Top 5 political stories — No. 4: Fort Smith sales tax extension

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 38 views 

Editor’s note: With the days, weeks and months seemingly passing faster than ever, it can be difficult to remember what happened yesterday much less the past six months. To that end, The City Wire will during the next three weeks highlight the top 5 stories of the first half of 2009 in the following categories: Business/economy, political, and cultural. The top 5 business/economy stories were counted down between July 20 and July 24; the political top 5 between July 27 and July 31; and the top 5 cultural between Aug. 3 and Aug. 7.

In early April, the Fort Smith Board of Directors set June 9 as the special election to extend a 1% sales tax 18 months to raise $30 million needed to cover water and sewer improvements mandated by the federal government.

Costs of the improvements grew from $60 million to about $85 million. The tax extension, if approved, will push from June 2012 to December 2013 the end of the 1% sewer improvements tax approved in 2006. The city faces administrative and other potential oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice because excessive amounts of stormwater and groundwater enter the city’s sanitary sewer system through cracks and defects in the sanitary sewer pipes and manholes.

Since 2001, the city has made $100 million in improvements at water/sewer treatment plans and in the collection system. In 2001, voters approved (68% of the vote) $30 million in sales tax bonds, and voters approved in 2006 (75% of the vote) a $63 million sales tax bond to continue those improvements.

But about $75 million in work remains, according to Deputy City Administrator Ray Gosack.

By an impressive margin of 90%, Fort Smith voters approved the extension of a 1-cent tax approved in 2006 that would keep the tax on the books to early 2014 — about 18 months longer than the 2006 voter authorization.

City voters on June 9 cast 2,346 votes (about 5.5% of registered voters) in the election, according to results posted on the Sebastian County Web site. The votes were:

FOR sales tax extension: 2,094
AGAINST sales tax extension: 236

(Full disclosure: The City Wire publicly encouraged passage of the extension because it was the least onerous of the options available to fix the more than $75 million in system problems required by federal mandates to be addressed. It extended the 1% sales tax for wastewater improvements 18-24 months, meaning the extension was NOT adding a new tax to the books.)

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