Friday, February 15, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cabot tax meeting to push extension

Leader staff writer

Representatives from the various groups who want Cabot voters to extend the existing one-cent sales tax to pay for about $40 million in improvement projects met Tuesday evening as a task force to talk about possible pitfalls to the tax passing and how to avoid them.

They decided to concentrate on explaining and promoting the $8.2 million sewer project and almost $19 million in parks projects because they are the most misunderstood. And they agreed to all work together to get all the projects approved because as Gary Walker, chairman of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said, “United we stand; divided we fall.”

A new library in the old Knight’s building on Main Street for $2.6 million needslittle elaboration, Mayor Bill Cypert said. The demand for library services is growing and the entire shopping area where the Knight’s building is located could eventually become an education center for Cabot.

The North interchange to improve traffic flow has been talked about for a decade. The only new part is that the city will have to pay half the cost, $9.5 million.

But people are confused by plans to build a combination baseball park and water park, the mayor said. No one disagrees that the city needs a new baseball park, but they equate a water park to facilities like Wild River Country. So from now on, the water park will be called an outdoor swimming pool complex to replace the existing outdated, outdoor pool.

The need to expand the six-year-old community center is also a point of contention for some voters.

When the mayor and representatives from the task force begin meeting this month with the various organizations and groups that could pass the tax, they will explain that the community center was too small when it was built and that there is no place in Cabot large enough to accommodate groups of more than 500.

As for the sewer project that will increase capacity for growth in the Hwy. 5/Greystone area, it is for economic growth, the mayor said. And economic growth will benefit everyone and allow the city to provide better services for everyone, he said.

The mayor called that project, which includes collection improvements over much of the city, “the key to economic development in Cabot.”

The tax would also pay for a $500,000 drainage project to stop homes from flooding in the Highlands area. Paul Davis who lives in the Highlands said at 77, he’s too old to deal with a home that keeps flooding.

But he also said residents there don’t understand the sales tax extension, and they are concerned about it.

To clear up confusion about what it’s for and how much it will cost, the mayor has scheduled five town hall-style meetings from Feb. 26 until March 26.

Also on the calendar are meetings with the following organizations: Civitan, Rotary Club, Cabot Junior Auxiliary, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Cabot chamber general membership luncheon, Cabot/Jacksonville Tea Party and the Cabot Homebuilders Association.

The mayor has requested that representatives from the task force attend the meetings especially representatives from the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission and the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission.

The mayor said the most important point to get across is that the tax is not a new tax, it is a tax extension.

If voters approve it, they won’t pay more than they do now. Furthermore, Cabot’s population is about 25,000 but its trade area has a population of about 61,000.

So the money borrowed in bonds to pay for the various projects will be repaid by everyone who shops in Cabot, not just Cabot residents.

The original one-cent sales tax was passed in 1999. It paid for water wells, a water treatment plant and a line to deliver the water to Cabot. Cypert credits that tax with allowing Cabot to continue growing.

Then in 2005, the tax was extended and additional bonds were approved to pay for more work such as the community center, the railroad overpass that connects Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38, the animal shelter and street improvements.

In everyday language, loans for those projects were refinanced in 2005 and more money was borrowed to pay for the 2005 projects. But to use the accurate terminology that is used on ballots, the bonds were “refunded” and voters approved new bonds.

Ken Kincade, an accountant and vice-chairman of the parks commission, said he thinks it would be better when talking to voters to use terms that apply to their lives.

Most people understand that they can refinance their homes to get lower interest rates and maybe even borrow more money for remodeling.

Essentially, that’s what they will be doing April 9 when they vote to refund the existing bonds and then vote yes to new bonds for new projects, Kincade said.

And if they vote no to the refunding or refinancing their loan payment doesn’t go away, but they might miss a chance at a lower interest rate, and they don’t get projects like the new baseball fields, swimming pool and two new softball fields.

In addition to the meetings that have been scheduled, brochures to explain the tax and the projects it would support will be passed out to voters. And the mayor has asked the task force to provide volunteers to stand at intersections with signs promoting the tax extension during the week of early voting and on April 9.