The idea of a community recreational complex in Harrison will hinge on approval of two sales taxes set to be put before voters at a special election in November.
The Harrison City Council met in special session Thursday night to hear the proposal and to consider three ordinances necessary to bring the matter before voters.
Mayor Jerry Jackson told aldermen that the idea was presented to him by city Finance director Luke Feighert, Public Works director Wade Phillips, Parks director Chuck Eddington and Convention and Visitors Bureau director Matt Bell, who had been working together on it for some time.
Jackson said the concept for the center is fairly simple.
“The whole thing really is about quality of life and that’s what we’re about here in Harrison,” Jackson said. “We have learned recently that quality of life is the number one reason that companies and people locate where they locate is quality of life.”
The nuts and bolts of the issue are a little more complex and he turned the meeting over to Feighert to explain.
About 10 years ago a group was working on a community center concept that would have involved the YMCA, but they decided it wasn’t financially feasible at the time, Feighert said.
Then about three years ago, he was involved with a smaller group of people who wanted to explore a similar center on a smaller scale, Feighert said. That was also found to be financially unsound and wouldn’t have been affordable to people in the community.
The most recent effort created a framework of what organizers would like to see in a community center and he outlined those ideas in a slide show presentation.
“This is by no means done,” Feighert said. “We would still like a lot of public input.”
The city’s vision is for a facility that would have something for all ages, from 1 to 101, Feighert said. They don’t want to build a monumental facility that would be too expensive for all citizens to use.
“We want everybody to be involved,” he said.
Aside from sporting and aquatic facilities, the proposed center could also be available for banquets and concerts or even movies scheduled to be shown at the North Arkansas College amphitheater but might be canceled due to weather.
Feighert said the center could draw people from miles around. He had heard from some people in Branson, Missouri, who would drive to Harrison for the center because there isn’t a comparable one there.
“We hear this all the time that there’s nothing to do in Harrison,” Feighert said. “Well, this would actually provide something for everybody to do on a daily basis.”
Feighert asked Phillips to discuss the matter of the walking trail system.
Phillips said the trail would be continued from the end behind Arvest Bank on North Walnut, along Dry Jordan Creek, past FedEx Freight and connect with the complex that would be located on Gipson Road. It would also connect with the Sports Complex.
That, he said, would be the backbone for a more extensive walking trail system to tie in schools and neighborhoods and the remainder of the town.
“Cities, especially over the last decade, they’ve learned the value of trails,” Phillips said. Such a system not only gives people the chance to improve their health, but it will also bring people to town for a safe place to ride bicycles, jog or just walk.
Feighert said the effort would require a 0.75% sales tax, which would generate about $3.3 million a year, to build the facility. That tax would expire when bonds sold to finance construction are paid off, which he estimated to be in 10 to 15 years. It would also require a permanent 0.25% sales tax for maintenance and operations.
Jackson said the city was quoted an interest rate of 2.7% that day. That would be the amount of interest the city would pay on the bond issue and that rate could easily go up in the future.
Ryan Bowman with the Friday, Eldredge & Clark Law Firm in Little Rock told aldermen he had been approached to be the city’s bond attorney.
He presented the council with the three ordinances required to begin the procedure.
One ordinance would levy the 0.25% sales tax that would be permanent and another would call the special election on that issue. The third would call for a special election asking voters to approve the sale of bonds and levy the levy the 0.75% sales tax.
If voters approve both taxes, the entire project would move forward and the sale of bonds would close in early 2020.
If the 0.75% tax is defeated by voters but the 0.25% tax is approved, the city could use that revenue to maintain and make repairs to existing parks facilities.
If the 0.75% tax is approved but the 0.25% is defeated, the city would have to decide if it wanted to levy the tax and build a facility for which there would be no additional money for maintenance and operations.
Revenue from the 0.75% tax would go directly to a bond trustee to pay off the bonds. The more that is collected, the sooner the bonds would be retired. Revenue from the 0.25% tax wouldn’t be used to pay off bonds unless needed due to a drop in other tax collections.
The third ordinance scheduled the special election for Nov. 12.
The council — with Chris Head, Mary Jean Creager, Mitch Magness, Bill Boswell, Heath Kirkpatrick and Joel Williams present — voted unanimously to pass the first reading of the ordinances.
Bowman explained that the second of the three necessary readings will be held at the council meeting Thursday night, July 25, and the third reading and adoption would be at that August council meeting in order to meet the deadline for the special elections.
Two people spoke at the council meeting Thursday night and both were supportive.
But the council will hold its regular monthly meeting next Thursday at the Durand Center in order to accommodate more people to make public comment on the proposal. That meeting begins at 6 p.m.