Fort Smith voters overwhelmingly renewed a 1% street tax for city infrastructure, but rejected a plan to divert 5% of the street tax revenue for construction of a 35-mile multi-use trail system. Based on early voting results, Crawford County voters were on track to renew a 1% sales tax by a large margin.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved Jan. 20 a May 12 election in which city voters will be asked to vote for renewal of the 1% sales tax for street, bridges and drainage improvements. Part of the ballot will also include a voter question on directing 5% of the tax collections toward the multi-use trail system. A Trails & Greenway Committee developed the plan that seeks to add 35 miles to the city’s trail system.
Unofficial final results showed that 6,267 votes were cast, with 80.16% voting for the 1% renewal, and 55.69% voting against the 5% plan for trails.
Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Smith Regional Council have endorsed renewal of the tax and the 5% portion for trails and greenways.
The street tax generates $18 million to $20 million each year. The tax, first approved by voters in 1985, has a sunset clause that requires voter approval every 10 years. The tax was renewed by voters in 1995 with 87.2% voting yes, and in 2005 with 66.3% voting yes.
Pushing for the Fort Smith street tax renewal and trail tax plan was the “Keep Your Penny Rolling, A Project of Citizens for Continued Progress” committee. As of April 30, the group raised $64,750 for the campaign, with $37,500 of that coming from the Fort Smith Regional Council.
Fort Smith-based Williams Crawford & Associates was paid $39,781 as of April 30 by “Keep Your Penny Rolling” for campaign marketing and promotion.
Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, who served as chairman of the “Keep Your Penny Rolling” committee, was happy the 1% tax was renewed, but obviously disappointed with the second half of the vote.
“I’m disappointed that we failed to take advantage of the opportunity … to improve our economic development capabilities and provide a service” for the younger demographic that the city and region needs to retain and recruit, Sanders told The City Wire.
TRAIL PLAN OPPOSITION
Jerry Fleming, chairman and spokesman of the “Save Our Streets in Fort Smith” committee opposed the 5% redirection of the street tax. He said early in the effort that the group hoped to raise $2,500 for a limited campaign. As of April 30 the group raised $2,675 in cash and non-money contributions. Joining Fleming on the committee officer list are David Armbruster, treasurer, and Donald Dickey, director.
Fleming said he was not against the trail system, but was opposed to the funding mechanism. He said prior to the vote that if the 5% plan fails, he would attempt to work with those he opposed to find a funding plan.
Fleming thanked “everyday working people” for the result on the 5% vote.
“I think it is a turning point for our street infrastructure which is already suffering due to diversions, and I’m very pleased about that,” Fleming said Tuesday night.
He emphasized that he hopes the city finds money to build the trails because he supports the trail system but did not support the funding mechanism.
“Now we need to turn our attention to this trails priority. … I’ll help in every possible way to find funding for that trails system and to get that going,” he said.
CRAWFORD COUNTY VOTE
Early and absentee tallies in Crawford County showed more than 83% supporting renewal of a 1% countywide sales tax. With almost 91% of precincts tallied, the margin was 78.2% for tax renewal and 23.18% against.
Rusty Myers, co chair of the County-Wide Sales Tax Renewal Committee, said the vote indicates that voters "clearly" saw the need to continue the tax revenue.
“Voters clearly recognize that this revenue stream is not just important but critical to the operations of the local governments and fire departments in the county. I think this vote is also an expression of appreciation for the good job local governments, county and city personnel and volunteer fireman are doing in providing worthwhile services,” Myers said in a statement to The City Wire. “The countywide sales tax provides monies that are essential to the provision of important public services, and the vote was essential to the continuation of those services. We sincerely appreciate the residents who turned out to vote.”
The Crawford County sales tax was first approved in 1999 by a narrow margin of 2,571 for and 2,502 against. It was renewed in 2007 by a much wider margin of 3,592 for and just 884 against.
Money from the tax is distributed to cities within the county based on population. Following is the eight-year distribution total to the cities and county. Alma: $4.09 million Cedarville: $1.092 million Chester: $109,040 Dyer: $822,048 Kibler: $832,566 Mountainburg: $572,963 Mulberry: $1.411 million Rudy: $70,980 Van Buren: $17.758 million Crawford County: $22.728 million
The “County-Wide Sales Tax Renewal Committee” in Crawford County collected $4,849 in March, spent no money and ended the reporting period with a $7,899 balance.
There was no known opposition to the Crawford County tax renewal effort.