Following impassioned responses from several members of the public, the City Council added Conway to the growing list of municipalities opposing the proposed severance tax increase on natural gas.
The council voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution in opposition to the Natural Gas severance Tax Act of 2012.
Alderman Jim Rhodes was not present.
During a public comment session before the vote, and several audience members expressed concerns about the environmental impact 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."
Mayor Tab Townsell, who has rallied support to turn back the tax proposal, said he appreciated varying opinions, but said
he is 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 because the major portion of the Fayetteville Shale drilling has only taken part in the past five years, it will take more time to realize 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 have passed, including the Arkansas General Assembly, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner County Quorum Court.
"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 opposes the severance tax proposal during a trip to Conway on Monday.
Former natural gas executive Sheffield Nelson is proposing that the tax be raised to 7 percent. Wells are currently taxed at between 1.25 and 5 percent of the value of the gas that’s taken from the land. He has until July 6 to submit 62,507 signatures needed to place the tax referendum on the ballot.