Just what are people saying about a proposed Community Complex recreational center in Harrison?
The themes were quality of life and economic development when the Harrison City Council opened the floor for comments on a $39.9 million public recreation center the city would like to build in the north part of town, not far from the existing sports complex. The project was on the agenda of the regular meeting of the city council Thursday night. To accommodate the expected turnout on the matter, the meeting venue was changed from City Hall to the main auditorium at the Durand Center.
Videos were shown of recreation centers at Batesville and Paragould of which the proposed Harrison center would be similar. A video message from Berryville Tim McKinney extolled the rewards that community has received by building a community center of its own. That facility includes an indoor pool which attracts users from around the region, including Harrison.
Invited by Mayor Jerry Jackson to open the discussion were Debbie Johnson, chair of the Boone County Hometown Health Initiative; Tommy Bryant, a member of the Batesville City Council; and Bob Largent, CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce.
They were followed by about 24 individuals, most of whom used an allowed time of a minute or so to speak in support of the project.
The meeting began at 7 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m.
Other business items on the agenda were conducted first before Jackson opened the floor for discussion on the three ordinances introduced at a previous meeting and passed their first of three required readings before they can be adopted. The ordinances call for a special election asking voters to support two sales tax measures, one seeking a permanent city-wide 0.25% sales and use tax to maintain and make repairs to existing parks facilities, and the other seeking a 0.75% city-wide sales and use tax to pay off bonds needed to build the new facility. That tax would end when the bonds are retired, the ordinance said.
Johnson, who retired from the Arkansas Department of Health as the manager of the Boone County Health Unit, continues to serve as a community leader as the chair of the Boone County Hometown Health Initiative. That coalition was formed in 1998 and was a pilot program initiated by then-state Health Department director Dr. Faye Boozman. The project expanded and today every county in the state has its own Hometown Health organization each focusing on local community health needs.
Longevity and quality of life can be positively impacted by physical activity and diet, studies have shown, Johnson said.
According to County Health Rankings Data statewide, Boone County reported 31.6% of its population do not participate in healthy physical activity, and that 56% of Boone County residents said they have access to exercise opportunities. The state average of people having access to exercise opportunities is 65%, Johnson related. In Baxter County 75% of the people there say they have access to exercise opportunities. Benton County reported 76% and Washington County said 87%.
Looking at obesity rates, Boone County's is 37% compared to the state average of 35%. Baxter, Benton and Washington counties report 35%, 32% and 31% respectively. Johnson also included the rate of over weight persons in the county. That propels the obese and overweight rate to 72%.
"We do have a problem and it’s something we have to address," she said. "The CDC says the lack of physical activity costs us $117 billion in health care costs and 10% of our premature deaths."
These statistics were jarring, she said. She believed Boone County's statistics would be better than they are.
She said Harrison residents have a great opportunity to make a difference with this community center. She said she hopes everyone will make this investment in their health and quality of life. Quality of life is something that you can't put a price on.
Bryant has been on the Batesville City Council for a long time and was involved in the recreation center project in that town. It's an economy grower, he said, it has attracted hotels, for instance. The biggest benefit is the health benefit, he said.
People initially said the plan was too big and too expensive. To date, the Batesville recreation center has 4,497 memberships and people are joining every day. The center is open from 5 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week, 364 days a year. It's only closed on Christmas Day, Bryant said.
He described several of the activities that are enjoyed by children to senior citizens and said people are notably getting healthier. The center has also helped in the recruitment of professionals to the community.
Largent has been a proponent of the Chamber of Commerce moving more into the direction of economic development. In the last six months the chamber has seen a $20 million investment in the community, but it was not from new prime businesses.
Quality of life is the single most important factor for a prime business to come to a new community. He said the recreation center will be the largest step the community will take for economic development in its history.
There's no reason that $20 plus million investment can't be doubled or more from the day the community center is opened, he said. "When it's finished, you'll be holding on to your seat."
The floor was then opened to the public to make brief comments.
Some concerns were voiced, particularly by a few operators of small private workout centers in the city saying they would not be able compete against a government supported facility. But some owners of physical therapy businesses and professional trainers said the center would complement their practices affording their patients the extra exercise and activities they need.
A resident of the area where the proposed center will be located on Gipson Road said there needs to be plans for directing traffic to the center and away or out of the residential areas surrounding it.
A county resident complained that only city residents would be able to vote on the measures while county residents would have to pay the increased sales taxes should they pass. Another said that she was a native of the area and is a retired nurse. She said Harrison has always been referred to as a non-progressive town. Even though she does not live in the city she said she was for the project.
A proposal was made that the facility be designed so that it could also serve as an emergency facility in time of a disaster and encouraged extra security be provided to protect the public using the extended network of trails.
Several voiced opposition to higher taxes, in general.
Quality of life, one man said, is removing illegal drugs from the community and providing more job training programs.
A woman questioned how the city will pay for other needs, such as a new city hall. It was explained that there is money generated by other sources budgeted to meet those needs.
Following the comment period, the council voted to put the three ordinances on their second readings. Each was read by title only and passed. They will come before the council for their third and final reading and possible adoption at the council's regular business meeting in August.