Guest Column: Castleberry weighs in on sales tax election

During the election I campaigned on streets and traffic, that is what most people I visited with were concerned about. We have a tremendous city but many think we need to concentrate on our existing infrastructure. Streets and traffic are the two concerns I continue to hear from the citizens today.

 

For the last 10 months, I have been researching with the department heads ways we could lessen the strain on the general fund and thus put more dollars to street maintenance. While we have cut spending by 5% and even a greater number in two other departments we have also had unforeseen expenses such as:

• A new roof at city hall

• Insurance premiums going up

• A new air conditioner at the Emergency Operations Center

• And mosquito abatement.

On the flip side, our new Grants Writer has secured $230,000 in grants thus far with an additional 5 million dollars applied for.

Still, we are and have been successful in reduction of cost. The department heads and I started by looking at reducing personnel cost, which is 83-percent of the general fund budget. Police and fire represent 72% of that total. I will not support a reduction of staffing in those departments. That means a large staffing cut would have to be made in the remaining departments In order to provide basic services such as sanitation, streets, planning, permitting and parks. We cannot cut personnel to that level.

There are other sources of income that can’t be diverted to streets for many reasons, such as:

• Advertising & Promotions Funds, commonly known as the hamburger tax, cannot be reallocated for streets.

• Street Impact fees are funded by fees assessed on all new commercial construction. This is dedicated to increasing new street capacity and is restricted by state law. It cannot be used for existing streets.

• Park Impact fees are funded by residential construction. They are restricted by state law for use on parks.

There are several other options to raise money but those would be 100-percent borne by Conway residents. So I don’t support them. Those options are:

• The council could vote to raise our personal property taxes by 2.0 mills.

• We could require business licenses, which we currently don’t.

• We could raise Franchise Fees on electricity.

Another source of income that I get asked about a lot is the new Central Landing development. Now that the streets are built in that area we anticipate closing on the property later this month.

We have been able to stretch city dollars by partnering with the county and state on numerous upgrades to our streets and traffic situation. We built the Highway 25 bypass, the Baker /Wills Parkway, the 6th street overpass, and Empy Lane off the south side of Round Mountain. We have also paved six streets this year.

All this being said we have an estimated need to our existing streets of over $45 million dollar and an annual budget of $1.4 million to make repairs. Meantime our streets are degrading more every day.

In efforts to communicate we have held three public meetings and placed all the information on the city’s web site (cityofconway.org). We have listed the streets, which have been identified by our streets Management Program. That’s a new technology based system that reveals which streets need the most help.

Our first priority is to overlay the streets, which can be salvaged. If we overlay a street before it reaches the replacement point we can add 10 years of life to it. By continuing to maintain it, we can add an additional 10 years of life for a total of 20 years just by overlaying and maintaining. The streets we are talking about are known as arterial and collector streets. They are the ones you drive on daily to work, to the store or to take your children to school.

We will use the funds in a Pay as You Go manner. To avoid bonding fees, we will not bond out any of the money. The higher tax has a five year sunset. It cannot be extended any other way except by another vote of the people.

It is estimated that more than half of this will be paid by people who live outside of Conway, but who use our streets for shopping and entertainment. This should generate $5.1 million annually. When you spend 100 dollars it would cost you 38 more cents.

The $1.4 million we currently receive in state turn back funds will be used on our neighborhood streets.

I campaigned on streets and traffic because you told me they needed my attention. Now, I’m asking you to vote yes on Tuesday.

Early voting continues daily from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the courthouse. Regular voting will be on November 14 at the Don Owens and McGee sports centers.

 

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