Friday, August 22, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Ward’s tax vote

Ward voters will decide in November if the city should raise its sales tax from 1 cent up to 2 cents.

Mayor Art Brooke, who is hoping to win a final term in the same election, says Ward needs more money for its streets and parks. All but one alderman voted last week to send the tax proposal to voters. As Lonoke County’s second-largest city, Ward needs the revenue to prepare for even more growth in the coming decades.

It’s a brave move in an election year, and Brooke does have an opponent. He says it’s best for the city and will enable his successor in 2019, when Brooke plans to retire, to get to work immediately on city projects rather than asking voters to raise their taxes then.

The added revXenue should give each city department about $115,000 a year, said Deborah Staley, the city’s operations manager. And not since 1996 have voters been asked to raise taxes. Just imagine what Ward looked like nearly 20 years ago.

The November tax vote will give city officials some flexibility to address needs as they arise because the money won’t be split evenly between the streets and parks departments. The money could, therefore, be allocated more efficiently.

Street Department Superintendent Billy Mitts explained that Ward needs to repair 38 streets, a bridge on Spring Street, 12 culverts, 20 storm drains, 200 potholes and 100 street signs. Fixing the 38 streets alone will cost $1.6 million, he said.

It will be tough to accomplish all that if voters don’t approve the ballot measure in the fall.

Voters may feel less supportive of the city’s efforts to raise money for city parks, but as Ricci Brooke, the mayor’s granddaughter and parks director, points out, Willow Lakes Pond hasn’t been stocked with fish in years, and she’d like to build walking trails there, too.

She also said Busby Lake needs a playground, and the Ward Sports Complex needs two more ball fields, permanent soccer fields, more parking spaces and a new concession stand.

As more families flock to the Cabot School District, which includes Ward, the city will need to do all it can to accommodate them.

Residents should approve the tax increase to help their community avoid growing pains.