Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson and Finance director Luke Feighert pitched the plan for a $39.9 million Community Center recreational complex to the Harrison Rotary Club on Thursday.
“The proposed community center will have something for everyone,” Feighert said. “It will be affordable and all inclusive. Families in the county and city limits will all have access, and we’ve been told that many from Branson will come down here to make use of our facility.”
Feighert said they have asked a lot of communities who have facilities like this, what they would do differently and what have they learned from their mistakes. “One center told me they hadn’t built enough storage,” he said.
“We did not pull the $39.9 million figure out of the air,” Feighert said. “The architects we are working with say this is what it will cost.”
The city has proposed a special election in November asking voters to approve the sale of bonds and a 0.75% sales tax to pay off the debt. In addition, voters will be asked to approve a 0.25% permanent sales tax for maintenance and operation, as well as maintaining current park facilities.
An ordinance calling the special election regarding the proposal has been read twice by the Harrison City Council. It is scheduled to be read for the third and final time at the council’s regular monthly meeting later this month.
The exact language of the ordinance states: “The Bond Tax will expire after the bonds have been paid or provision is made therefor in accordance with Arkansas statutes.”
There had been a question about the expiration, or sunset, of the 0.75% sales tax.
City officials have estimated the bonds would be paid off in 10-15 years or sooner if possible. However, no specific date is mentioned in the ordinance.
Ryan Bowman, bond attorney with the Little Rock-based Friday, Eldridge & Clark law firm representing the city, appeared before the council in July to make a formal presentation. He said he helps governmental agencies with bond issues exclusively.
Bowman told the Daily Times how the sunset would work.
Bowman said that if voters approve the bond sale and the tax to support paying them off, the revenue will not even go to the city. Instead, a bond trustee will be appointed to see the bonds are paid.
The trustee would notify the bond attorney when bonds are nearly paid off and the process would begin to see the tax expire, Bowman said. He said there are specific legal steps that would be necessary.
Bowman said a future city council wouldn’t be allowed to sell more bonds without another public election, so that sales tax would expire.
The question was asked about using the old Junior High building in the downtown area for the facility.
Feighert said, “Believe me, we tried to figure out a way to use that property. But it just isn’t financially feasible and the flood plain brings up too many restrictions. Plus, there isn’t enough land.”
“We tried,” Jackson agreed.
The officials were asked about increased traffic on Gipson Road.
“Gipson Road was already in our master street plan for improvements,” Feighert said. “The section of land next to Airport Road is not part of this plan. But we will do something to be ready for that traffic.
“Three million dollars of the proposal will build a trail system that extends from the downtown area to the Community Center. Future expansion includes a trail system that connects all the schools without ever getting on the road.”
“We are looking at the fees to use the facility being between $20-30 a month for a single user and maybe $40-50 a month for a family. We still aren’t sure about these numbers, but this is based off of Batesville’s rates, right now. Mayor Jackson is very interested in doing something that would help low-income families with memberships, too. We don’t know what that will be yet, but we want this to be affordable for everyone,” Feighert said.
The group reacted positively to the presentation.
“This will benefit generations,” Cody Tatum said. “If you build it, they will be there.”
“I have been involved in the development of three strategic plans for Harrison and Boone County,” Rotarian Layne Ragsdale said. “The first plan was developed in 1996 and all three have included the desire for an indoor pool and recreational center. With the low interest rates in place today, it seems like the perfect time for this dream to finally become a reality.”