Voters in Van Buren approved a 1% increase in the Sales and Use Tax during a special election Tuesday night (July 10).
One half of the tax (.50%) is permanent, and will fund operations in the parks, fire and police departments, as well as a new senior center. This portion of the tax passed with 1,355 (69.77%) votes “for” and 587 (30.23%) “against.”
The other half of the tax increase will sunset “in seven years unless voters decide otherwise,” said Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman, adding that he was “thrilled” by the results.
“This was a statement about the future of this community and where they want to go,” Freeman said.
Voters were asked to approve individual capital improvements for the parks department, new fire and police stations, and the new senior center using the temporary portion of the tax, and did so overwhelmingly with the parks department receiving the lowest approval percentage at 70.31%.
Voters were most in favor of the new fire station, lending 73.64% support to the project, while the new police station received 71.6% approval, and the new senior center earned an approval rating of 70.35%.
In all, the tax will fund approximately $10 million in new bonds for capital improvement projects. The new police station is expected to cost $3.5 million, while the fire station and senior center are estimated at $2.5 million each, and the parks improvements are expected to total $1.5 million.
Voter turnout, which Freeman told The City Wire he was concerned about in June, was 1,958, or approximately 18.9% of the city. The number, while low, bested Van Buren’s 17% turnout at the May 22 primary and Fort Smith’s 14.5% turnout for the sales tax extension in March.
Freeman said Tuesday night that the remainder of 2012 would consist of “arranging professional services” to move forward all the various projects.
“It’s hard to say ‘Yes, we’re going to start everything at once,’ but we are going to start doing across-the-board selection of professionals, who can help these projects move forward efficiently,” Freeman said. “Then, it’s a matter of which (project) is more mature as to what gets finished first. Theoretically, they could all be started at the same time, but it’ll be after the first of the year before we can start construction.”
Freeman continued: “What we’re not going to do is wait until we finish one project before we start the next.”
With sales tax collections to start in January 2013, Freeman said “as that fleshes out, we’ll know more specifically what is going to happen.”