Vote FOR streets, and FOR trails

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 80 views 

The City Wire encourages Fort Smith voters to renew the 1% street tax program for another 10 years, and to vote for using 5% of the street tax to fund construction of trails and greenways in and around the city.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved 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 also includes a voter question on directing 5% of the tax collections toward construction of a multi-use trail system.

Again, on May 12 (and during early voting) there will be two votes on one ballot. We encourage you to vote FOR both items.

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.

A Trails & Greenway Committee developed the plan that seeks to add 35 miles to the city’s trail system. The 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.

There is no question the street tax has proven a tremendous investment in Fort Smith’s infrastructure during the past 30 years. The tax revenue was also used to leverage state and federal dollars, thereby allowing the city and its residents to get more for our dollars. And with a significant portion – we’ll estimate here around 40% – of the revenue paid by non-residents conducting commerce in the city, the tax program brings in more outside dollars.

When the street tax was first approved in 1985, no one could have predicted the U.S. Army would transfer more than 7,000 acres back to civilian use. Fortunately, street tax revenue was available to assist in the development of Chaffee Crossing. Thousands of jobs now have an address at Chaffee Crossing, and it’s safe to say the number of jobs would be less without the street tax revenue.

Phoenix Avenue, Old Greenwood Road, and Massard Road are just a few of the big projects funded by the street tax. Those projects have helped boost and broaden commercial activity in the city.

Again, the street tax program continues to be a key tool in the city’s development and its jobs recruitment efforts. Because it would be folly to end this program, we again encourage you to go vote and vote FOR renewal of the 1% street tax program.

Drawing opposition has been the idea of directing 5% of the street tax funds to the development of a trail system. We understand and respect the opinions of those who say city infrastructure can’t avoid the loss of 5% – about $10 million out of an estimated $200 million during the next 10 years – to trails. We understand and respect the opinions of those who say other funding methods should be sought before resorting to the street tax. These are reasonable arguments.

Certainly the 5% plan is not ideal, but we are convinced the positives of what a trail system will mean for city residents and economic development far outweigh the negatives. We have seen firsthand what the Razorback Greenway has meant for Northwest Arkansas. We see and hear the families who now have a nearby and relatively cheap outlet for family fun and healthy entertainment. We hear from families and groups who travel to Northwest Arkansas simply to bike along the trails, grab a meal, and do some shopping before heading home. We see and hear from business owners and employees who cite the trail as a quality of life component. One of the most telling comments we hear is from Northwest Arkansas residents who wonder how they got along without such a modern, safe and inviting trail system.

Sure, we could delay construction of a Fort Smith trail system for several more years and wait for grant funds and corporate support. But the world is moving faster than we may realize. Those modern tinkerers and innovators and other creative types who occupy the under 35 age bracket and either create companies or become prized company employees don’t wait on cities to catch up. They run to cities and regions and companies in cities and regions that have either caught up or are close to doing so. To be sure, a trail system is no longer a “nice to have” amenity, it is a “must have” amenity.

Momentum is building in Fort Smith with respect to cultural development. The Steel Horse Rally recently and overwhelmingly proved that this region can be home to a successful annual motorcycle event. The upcoming murals project in downtown Fort Smith will most likely be another game changer for not only what outsiders think of us, but what we think of ourselves. We’ve seen a surprising but welcome pace of renovation and redevelopment in downtown Fort Smith. Citizens have rallied to make dramatic beautification improvements along Interstate 540 interchanges and elsewhere.

Let’s keep this momentum going. Early voting begins May 5, and the election is May 12. Please vote FOR renewal of the 1% street tax program, and vote FOR a 5% allocation of the street tax to fund a 35-mile trail system.