Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cypert preaches to Cabot ‘choir’

Leader staff writer

Although at first glance the turnout might have appeared to be fair for a town hall meeting held in Cabot on Monday evening to familiarize voters with the projects they will be asked to pay for by extending the city’s existing sales tax on April 9, a closer look would have revealed that the number of actual voters looking for information could be counted on one hand.

Several seats in the Magness Creek Elementary cafeteria were occupied but the audience was made up mostly of city employees, members of Cabot’s park and water and sewer commissions, city council members and members of the Lonoke Prairie Regional Library Board.

Asked if he was preaching to the choir, Mayor Bill Cypert conceded that the audience was in fact made up almost entirely of those who support extending the sales tax to pay for about $40 million in infrastructure projects.

The mayor has scheduled several town hall meetings, mostly at schools across the district, in an effort to gain support for the tax extension set for election on April 9.

The Monday night meeting highlighted the proposed $2.6 million library that will be built in the old Knight’s building on Main Street as well as the proposed $8.2 million in sewer improvements.

Library Director Leroy Gattin told the audience that growth of the Internet has not made books or the library obsolete and use of the library has actually doubled since the current facility was built in 1996.

“Books won’t go away,” Gattin said. “Not everyone can afford a Kindle or a Nook.”

Plans for the 21,000-squa-re-foot Knight’s building include meeting rooms, more room for the children’s programs and books, more comfortable seating where people can read newspapers and a coffee bar.

Cypert said the old 8,196-square-foot library will be turned over to the senior citizens to replace the center they have outgrown and that building will either be sold or used for some other purpose.

Gary Walker, chairman of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, told the audience that although the $5.7 million Four Mile Creek Project that will increase sewer capacity in the Hwy. 5/Greystone area is getting the most attention, the entire project is made up of seven parts including replacing deteriorating pipes in the older part of the city and upgrading from lift stations to gravity feed lines in the areas of West Oaks, Countrywood, Polk Street and Shiloh subdivisions.

As with all the planned parts, the Four Mile Creek project is intended to take care of existing customers and to allow for growth, Walker said.

In response to comments from Tom Stanley, who opposes the Four Mile Creek project, the mayor said the area it will serve is the only growth area left in Cabot because Cabot is surrounded by other water districts and Cabot won’t annex areas it can’t provide with water.

“Water turfs are highly protected,” he said.

Walker said if the tax extension doesn’t pass, sewer rates would need to more than double to pay for the seven projects.

If it does pass, rates would still need to go up for maintenance and improvements in the area of South Hwy. 89 at the rate of 15 percent a year for five years beginning in 2015.

Walker’s presentation included a 2010 survey that showed Cabot sewer rates are some of the lowest in the area. By comparison, the rate for 5,000 gallons is $17.25 in Searcy, $19.18 in North Little Rock, $22.25 in Ward and $24.67 in Beebe.

In addition to the library and sewer projects, the April 9 ballot includes $9.5 million for the north interchange and connector road to the railroad overpass built with revenue raised from the 2005 tax election, $500,00 to improve drainage in the Highlands subdivision, $5.5 million for expanding the community center and $13.5 million for a baseball park and outdoor pool complex that will be built on Hwy. 321.