Early voting has begun in the special election that will decide if Conway will stretch an 1/8 cent sales tax to 2044 to fund bonds that will build $21 million in roads — mostly roads associated with the Central Landing shopping center proposal.
What is it?
Cities in Arkansas cannot, by law, borrow money beyond five years without approval of local voters. In its request for proposals for a sale of more than 150 acres that makes up Dennis F. Cantrell Field, the city’s "old" airport, the city committed itself to build roads capable of handing traffic to and from a large-scale retail development.
The road improvements also include another I-40 overpass, and will function as another main east/west road that would relieve East Oak Street congestion. Some of the money will also be used to continue construction of the Western Loop’s southern leg. The Western Loop is an ongoing project to build an I-40 bypass from northwest Conway back to I-40 near Mayflower.
In order to finish the roads inside the Central Landing project footprint in the next few years, as the city is contractually obligated to do if the Central Landing project is to come to pass, the city has to take out a larger, longer-term loan. This requires approval by voters this week.
The special election asks voters to approve or deny "stretching" the existing 1/8 cent tax to 2044. The tax will stay "on the books" to service debt created by the new bonds. Otherwise, the tax would expire in 2022, but realistically it would be rededicated for some other street project. The funding stream that currently exists as the 1/8-cent tax has been the city’s major street project "workhorse" for more than 25 years.
Why are there two ballot items?
Before the city could legally rededicate the tax to issue new bonds, it has to satisfy its obligation to holders of the existing bonds. That means that to rededicate the tax to fund an additional $21 million in bond money, city would, by law, also have to "borrow" $7.5 million through issuing other new bonds to satisfy the current debt and pay for overall refinancing of bonded debt.
Since a vote of "no" for the $7.5 million bond issue, which is the first item a voter sees on the voting machine, would effectively block the $21 million bond issue, voters in favor of the overall proposal would need to vote for both.
What are the arguments against the bond rededication?
As expressed in letters to the editor and heard "on the street," many in Conway feel that the city offered too rich a deal by contracting to build millions of dollars worth of streets mostly related to one developer’s shopping center. Many also feel uncomfortable with stretching the 1/8-cent tax to 2044 mostly to pay off debt for one project.
What are the arguments for the bond rededication?
It is hoped, and has been projected, that high-profile stores including Dillard’s in the new, more upscale shopping center will bring a needed injection of retail sales tax dollars for Conway’s budget, especially the largely retail-dependent general fund that pays for things like police and fire salaries and equipment.
If Central Landing works as projected, city economic development officials have said, it will capture retail dollars from the northern central Arkansas area and far "upstream" along the I-40 corridor that would otherwise spend in similar Little Rock stores.
When and where to vote:
Early voting will continue at the Faulkner County Courthouse until 4:30 p.m. every day until Sept. 8 (Monday). Election day polling places will be the McGee Center and Don Owen Sports Complex on Sept. 9 until 7:30 p.m.