Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TOP STORY >> Error keeps funds away from Cabot

Leader staff writer

In his state-of-the-city address, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said Monday night that Cabot, the third fasting-growing city in the state, is doing well, except for a bureaucratic mix-up that cost the city more than $1 million in federal funding for a north interchange at Hwy. 67/167.

But the schools and air base will continue to bring in people and small businesses, and as industry develops in central Arkansas, Cabot will benefit, the mayor said.

“If Lonoke gets a factory with 1,000 employees, half of them are going to live here,” Cypert said. “Anything that develops in central Arkansas is going to add rooftops to Cabot.”

And that includes the Little Rock area. Cabot is in the right location to benefit from out-of-state firms looking for friendly tax structures and a high quality of life for employees, he said. Because of its assets, Metroplan has projected that Cabot’s population will almost double from the current 23,776 to 45,085 by 2050.

But there is one glitch in the plans he included under the subhead “2012 and Beyond Initiatives.” The $1.1 million of federal money that was supposed to be earmarked for engineering and right-of-way acquisition for the north interchange, which has been talked about for a decade, was given by mistake to the Chalk Bluff Road project in Clay County in northeast Arkansas.

Cypert said he learned about the problem from state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, who got a call in December (his last month as the mayor of Cabot) from then-Rep. Marion Berry’s office.

Cypert said that on a recent trip to Washington, he spoke to Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford and asked them to try to get the money back. The Arkansas Highway Department, which would oversee the project, also is watching with interest, he said, adding that all those involved say the money should be returned to the Cabot project.

The city currently has $3.5 million in reserve, the mayor said in his address, adding that the number is significant because several proposed projects like the federally funded interchange will require matching money from Cabot.

Initiatives for 2011 include the completion this summer of a long-term, strategic transportation plan, identifying drainage basins and keeping the ditches clean that feed those basins to help stop flooding, increasing to two lanes the southbound Hwy. 5 on-ramp to relieve congestion from the Greystone area, and the dedication possibly in April or May of the new armory.

Also in the planning stages for 2012 and beyond is a move to a better location for the central fire station and construction of a fire station for the Hwy. 5 area at Hwy. 5 and Mountain Springs, expansion at the community center to include an exercise center, and cloverleaf ramps at exits 16 and 19 on the freeway.

The mayor also wants a traffic signal at Hwy. 5 and Magness Creek and Hwy. 5 widened to four lanes from Hwy. 89 to White County as well as other street improvements to help traffic flow more smoothly across the city.

In all, he has identified about $60 million in projects that he hopes to complete over the next four years. To fund those projects, he proposes refinancing the bonds supported by a one-cent sales tax approved by voters under former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh. That $30 million bond issue paid for the city’s new sewer-treatment plant and some street improvements. It also helped pay for the community center and animal shelter.

The tax is supposed to go away when the bonds are paid sometime in 2015, and to extend the tax would require another vote of the people. But Cypert said he believes voters will approve it when they understand how important it is.