City council nixes vote for sales tax increase
Water park, other projects would have been funded by new revenue
By JOHN RECH
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon invited the television media to the city council meeting last Thursday calling for a public vote for a permanent one cent sales tax to underwrite an array of city projects, including a giant Ferris wheel, a water park, and an indoor sports complex, a new police headquarters and additional funding for paramedics. McClendon’s version of the ancient Roman appeal of ‘Bread and Circuses’ failed to impress a supermajority of city council representatives needed to move the tax increase to a required vote of the citizens.
The permanent tax was proposed to pay for a new bond costing up to $35 million to finance the new construction projects with 75 percent of the new tax going toward the build and 25 percent of the new penny going to the parks department to maintain the proposed new facilities. The current sales tax stood at 10.75 percent with and additional three percent advertising and promotions sales tax for eating out and hotel stays. Currently state of Arkansas takes 6.5 percent, with Crittenden County sales tax standing at 2.75 percent and the City requiring its 1.5 percent.
The presentation entitled “The Power of Just a Penny” felt ill advised to three city council members whose votes served to block the mayor’s planned project entirely. The mayor presented it as an economic development strategy and a provision for improved safety in the city with funding for the police and paramedics.
A city aqua park featuring a day and night time ride on a giant Ferris wheel, with splash and swim amenities failed to excite the alderman the way a water park promised as McClendon ran for office motivated his voters. The added civic accoutrements of a indoor sports complex named Big River Sports Center featuring courts designed to attract revenue into city coffers driven by volleyball and basketball traveling tournament teams and families added to the tax burden to build and maintain new facilities. Improvements to public safety were touted too. Renderings for a new police headquarters were trotted out after permission had been granted by city council to negotiate for purchase renovations of the abandoned dollar store next to the existing police station
See COUNCIL, page A3
The 9.2 million bond was not enough to pay for a new water park at Tilden Rodgers Park. Undaunted, West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon proposed a new one cent sales tax increase to fund bond repayments for a series of tourism lures including an aqua center with splash and swim amenities. City council failed a two-thirds majority vote to put the additional tax before the voters.
Rendering by City of West Memphis
Part of the penny sales tax proposed by West memphis Mayor was planned to improve public safety with more funding for medics at the fire department and a new headquarters for the police. The new station was the second idea considered for a police building this year. Earlier city council authorized spending up to $500,000 to buy and renovate the abandoned dollar store between the existing police station and the new library. The mayor returns to the drawing board and planned to re-proposed the penny tax increase.
From page A1
paled in comparison to the drawing for a brand new building.
Costs for the water park proved too expensive to t under the 9.2 million bond election for park improvements. Top priorities were handed to improving ball diamonds with articial turf to attract touring softball and baseball teams into the city for overnight stays in local hotels, and weekend dining along with a 200 seat amphitheater with no new parking at 14th and Broadway squeezed the a proposed water park out of plans. Playing eld upgrades had been badly underestimated when the bond issue was put together.
Undaunted, the mayor proposed more, better and bigger capital improvement projects in the city. He had presented the ideas to city council in a quickly called meeting a week earlier. The rush to put it on the ballot this year before a new law limited special elections next year took priority over developing a community consensus which lead to a complete collapse of any plans. McClendon left the meeting touting the projects to television cameras despite having no time line to reintroduce the ballot issue to raise the city taxed another percent.
Councilmen Tracy Catt, Wayne Croom and Charles Wheeless voted against sending the proposed additional once percent sales tax to the voters and forced the mayor to withdraw two other ordinances supporting the projects. Six other city council members voted in favor of tending the tax to a vote while Councilman James Holt was absent. Wheeless resisted the carnival like appeal of a new Ferris wheel along with other projects and voted in opposition.
“We are in economic tough times,” said Wheeless, and you want to fund a party.”
“There are some of you who just pick apart everything we do,” said McClendon.
Councilman Tracy Catt thought the project plans were being rushed on city council. He asked about delaying considerations to allow input from citizens with three reading voter the next six weeks. McClendon wanted the three ordinances tied to the project read three times in one meeting in order to get a special election date this year. Starting next year, a new state law limits called special elections to four.
I would love to see us read this out over an extended period of time and have public hearing where people can provide input and ask questions,” said Catt.
“We have to have something for the kids,” replied McClendon.
Councilman Croom felt the weight of a sales tax burden and city fees.
“Our taxes are already very high,” said Croom. “We’ve just raised city permit fees. We’ve just raised the A& P tax (Advertising and Promotion) on restaurants and hotels. The A& P tax revenue is way up and they are looking for ways to spend the new money. We’ve raised garbage rates and water rates in the last year. We have a 9 million bond for the park redevelopment already. And the ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) wanted repairs we’ve funded on another multi-million bond to make needed repairs for storm water and sewage repairs. Considering our demographics there has been a lot asked of citizens lately.”
“How many of our people pay the tax to stay in a hotel?” asked McClendon.
The mayor left the meeting after the road block vote vowing to return with the same proposal in the future, but could not articulate a denite time line.