City officials presented information and answered residents’s questions about the proposed street improvement tax during a public hearing Tuesday.
Conway voters will be asked to decide whether to levy a three-eights of 1 percent (0.375 percent) sales and use tax that would generate around $5.1 million per year for five years and sunset on March 31, 2023, during a special election Nov. 14.
Mayor Bart Castleberry opened the meeting by addressing some concerns his office has already heard from residents about the special election, including the fact the city is having a special election rather than waiting until the general election in 2018.
Castleberry said the special election will only cost the city $3,000 and that, according to street engineers, the deterioration of the city streets over the next year would amount to an estimated $3 million.
After presenting the basic information, Castleberry opened the floor to questions. Faulkner County T.E.A. Party member David Crow asked about whether the tax would cease in five years.
“Can we trust this statement that it will sunset; that you will not try to extend it?” he asked.
Castleberry said the intent was not to “re-up the tax” and reiterated the city council couldn’t extend it but he stopped short of guaranteeing the city wouldn’t ask for an extension.
“The ordinance itself says it sunsets in five years,” he said. “If the council so chooses, they could ask for it to go back to a vote of the people [at that time].”
Some residents asked about using other funds to improve the streets, such as Advertising and Promotion (A&P) but Castleberry explained that most of the suggestions aren’t allowed by law.
A&P funds, park impact fees, street impact fees, sidewalk and stormwater funds can’t be used to maintain existing streets, he explained.
He said there are a few other options but he doesn’t support them.
The city could do business licensing which would generate $200,000 each year but it would require adding personnel, which Castleberry said would defeat the purpose.
The city council could raise personal property taxes by 2 mills, which would generate $2 million each year. Castleberry said he opposes this idea because the money wouldn’t be received until the end of 2019 and it would come solely from Conway residents.
On the other hand, he said, people who commute to work in Conway or come for shopping or entertainment but don’t live here would pay the sales and use tax.
“Conway is one of the few cities that our population actually increases during the day because of people coming to work but also people coming to shop,” he said.
The city will host a final public hearing on the matter at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Don Owen Sports Complex.
Early voting in the special election will be conducted 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays Nov. 7-13 at the Faulkner County Courthouse.
Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 14, at the McGee Center and the Don Owen Sports Complex.
For a list of streets the city plans to improve using the tax money if it passes, visit www.cityofconway.org.
If the tax fails, Castleberry said, the city will “do the very best we can with $1.4 million,” the current street maintenance budget.