‘Steady’ numbers seen for early voting (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 103 views 

Editor’s note: Sebastian County Clerk Sharon Brooks on Wednesday sought to retract the statement that she called anyone “mean spirited,” saying instead that many people were verbal in their anger about the tax. However, The City Wire stands by the original comment made by Brooks.

The first day of early voting for a November election not part of a mid-term or presidential cycle is typically no big deal. But in Fort Smith, the 1% prepared food tax is on the ballot.

“It’s going pretty steady,” Sebastian County Clerk Sharon Brooks said of the traffic on the first day of early voting at the court houses in Fort Smith and Greenwood.

She said around 4:30 p.m. that 319 had voted in the Fort Smith and Greenwood locations, with about 280 of those in Fort Smith.

Proceeds from the 1% prepared food tax, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot, would support operations of the Fort Smith Convention Center. A 1% prepared food tax is estimated to raise about $1.8 million annually.

Despite being a fairly common tax enacted with little to no fanfare in other Arkansas cities, the issue has created a firestorm of controversy in Fort Smith.

The tax was approved for enactment by ordinance by the board in February as a solution to an annual deficit with Fort Smith Convention Center operations predicted to occur when $1.8 million in annual state turnback money dried up. However, a petition drive pushed by local restaurant owners attempted to force the tax to an election. The petition effort eventually resulted in a court hearing during which Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Michael Fitzhugh overturned the city’s rejection of the petition drive.

Following the ruling, the board voted in July to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Brooks said people “are certainly coming in (to vote) with their opinions” on the tax.

“What I’m seeing really is that it is balancing out,” Brooks said when asked if the majority of opinions expressed were for or against the 1% tax.

Brooks did say that more of the elderly voters are against it, and that those against it are  “kind of mean-spirited about it.”

Elected to the county clerk post in 2010, this is Brooks’ first general election.

“I’m feeling comfortable with the staff because they are doing a great job. But yes, I was a little nervous about it because it is my first (November) election,” she explained.

Early voting continues 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through this week at the Fort Smith and Greenwood court houses. No early voting will be held Saturday, but early voting will be held Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On election day (Nov. 8), the voting hours at precincts are 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.