Earlier this week, Greenbrier alderman passed three ordinances to go before residents in a special election regarding a sales tax increase to help fund two city projects.
The projects at hand include a $2.2 million bond debt to finance the renovation and/or construction of a new fire station and a $3.8 million bond debt to finance park facilities and other related park improvements.
Mayor Sammy Joe Hartwick said Greenbrier’s fire station hasn’t seen improvements in nearly 50 years.
He said the goal of the project is to renovate and expand the current facility to house larger firetrucks at the Greenbrier Fire Department, located at 6 North Broadview St.
"It’s not going to be so much a demolition … we’ll be keeping the [current] slab and red iron [steel beams]," Hartwick said at Monday’s regularly scheduled council meeting.
Hartwick said the city plans to transition to a full-time, paid fire department within the next few years as the city’s population continues to grow, making improvements to the current fire department a necessity.
Fire Chief Tim Tyler said volunteer firefighters will have responded to more than 900 calls by the end of the year and that he expects more calls each year as the city continues to grow.
Greenbrier City Event Center Director Shellie O’Quinn said improving the city’s fire department will better equip emergency personnel. Some responses take longer than necessary, because the larger fire truck isn’t housed at the Broadview Street location due to the building’s size constraints.
"Our fire department responds to a large number of calls, and the existing station is pretty crowded," she said. "They can’t park the bigger trucks at the main station, so if a larger truck is needed, they have to drive it from the Springhill station. The new station will be able to accommodate the larger equipment. Also, eventually the fire department will need to be staffed at all times. The new station will have living quarters for the on-duty firemen."
Officials are asking residents to vote in favor of a three-eighths of 1 percent (0.375 percent) sales and use tax increase to help fund the bonds for the new fire department along with financing park facilities as the city moves forward with Matthews Park.
Matthews Park is a three-phase project.
Phase One, which will include the playground, skate park and a parking area, has been funded through a $250,000 grant by Land Water Conservation funds through an Outdoor Recreation Grant administered by Arkansas State Parks.
While officials are excited for this leap in progress, the project is still in its early stages, O’Quinn said.
"The park plan is a conceptual plan, meaning it is an ‘idea’ for what the park could look like," she said. "You might view the plan as more of a vision than a blueprint. The exact locations and quantities of some of the elements have already been modified, and there are some areas that may not be developed for recreational use at all. The current plan was developed based on input from the community at public meetings and through social media."
The current conceptual plan was created "based on what is recommended for a town our size as well as what would be reasonably feasible to maintain, considering the revenue that would be generated by the proposed 1/8 [percent] operating and maintenance tax," she said.
Should residents vote in favor of both portions of the proposed three-eighths of 1 percent tax, O’Quinn said there would be future opportunities for public input regarding specific elements included in the park.
As the ordinance reads: "[T]he City Council of the City of Greenbrier, Arkansas (the ‘City’) has determined that it would be in the best interest of the City to (a) finance all or a portion of the costs of firefighting facilities, including particularly, without limitation, the construction of a new fire station at its current site, and any parking, equipment and furnishings therefor … and (b) finance all or a portion of the costs of park facilities and related improvements including particularly, without limitations, any parking, equipment, lighting and utility improvements therefor."
The two require separate votes. Voting for one or both projects will result in the same rate of increase (0.375 percent) to taxpayers temporarily.
"If they vote for one and not for the other, they’re still going to be paying the three-eighths," Hartwick said.
The tax is set up to sunset once the bond debt is paid off.
Three-eighths of the 1 percent sales tax increase is to go specifically toward the mortgage of the debt, Bob Wright, Crews & Associates senior managing director, said.
"Once the bond issue is paid off, that three-eighths sunsets and it [will] disappear," he said. "The other component the citizens will be looking at is the one-eighth cent. It can be used to help pay the mortgage, the bond issue, but it is specifically for the operation and maintenance of the park facility, or parks in general. The citizens have the opportunity to say, ‘We want all three: the one-eighth to help operate the system, the fire station and the park improvements.’ They also have the opportunity to vote ‘no’ on any of those components, they have total control with that."
In the ordinances unanimously approved by the council to go before the city, includes a request for a one-eighth of 1 percent (0.125 percent) sales and use tax increase "to pay and secure the repayment of bonds approved by the voters and issued by the City from time to time to finance capital improvements [and] for park and recreational purposes."
In all, the city is asking residents to allow a city-wide sales tax increase of 0.5 percent.
Greenbrier’s current sales tax rate is 2 percent. If all issues pass, the tax rate would become 2.5 percent until the debuts are paid off.
Altogether, including funding for the budgeting, issuance of debt and debt deposits, the city is looking at sourcing $6 million through this sales tax increase, which is set to go before voters on Feb. 13, 2018.
The mortgage is scheduled to be paid off within 25 years.
Aldermen plan to hold informational meetings between now and the special election to educate residents on the city’s plan.