EDITOR’S NOTE. This is third in a series of stories covering the public forum held last week to discuss pros and cons of a proposed recreation center.
A variety of questions and comments were presented concerning Harrison's proposed $39.9 million community recreation complex during a forum held last Tuesday night at the Durand Center co-sponsored by the Transparency in Government Group (TIGG) of Boone County and the Moving Harrison Forward organization.
Comparisons were made between the proposed complex and those already established in other towns such as Berryville, Batesville and Bentonville which are similar, but were less costly to build.
Luke Feighert, Harrison's chief financial officer, pointed out differences in the scope of the different projects, but they all resulted in economic growth, recruiting professionals to their communities and improving the communities' quality of life.
Memberships are vital to making the center viable. If the center is built will people come?
Some of the comments focused on other town's centers that were built for less, but it was noted that some of those communities under-built.
The drawing pool of potential recreation center members was called into question. Feighert said surrounding counties and even Branson, Missouri, are included in the center's service area and that the combined populations support the memberships targeted.
A man in the audience said the only new businesses being built in Harrison are banks and car washes. They are not making up the jobs being lost, he said. The local work force can't sustain a big company. He said he believes housing issues and low wages are causing people living here to struggle. Most young people are leaving the area for a job. He said he doesn't believe a recreation center is the answer to those problems.
A young man identifying himself as a millennial said he has friends at the University of Arkansas and they don't have a choice to come back to Harrison. One graduated with an engineering degree and he has been offered jobs at Little Rock and in Springfield, Missouri.
He said he wants his children to grow up and have a job available in the same town they grew up. If the city builds the center will the city in the future be able to afford programs that will provide jobs that actually create economic growth and development? That's more important, he said. "I would move to a town for a job, not for a rec center." The remark drew applause.
Ask the companies and businesses that will benefit from the influx of people who flock to the recreation center to put some skin in the game above and beyond the sale tax, a woman added. The community doesn't need a $40 million recreation center for an improved quality of life. She noted Berryville built a small recreation center that has improved that community's quality of life. What you're wanting to do with this proposed center is to create an economic development entity.
You are mixing apples and oranges, here, she said. We are talking quality of life and economic development. Should the two be married or should they be separated?
Feighert agreed that the city could build a center for less. Batesville built a $26 million facility, but now it is bursting at the seams, he said. Harrison could build a $20 million facility, but it would be outgrown in six months. He said he is confident that the proposed center with consistent maintenance would be beneficial to the community for 50 years.
One of the panelists at the public forum was Bob Pinson, cattleman, real estate owner and former banker. He said he lives outside the city limits and will not be able to vote in the special election. Speaking for many in that regard, he said he felt that this should be a county issue. His comment drew applause and comments by others in the audience upset that the special election is not open to county voters.
Pinson, a TIGG member, went to some length explaining his family's ties to the community as it resides just outside the city limits and in the Valley Springs School District though he has a child who attends Harrison schools. He and others reasoned since they pay sales taxes for goods and services in Harrison, they should be able to vote.
The recreation center would be something operated by the city and the city council voted to put the election before the city's voters, explained Feighert, a panelist representing Moving Harrison Forward.
The election consists of two Harrison sales tax referendums necessary to build and maintain the proposed recreational complex.
Early voting will take place Tuesday through Friday, Nov. 5-8 and continues on Monday, Nov. 11, at the Boone County Election Center on West Central Avenue, from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m.
The special election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, at polls located at Woodland Heights Baptist Church on Gipson Road and the Election Center, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The city proposed the facility at a special council meeting in July. It will require passage of a 0.75% sales tax to build the center, which will expire when bonds sold to finance the construction are paid off, and a permanent 0.25% sales tax for its maintenance and operation, and for maintaining and improving existing parks facilities.
Revenue from the 0.75% sales tax would go to a bond trustee, not the city, in order to see the bond issue retired. It is projected that the bonds would be repaid within 12-15 years. That is based on no growth of sales tax revenue.
TIGG founder Dr. Bill Ray Lewis served as the moderator for the forum. He interrupted the discussion saying, "We need to clear the air." This is a decision made by the Harrison City Council, he emphasized. This is something the council has voted to do. You have to leave it there unless the city council withdraws its proposal. It is a city project. "We need to understand that, right now."
Though Pinson is not able to vote, he said his family makes use of the city's current swimming pool. But he said he is concerned the facilities are in disrepair.
Parks and Recreation Director Chuck Eddington confirmed there are three of six showers in the women's showers that are not working currently. A plumber was summoned, but it was discovered that the plumbing was built inside the concrete. The wall will have to be torn down to replace the plumbing. There is one men's shower not working, he added.
The plumbing is over 20 years old, Eddington said. Money to replace it was not in this year's budget. The swimming pool is just one of many assets in need of repairs or replacing. Eddington said he would address them when it was his turn on the agenda to speak.
Christina Huddleston is the owner of Leonardo's Pizza Villa and was invited by TIGG to be a panelist. It is exciting when teams come to town, Huddleston said, because they like pizza.
She asked why is there only one option being proposed? Why is it so singular? Why isn't there a plan A, B or C?
Feighert said originally planners considered a project costing $55 million. It was pared down to what was feasible, yet provide everything Harrison needs. As far as voting on multiple options, that gets convoluted, he said. This option is believed to be the best and most attractive.