The Conway City Council approved levying new water/wastewater franchise fees and increasing the municipal portion of Conway residents’ real property tax. These tax increases are meant to fund police officer and firefighter raises and pay for at least ten new patrol officer positions in coming years.
The cost to an "average" Conway household with a $150,000 house and a $50 monthly water bill will be a total of about $58 per year — $33 per year for a property tax millage increase from 1.9 to 3.0 and about $25 per year for the imposition of a 4.25-percent water/wastewater franchise fee, which is essentially a tax on Conway Corp water utilities.
These taxes on water utilities and real property can be expected to raise about $770,000 and $1.1 million, respectively. The utility tax will go to fund raises to police and fire salaries next year as promised by the council in 2012. The property tax will, starting in 2016, be used to increase the number of patrol officers. Police Chief A.J. Gary said that another ten officers in 2016 and 2017 will still put the department below an ideal 2 officers per 1,000 residents, but given the population and the nature of the city "we should be fine."
The additional officers will also help shore up CPD’s investigations division, which Gary said was understaffed. Most of the department’s needs for vehicles and equipment are being met, Gary said.
Councilwoman Shelley Mehl emphasized that the purpose of the new taxes should be noted, and Mayor Tab Townsell said that future councils should be cautioned that, although the money from the taxes will be dedicated only as general fund revenue, using it for other uses at the expense of police and fire salaries should be done only in an extreme circumstance like an economic depression.
The council has discussed the possibility of the new taxes — and as described by Townsell and Tyler Winningham, the city’s chief financial officer the need for them if the city is to make future budgets that don’t cut emergency services — for several weeks. Both new taxes were approved unanimously with little discussion on Tuesday.
In other business, the council approved:
• The purchase of two Pearce pumper trucks for a total of $985,000 for the Conway Fire Department (bids were waived at the request of Conway Fire Chief Mike Winter, who said that it has been to the department’s advantage to buy Pearce trucks for continuity of service and maintenance training). The trucks were bought with the 2012 Sales and Use Bond proceeds, and replace two 1996 model-year trucks. With the new trucks, CFD’s oldest trucks will be 2007 model-year vehicles.
• An ordinance appropriating reimbursement funds for the Conway Animal Welfare Unit.
• An ordinance appropriating grant funds received from various agencies to the Conway Police Department.
• An ordinance appropriating reimbursement funds from various entities to the Conway Police Department.
• A resolution authorizing and adopting continuing disclosure compliance polices and procedures with respect to city debt issues.
• And resolutions continuing voluntary and involuntary tax levies to be presented to the Faulkner County Quorum Court as they have in years past.