Saturday, March 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> School chief backs effort for sales tax

Leader staff writer

Cabot’s superintendent thinks residents should vote “yes” in the upcoming sales tax extension election.

Early voting begins Tues-day on the one-cent sales tax that would pay for $40 million in projects.

The head of schools spoke as a community member and not officially for the district.

“The needs of our community are great and it is my opinion that we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage if we do not move forward,” Tony Thurman said in an e-mail to The Leader. The newspaper asked for his position on the proposed extension that would pay for a baseball field and outdoor swimming pool complex off Hwy. 321, sewer improvements in the Hwy. 5 area to help attract businesses, a new library in the old Knight’s building on Main Street, the north interchange, expansion of the community center and a drainage project in the Highlands area.

“This is a great time to consider such an option because (interest) rates are so low and funds can be stretched further,” Thurman said.

“We need a library that can adequately accommodate our community. We have worked with the library board and there is a willingness to offer more programming for children and adults. Unfortunately, they are unable to provide many of the services offered in other communities simply because our facility is inadequate. We need a location that is centrally located with adequate parking that has the space to provide the library resources being provided in neighboring communities,” Thurman explained.

“We have an opportunity to do great things in our parks and recreation department. My children are involved in our community youth programs, so I know firsthand where we stand in comparison to our neighbors. We are woefully behind providing facilities that provide enough space for our children to participate in activities. We cannot host top quality baseball and softball tournaments that would bring untold numbers of fans to Cabot because we do not have adequate facilities to even be considered for such large scale possibilities.”

Cabot’s Allman/Bevis Sports Complex — the city’s ballparks — is located at 3001 S. First St.

Thurman continued, “I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen our community pool in a few years to drive past the location on Richie Road. I would also encourage them to drive past locations in Jacksonville, Searcy, Maumelle, Conway and Bryant and compare facilities.

“We should not be satisfied with the recreational facility we are offering for our families. We want people to remain in our community and spend locally, yet we aren’t offering the facilities to make that a reality. Cabot is about kids and family and we do not have an adequate pool and recreational facility to provide an affordable place for families to spend time together without leaving the area,” Thurman said.

Cabot has an indoor pool at its Veterans Park Community Center, 508 N. Lincoln St. Jacksonville has an indoor pool at its community center, 5 Municipal Drive, and Splash Zone, it water complex on Martin Street.

“This is a great opportunity for us to take a giant step forward in our community without the need to add an additional tax to our patrons. The sales tax being considered has been collected for years and everyone, regardless of where they live, will contribute to our progress each time they make a purchase in our community.”

Early voting starts Tuesday and continues through April 8. Election day is Tuesday, April 9.

Voters will be asked to approve $9.5 million to build a north interchange; $2.6 million to turn the old Knight’s building on Main Street into a library; $5.46 million to expand and renovate the community center; $13.5 million for a baseball and swimming pool complex as well as two new softball fields on Hwy. 321; $8.2 million to improve the wastewater collection system, and $500,000 to improve drainage in the Highlands subdivision.

Proponents of the baseball project say the city has needed new fields for many years. The commission that runs parks has been asking the parents of the children who use city parks to register and vote for the tax extension.

Thurman said, “Our school system is rated as one of the highest performing and considered one of the most progressive districts in Arkansas. We have great families that want to be a part of our community and our school system. These same families that we want to join our community have options on where they will purchase a home and they research and visit communities before deciding where they will call home.”

The district’s 2011-12 enrollment for all of its 15 schools was 10,121 and still growing.

“Though our school system can compete with any districts in central Arkansas in terms of overall quality, these families also seek a community that provides the total package for children and adults. This includes a great parks and recreation program with varied offerings being implemented in nice facilities. They want a nice, affordable, family-oriented place to swim with their children on beautiful days without driving to Jacksonville, Maumelle or Little Rock. They want a library system that offers programs and resources for adults and children.

“Many choose to work in the metropolitan area but live in areas such as Cabot. The commute can be long and frustrating some days, but it is worth it for many people to have their children and grandchildren attend school in a quality system and live in a great community with an emphasis on family and children.

“We need to provide the same opportunities not only for potential families but for our existing families that deserve the same resources afforded to other communities.

“This is not only about attracting new families,” he said, but also about providing “our existing families with the amenities that should be a part of a family-oriented community like Cabot.”

As for the sewer part of the tax extension, he said, “There are obvious benefits to the sewer upgrades. Basically, the system needs work and it will be paid for either by supporting this tax extension or applying it to current rates.”