After Alma voters chose to continue a 1-cent sales tax during a special election Tuesday night, city officials must decide which of seven approved city projects is more pressing.
By giving the go ahead to seven proposed city projects during the special election, voters decided to continue an existing 1-cent tax that was scheduled to sunset at the end of August. The tax will be used to pay the debt service for each project.
Voters approved a $1.95 million street improvement bond 288-154; a $2.5 million downtown streetscape project 270-177; a $375,000 parking issue 256-192; $4.6 million for the fire department 296-151; $575,000 for the police department 291-156; a $862,500 parks and recreation bond 278-165; and a $1.15 million refinancing bond 280-161.
Of Alma’s 2,148 registered voters, 449 visited the polls on Tuesday, according to the Crawford County Clerk’s Office. Ten voters cast early ballots and five absentee ballots were submitted.
The 20.9 percent turnout was close to what Mayor John Ballentine was expecting for the special election, he said.
"I think it actually pulled a few more people in than the last special election," Ballentine said. "We put a sunset clause in there and told people what projects it was going for, and the people of Alma got out and voted."
City officials previously proposed a permanent 1-cent tax, but it was voted down March 11. That tax was set to go to the city’s general fund to be allocated for use by the Alma City Council rather than payment for specific projects.
Ballentine plans to get as much of the process underway for the city projects as possible before his final term ends at the end of the year, he said. Ballentine is not seeking re-election.
Land for park expansions and some fire and police equipment that can take up to a year to arrive will need to be purchased quickly, Ballentine said.
Street and parking projects may not begin for up to two years, when the state is expected to turn over ownership of Fayetteville Avenue to the City of Alma as part of the Arkansas 162 relocation and bypass project, said Alma Public Works Director Mark Yardley.
Without the bypass project already underway, none of the street improvements would have been possible, Yardley said.
"This is a window of opportunity now that we are going to get that road back, and we can actually make changes," Yardley said.
With the approval of the 1-cent tax, Yardley said voters "confirmed our leadership and that we are taking the city in the right direction."
City officials will discuss their first steps during a workshop scheduled Monday night, Ballentine said. All decisions will require input by department heads before going to the bond council for approval, he said.
"We’ll just kind of play it by ear," Ballentine said.
With all projects approved, the total debt service will be $12,075,000, according to the ballot ordinance passed during the May city council meeting. It is expected to take the city about 12 years to pay off the debt service, Ballentine said.