City officials are gearing up to campaign for the renewal of the Move Arkadelphia Forward tax initiative
By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Touting the largest street-sealing project in known Arkadelphia history, the city’s decision makers on Saturday backed the renewal of a 1-cent sales tax geared for improvements in the city.
Noting that the city was on the verge of failing to make payroll when he took over the helm, City Manager Gary Brinkley warned directors that the city would return to “the dark ages” should the tax fail in its upcoming election.
Voters supported the Move Arkadelphia Forward tax in a 471-239 vote in a September 2019 special election — the tax sunsets on Dec. 31, 2024.
Annual sales tax collections have nearly tripled in Arkadelphia since then. The city collected $5.99 million in 2022. For comparison, $2.13 million was collected in 2019, the year before the city began collecting the tax. Sales tax collections grew 98.9% in the first of collection.
The tax has funded the purchase of a new fleet of police cars and a new fire truck, as well as a makeover of most streets in the city, funding $842,000 in slurry sealing and equipment since the collection began. The tax has also funded improvements to the Aquatic Park and Youth Sports Complex, and allowed for the purchase of the former Sav-U-Mor building, which is expected to be transformed into a police headquarters.
Asked by Ward 4 Director Reo Cummings about a timeframe for renovating the Sav-U-Mor facility, Brinkley hinted that project will rely on passage of the tax, saying any improvements to the building will depend on available funds. Among other things the tax has funded are major improvements to the city’s drainage system.
Directors seemed to favor renewing the tax.
Reviewing a set of maps showing street improvements since 2016, Ward 1 Director Taylor Chaney said citizens should be made aware of those improvements in order for the public to support the tax.
Mayor Scott Byrd said he remains opposed to making the tax permanent, although he seemed in favor of extending the sunset to 10, 15 or even 25 years — that way, he and Brinkley said, the city would be better situated to receive and repay a bond issue.
Director Cummings said the tax “helps tremendously” in city projects, and the 1 cent doesn’t register in citizens’ minds. “People don’t even know they’re paying this tax,” he said.
Ward 3 Director Keith Crews suggested levying the sales tax, an idea that was swiftly shot down when it was determined that voters would have to approve such a measure.
Ward 5 Director Jason Jones asked Brinkley if he had consulted with anyone about when to hold an election; Brinkley said he had only had “casual” conversations that pointed to a May 2024 election because of “too much yakking” ahead of the general election.
Directors did not vote on when to hold the election.
The five-hour public meeting allowed the city’s administration to detail completed projects and to conduct some routine business. Here are some highlights from departmental reports:
A new terminal building opened in February, and construction on a three-bay hangar wrapped up this year. A helipad project is now finished. The pad has been operational since 2022.
This fall the city plans to repaint the community hangar with aid from a $9,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics. Refurbishing and expanding the taxiway is another project the city aims to begin this year.
2024 projects include the construction of a four-bay hangar, PAPI lights, an FAA taxiway project and upgrading the exterior water supply for a shade hangar.
The number of animals picked up is “running above average.” The animal shelter was damaged earlier this year when a wind-blown tree fell during a storm. That will require replacing a storage shed and fencing.
A rewrite of the existing zoning and subdivision ordinance is under way and “nearing completion.”
Next year the department will consider “extraterritorial jurisdiction” responsibilities ahead of annexation goals.
The city paid, in cash, a little less than half of a new $957,000 fire engine, financing the remaining $500,000. A communications tower is now complete and is said to be shared with the police department; that project cost $328,327. The fire department also added a new storage shed to Station 1, on Caddo Street, at a price of $28,000.
In 2024 the Arkadelphia Fire Department plans to continue replacing equipment and upgrading its Station 2 facility on 26th Street.
Three patrol cars and two pickups for the department’s criminal investigation division are being outfitted. That cost is $245,000. The department is working with Clark County to consolidate 911 dispatching by the Jan. 1, 2025, deadline. Officials are working on a resolution that is expected to be presented to both the City Board and Quorum Court by the end of 2023.
The Arkadelphia Police Department plans to increase its training budget “considerably” in 2024, and will postpone the purchase of new vehicles to 2025 because of the late delivery in 2022. The department plans to review salaries, as well.
By the end of the year WiFi is expected to be installed at the Youth Sports Complex. New computer systems at Town Hall are also in the works for 2023.
Parks and Recreation
So far in 2023 a new scoreboard has been installed at the YSC softball field, a cost of $23,100. Though work has yet to commence on a Feaster Park restroom facility, the $273,000 project is expected to be complete by year’s end. The department also has purchased a new zero-turn mower and a turf machine, a combined total of $30,150.
By the end of the year Arkadelphia Parks & Recreation expects to replace a swing at Feaster Park and receive a new pickup truck. Construction of a maintenance facility has been postponed to 2024; those funds instead will be used toward the completion of the Barkadelphia dog park on 15th Street. City leaders anticipate the park will be complete by the end of 2023.
In 2024 Parks & Rec aims to create outdoor pickle ball courts, refurbish/replace basketball goals inside the Recreation Center, replace three heating and air units there, and replace the carpet. The department also plans to continue to work with the Conservation District and Arkansas Game & Fish Commission on a Kayak Park on the Ouachita River. The present goal in the meantime is to increase water engagement on the river.
The city pool had more than 17,000 summer visitors as of Aug. 11, with gross revenue at $239,800, an 11% increase over 2022 figures. A new diving board was installed, as well as new office flooring. The addition of a rock wall was postponed due to cost over original estimates.
The Aquatic Park has plans in 2024 to replace the floating alligator and possibly expand swimming lessons and other programs.
Twenty Dumpsters were replaced this year, and the trailer used to haul solid waste from Arkadelphia to a landfill in Bauxite continues to undergo regular maintenance.
The Arkadelphia Sanitation Department plans next year to address the city’s large item pickup program.
As noted earlier in this article, the Arkadelphia Street Department completed the largest slurry sealing job to date, laying 85,000 square yards of material on city streets. The 2023 projects included some 2022 jobs that had been postponed. The department plans to complete an additional mile of overlay by the end of the warm season. “Significant funds” were spent this year on filling pot holes due to spring rains.
In 2024 the department plans to complete the slurry seal projects in neighborhoods south of Walnut Street. If grant funding is available, it also intends to complete mill and overlay projects on W.P. Malone from Pine Street to Badger Drive, and on North 26th Street from North Park to Forest Park.
Completed drainage projects in 2023 included Caddo/North 27th streets, Henderson Street and a portion of Haddock Street.
A study is under way on a detention pond on the east side of Interstate 30. In 2024 the department has goals to replace piping at 12th and Main streets, an area that was identified as the “next worst problem” in drainage when the pipes were inspected in 2022.
Grounds maintenance purchased a new mower this year and assumed mowing responsibilities at the future dog park. A new pickup truck has been ordered. Crews have repaired and painted the east fence at Rose Hill Cemetery. In a related measure, directors voted at Saturday’s meeting in favor of a measure to use $11,000 from the cemetery fund to repair the fence at the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Main Street. The move leaves $14,000 in that fund, which Brinkley said has gone untouched for many years.
The department has plans in 2024 to rebid maintenance at Rose Hill to “recapture staff time.”
Water & Sewer
An expansion of water and wastewater to the 1,000-acre super site, owned by the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County, was completed this year.
RELATED: Gum Springs water extension
The departments have been busy planning and negotiating work for the Arkadelphia Bypass and widening of Pine Street.
In 2024 the departments will continue working on jobs that are driven by the road projects. The sewer department will relocate all lines on Pine Street, and build a new lift station at 13th Street. Dredging of sewer pond #1 will be done next year, a normal process to extend the pond’s life.
The department was restructured this year to incorporate special events under the umbrella of communications. The department plans to continue purchasing additional, seasonal street banners.
Next year the department will “streamline” its event marketing and create more videos that highlight departments and ongoing projects.
New community events are coming in both 2023 and 2024.
A Fall Fest at Feaster Park and Haunted Hayride on Feaster Trail have been added to October’s lineup. A Badger Tailgate and Turkey Trot are new to November, and December includes events by the names of Blitzen’s Bargain Market, Christmas Carriage Rides, Sounds of Christmas (Nights 1 and 2), Holiday Badger Night and a Christmas Send-Off.
New events for 2024 include Dinner Off Main, Main Street Farmer’s Market and an Aviation Fly-In Tournament.
Mural Parking Lot, or Town Square?
Most folks still call it the Mural Parking Lot. The paved lot between Town Hall and Group Living Inc., where many community events are held, is apparently undergoing a name change. As city staff have recently been calling it “Town Square”, Director Crews questioned the whereabouts of this Town Square. Apparently, Mural Parking Lot is no longer an appropriate monicker as other murals have popped up in downtown.
Brinkley warned directors that the cost of operating and maintenance has begun to diminish the city’s ability to fund capital projects.
Historical and cultural issues have caused delays in adding sidewalks funded through the Safe Routes to Schools program.
Administration aims to purchase new LED lights on I-30 ($110,000) and at the water tower ($40,000).
A note in the meeting packet indicates the city is “feeling the pressure from increasing wages in the market.” It would cost taxpayers $1,012,147 to get all of the city’s full-time employees to the midpoint of industry averages. Brinkley said he’s working with the city treasurer on a process to begin moving more employees to the midpoint, for directors to consider in the city’s 2024 budget.
In 2024 the city plans to start Phase 2 of a Feaster Trail rehabilitation project, from North 10th and 12th Street.
Brinkley said he also plans to continue accumulating funds for the MLK Park project, and anticipates a December 2024 groundbreaking.
Questioned by Assistant Mayor Roland Gosey about the park coming to fruition, Brinkley was adamant that it would get done.
RELATED: MLK Park panel talks funding, future
There is currently $400,000 in funding for the park, but the plan had been to rely on private contributions to erect what was announced as a $2 million park. Raising that amount, Brinkley admitted, “is never going to happen in Arkadelphia.” At the minimum, Brinkley pledged to have a children’s area, basketball court and parking in the initial phase of the park.
“The talk is over, gentlemen,” Brinkley said. “We’ve made a commitment. We’re going to build that park.”
Director Crews cautioned Brinkley to complete the park all at once rather than in phases.
Brinkley has plans for the city to purchase land and install storm water control detention ponds east and west of I-30, in two locations.
He’ll seek matching funds to use on improvements to W.P. Malone Drive, and request an additional $100,000 or more to the street department for slurry seal and overlay projects.
Brinkley reminded directors that Pine Street will belong to the city once ArDOT widens it to include a turn lane. He said directors should consider creating a reserve account for future repairs.
Another future goal of Brinkley’s is to erect a fire training facility, which would further drop the city’s ISO rating and decrease home insurance costs. The facility, he said, could potentially serve as a place for departments in all of Southwest Arkansas to train. Asked where this facility would be built, Brinkley said it would be on the city-owned pasture near the water treatment plant, which is off of North 10th Street behind the Entergy substation.