Following impassioned responses from several members of the public, the Conway City Council added its list to the dozens of municipalities opposing the proposed severance tax on natural gas. The council did so by approving a resolution opposing the passage of the Natural Gas severance Tax Act of 2012.
The council voted 7-0 in favor of the resolution. Alderman Jim Rhodes was not present for the meeting.
The council allowed public comment before voting, and several members of the audience spoke about environmental concerns of natural gas drilling. Pamela Mosley of Conway said she wanted to make her voice known about the dangers of natural gas drilling because she felt other sides of the drilling debate could be "drowned out."
"This is such a hot topic," Mosley said. "This has long term implications, and I fear that the opposition to this matter will stop any public discourse. Right now, this is just about getting a severance tax on the ballot, not a vote in support or opposition of it."
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, who has rallied support to turn back the tax proposal, said he appreciated all voices on the matter, but he was most concerned about the economic track that a severance tax could take.
"Being in opposition to the tax doesn’t give a free pass to any environmental issues," Townsell said. "But on the economic side this makes no sense. I believe it doesn’t make us competitive to states around us. While Texas and Oklahoma have similar taxes, Texas has a much better incentive rate than Arkansas and Oklahoma has procedures that waive the severance tax."
Townsell also said that since the major portion of the Fayetteville Shale drilling has only taken part in the past five years, there needs to be a timeline that must be played out to see the full scope of the economic impact.
The resolution, brought to the council floor by Alderman Mark Vaught, is in line with what many entities including the Arkansas General Assembly, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and many quorum courts including the Faulkner County Quorum Court have already passed.
"We are placing ourselves out there with a lot of people," Vaught said. "This area has been given a gift with natural gas, and I just don’t think you look a gift horse in the mouth."
Democratic Congressman Mike Ross said he opposed the severance tax during a trip to Conway Monday.