The City Wire editorial
On Tuesday, July 10, the citizens of Van Buren will have a chance to vote on a plan that will do much to vastly improve quality-of-life fundamentals for this second-largest city in the Fort Smith metro.
The Van Buren City Council and Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman have responsibly — and with citizen input — forwarded a ballot question to voters that will use a 1% sales tax increase to fund a new fire station and equipment, a new police station and equipment, a new senior center and numerous city park improvements.
The tax — tagged, “a penny for our future” — would fund approximately $10 million in new bonds that would be used to build a new police station ($3.5 million), a new fire station ($2.5 million), a new Senior Center ($2.5 million), and address park improvements ($1.5 million).
Because such critical and common sense projects also represent an investment in improving regional infrastructure, The City Wire readily endorses the plan and encourages Van Buren citizens to vote “FOR” the tax plan.
In seven years (if not sooner), half of the 1% tax will sunset, with 0.5% remaining to provide funding for the maintenance and operations of the new facilities. Mayor Freeman, a banker in his former life, wisely promotes the notion that the city also has a plan to provide operational financing in future years. Sometimes a government will build infrastructure and not include a plan to cover future costs. That’s not the case with this measure.
This plan addresses basic municipal safety, security and recreation. To be sure, this is a plan built around needs rather than wants.
That Van Buren has been able to handle the past decades of growth without making these improvements is a testament to their ability to make-do with what they had. But there comes a time when the ability to make-do is no longer enough.
Also, the tax will not be a comparative burden for the city. A 1% tax increase will bring the city’s rate up to the rate in Alma, Fort Smith, Mulberry and several other regional cities. And with the city’s millage rate one of the lowest — if not the lowest — in the region, Van Buren residents may continue to boast about having one of the lowest tax structures in the region.
Mayor Freeman and other campaign supporters have worked hard the past few weeks to educate voters about the necessity of the tax and the ballot structure.
“The way the ballot is presented, the improvements for firefighting, police, parks, and the senior center are laid out individually as being supported by 0.5% of the 1%,” Freeman explained in a recent interview with The City Wire. “It’s important for voters to understand, these capital improvements are not a half-cent each. Rather, all four areas are covered by a single .50%, which will sunset in seven years unless the voters decide otherwise.”
We’re confident Van Buren residents will indeed see the tax increase as “a penny for our future” and approve the plan.
Again, The City Wire endorses the plan and encourages Van Buren voters to vote “FOR” a plan that will go a long way to secure the city’s regional influence.