Wednesday, March 06, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Cabot looks to progress

The pieces needed to get voter support for a sales-tax extension that is going to a vote April 9 in Cabot are coming together.

The parks commission has selected a spot on Hwy. 321 to build a baseball park and outdoor swimming-pool complex, and architect Bob Schelle has delivered a drawing of how the old Knight’s grocery store on Main Street will look as Cabot’s new $2.6 million library.

As with any new tax, or in this case an extension of an existing tax, there is opposition to Mayor Bill Cypert’s plan to raise about $40 million through bonds secured by a one-cent tax to pay for projects the city couldn’t afford otherwise. The mayor has always said he was opposed to new taxes (the one he proposes would be just an extension), and pointing out that a growing city like Cabot will always have a sales tax for infrastructure.

Voters will be asked to extend what was first passed in 1999, so if they say “yes” to the extension, they won’t be out any more money, but they do stand to gain a new swimming pool and baseball park as well as a couple of new softball fields. They could get a nice room at the community center for large dinners and wedding receptions.

If the proposed interchange at Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 321 is built and a new sewer line allows more businesses to develop, residents will get more places to shop and eat around the new interchange and perhaps less traffic congestion in the Main Street area.

One outspoken resident is vehemently opposed to spending $8.2 million for sewer improvements, more than $5 million of which would increase capacity for growth in the Hwy. 5-Greystone area.

As critics see it, a rate increase, something customers haven’t had in more than a decade, could pay for improvements in other parts of Cabot, and a sewer-improvement district, made up of the customers who would benefit from bigger and better sewer in the Greystone area, should pay for that project.

But even supporters of the park and library said they needed a site for the new $13.5 million park and at least a picture of the new library. They weren’t willing to vote yes to a pig in a poke.

Until the election, the mayor, parks commission and water and sewer commission will hold public meetings during town-hall meetings in school cafeterias and with service organizations in restaurants and meeting rooms all over Cabot to try to win support for the various improvement projects.

The mayor has said the $9.5 million for the city’s half of a north interchange likely won’t need much explanation. But there are some who say there is no guarantee that the state highway department will pay the other half. And there are at least a few who say an interchange and new road connecting to the railroad overpass that was build after the last tax extension in 2005 is pure folly because the location is wrong.

Last week, during the first town- hall meeting called to explain the benefit of continuing the sales tax, the mayor encountered opposition to paying $500,000 for drainage projects in the Highlands subdivision. But the mayor says the city should never have allowed the problems to develop, but now those problems are the city’s responsibility.

And even before the park site was selected last week, the mayor was recommending a strategic change in classification for part of the new park. The pool complex was initially called a water park, but feedback from the community alerted the mayor to a developing image problem. They said water park, but people heard Magic Springs and decided Cabot didn’t need one.

Rumblings about the need for spending $5.5 million to expand the six-year-old community center that was completed after the 2005 tax extension have also been heard.

Supporters of expansion say it was built too small, and the city really needs a banquet hall large enough to accommodate gatherings of 500 or more and it needs a real gym, not just a few pieces of equipment set up in a hallway.

Whether the mayor and other supporters will be able to get their message out to enough people who want those things to get the tax extension passed won’t be known until the votes are counted.

The only thing that is certain is that the next month will be a busy one for supporters and opposition alike.