Early voting for the upcoming special election regarding a proposed sales tax increase that would help fund two city projects kicked off Tuesday.
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 of Matthews Park.
The special election is open to registered voters who live within Greenbrier's city limits. Early votes can be cast between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Greenbrier City Event Center or at the old courthouse in Conway. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on election day, Feb. 13. On Monday, the city held a public meeting to discuss the special election and ballot questions with Greenbrier residents along with residents of neighboring communities.
The ballot features three questions regarding a permanent, standalone tax for park improvements and for paying off the bonds of Matthews Park and the new fire station, which are treated separately on the ballot.
The proposed one-eighth of 1 percent (0.125 percent) standalone sales and use tax increase would be used "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," according to the ordinance.
City Attorney Dustin Chapman said this increase is earmarked to fund the upkeep of the park.
"That is a permanent fund that would go into paying the upkeep of the park," he said of the one-eighth of 1 percent proposed sales tax increase. "In other words, once the park is built, there will need to be a fund for maintenance on it ... also a salary position for a person in charge of managing the park and things like that."
Regarding the bond issues brought before the city are two questions pertaining to allocating funds from a three-eighths of 1 percent (0.375 percent) sales and use tax increase to pay off a bond debt for the fire department and to move forward with Matthews Park.
Senior Managing Director of Crews & Associates Bob Wright said the two are considered separate issues, meaning the two require two separate votes. Voting for one or both projects will result in the same rate of increase (0.375 percent) to taxpayers temporarily.
Should one or both of these options pass, the three-eighths of 1 percent tax increase would sunset once the bonds are paid off.
"The three-eighths cent is to pay out the debt on the loan to build the park and to build the fire station," he said Monday. "As soon as that debt is paid off, that tax disappears. It goes off the books the day that the debt is paid off."
Current revenue streams in Greenbrier allow for the proposed bond debuts to be paid off within 20 years, he said. That time frame lowers once growth is factored into the equation, which Wright said is not unlikely as Greenbrier rests along a major Arkansas Highway — Highway 65.
"With no growth in the tax ... no growth in the city [the debt] will be paid off in about 20 years," he said to residents that filled the courtroom for the special election meeting Monday night. "If you look at a very simple 'What if it grows 3 percent annually?," which [the city's] been doing more than that, you're looking at somewhere around 15 years [for the debt to] sunset off."
Fire Chief Tim Tyler encouraged residents to vote in favor of raising the sales tax and allocating those funds to constructing a new fire department, noting the current station hasn't seen improvements in nearly 50 years.
"[The current station] was designed around being a city hall," he said. "It doesn't have anything in it that deals particularly with firemen. There's no showers. There's no overnight facilities. There's no kitchen."
At its current capacity, the city's fire station is not equipped to house the fire department's larger, ladder truck. Instead, the truck is housed at a rural substation in Springhill.
Tyler said the need to improve the city's fire department grows as the population increases.
Current plans would build over the current lot the station at 6 North Broadview St. sits on and continue over into the playground that sits along Highway 65.
Mayor Sammy Joe Hartwick said there would no longer be a need to keep this park, noting the dangers it holds being so close to the highway will dissolve with the construction of Matthews Park, which would feature a fenced-in playground away from the busy highway.
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, Greenbrier City Event Center Director Shellie O’Quinn said.
Should both portions of the proposed sales and use tax increase pass, funds from the tax would fund portions of a priority list of attractions to be included in the park, including the playground, boulevard entry drive and skate park.
Voters can call the county clerk's office at 501-450-4910 to double check whether they are eligible to vote in this election.
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.