Aquatic center, new fire stations on Team Jonesboro’s wish list

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 342 views 

If voters pass a 1% sales tax to fund safety and quality of living projects, the grassroots organization that has been pushing for the hike has ideas about how to spend the money.

Team Jonesboro unveiled the projects it would support Tuesday (July 23) at The Forum in downtown Jonesboro. More than 100 people attended the launch party including local government officials, business leaders, community activists, students, and others.

“Team Jonesboro is a movement … I’m a part of that movement,” businessman Trey Stafford told the capacity crowd.

The proposed tax will sunset in 12 years, and it’s estimated it would produce about $18 million per year in revenue meaning about $200 million could be generated for various projects. Up to $99.6 million would be dedicated to the police and fire departments. The estimates for the projects Team Jonesboro intends to support don’t include potential matching federal and state grants, private donations, corporate sponsorships, or other monetary offsets that could drive down the city’s financial commitment to certain projects.

City officials have acknowledged a steady rise in crime in recent years as the population has exploded, and more police officers and facilities are needed. Alderman Dr. Charles Coleman told the crowd that safety has to be an imperative in the city if it wants to attract and retain high quality, highly-educated workers.

“We’ve become one of the key communities in the state … you can’t have attractive amenities without law enforcement to protect them,” he said.

Jonesboro Fire Chief Kevin Miller noted that in 2007 the city had seven fire stations with about 112 employees. During that time, the department responded to about 3,000 calls per year. That number has ballooned to 6,000 calls annually and only six additional staff members have been added, and no new stations have been opened.

Should voters approve the tax, two new stations would be built. One would be built on the northside of Jonesboro near NEA Baptist Hospital and the other would be built in the southwest section of the city, a place that has experienced explosive population growth in recent years, Miller said.

One of the central quality of life projects that has been discussed in the city for many years is an aquatic center. Team Jonesboro estimates a center that would be capable of hosting signature swim meets with a 25 to 50 meter pool. It would have outdoor attractions similar to other aquatic parks around the state, businessman Vic Moore said. The park could cost in the $15 to $18 million range, he added.

“It’s long overdue. We’re ready,” he said.

Another project that has been proposed is a volleyball multi-sport complex. Each weekend during volleyball tournament season, hundreds of local players travel across the region to play in tournaments, advocate Kelly Kelley told the crowd. Some players and their families spend two to three nights in these cities and can fill up to 1,700 hotel rooms per night. The players and their families eat, shop, participate in leisure activities and some might even buy a car if they find the right deal, she said. Some tournaments will host as many as 96 teams, meaning the economic impact for that one weekend would be staggering, she added.

A children’s museum, dog parks, a bike and pedestrian trail system that would connect the entire city, arts and theater improvements, parks upgrades and other quality of life projects such as mosquito control are also supported by the group.

Its proposals will move to the Oversight Integrity Council that will make decisions about which projects will move forward if the tax is passed. The special election for the tax will be held Sept. 10.

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