said. He said more than half of the department's patrol cars have more than 80,000 miles on them. "Patrol cars are run really hard. I want to get 100,000 out of all my cars... we have zero spares."

Hahn also said the officers could use gas masks. "When we helped BCSO when we had the uprising in Bentonville, we didn't have enough gas masks," he said.

Parks Department

Several items have been identified as needs for the parks, according to city officials, including a new jungle gym and basketball court for City Park on Hayden Road. The basketball goals need to be upgraded and parking needs to be expanded, according to Nathan See, Street Department superintendent.

A six-acre plot on North Curtis Avenue, that was donated to the city, is being considered for a dog park, walking trail, bathrooms and all-inclusive playground for which a grant has been sought. See said he'd like to see that park named Apple Park in memory of Police Officer Kevin Apple who was killed in the line of duty June 26.

"We're taking steps to create a staff for parks and recreation," See said. There is also the possibility of having a four-field baseball/softball complex.

Garfield

In Garfield, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for infrastructure improvements to the Garfield Rural Water System in March 2020. That tax is due to sunset 24 months after its approval. City officials are asking for the sales tax to continue to pay for the ongoing needs for infrastructure improvements on the water system.

Senate Bill 386, approved during the 93rd General Assembly, will affect the Garfield Water Department and may require Garfield to join another department if they can't improve the system. There are 269 customers on the water system, which is old, according to Mayor Gary Blackburn. He said the average daily use of water is 52,000 gallons, less than Gateway which uses 151,000 gallons a day and Lost Bridge which uses 80,000.

"The council's been very good stewards of that money," Blackburn said. The continuation of that tax would be the best chance for Garfield Water Department to remain a stand-alone water system. He said the current water loss is 28%, which he describes as unacceptable. He said he is working to find and repair leaks.

"So, in September of this year, we're going back to the citizens and asking them to make that half cent permanent. I see this as a 10- to 15-year project to get that 28% down to what I consider an acceptable number of 15%," Blackburn said.

Special election

The special election is slated for Sept. 14. Polls are open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in both Pea Ridge and Garfield.

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When and where to vote

Early voting locations:

County Clerk’s Office, 215 E. Central, Bentonville

County Clerk’s Office, 2111 W. Walnut St., Rogers

Early voting times and dates:

8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sept. 7-10, Sept. 13

Election Day voting locations

NEBCO Community Building, 17823 Marshall St., Garfield

First Baptist Church, Pea Ridge, 1650 Slack St., Pea Ridge

Election Day times

7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sept. 14

Print Headline: Special elections slated for Sept. 14 in Pea Ridge, Garfield

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