Van Buren depends heavily on the 1 cent countywide sales tax to help support fire and police and pay for city improvements, Mayor Bob Freeman said.

Early voting began Monday on the renewal of the 1-cent countywide sales tax, which is set to end Sept. 30. The tax has been in place for 16 years and if approved, will be extended another eight years.

Van Buren relies on its 36.79 percent of the 1 cent sales tax revenue, which totalled about $2,345,000 in 2014, Freeman said.

"The impact that one penny makes countywide for the city is huge," he said. "We try, and I think we are good stewards of that penny."

Crawford County collected nearly $6.4 million in tax revenue in 2014, with 45 percent - about $2.88 million - going to county services, said Treasurer Beverly Pyle.

The tax is broken out per capita for every city in the county, and for the unincorporated areas, which make up the county’s percentage.

Van Buren’s population was counted at 22,791 in the 2010 Census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s 2013 estimate is 23,059.

"Of the funds we receive, 25 percent of it goes to fire and police," Freeman said.

Half goes to the Van Buren Fire Department, half to the Van Buren Police Department, and much of it is used to purchase needed equipment, Freeman said.

In the last eight years, two new pumper trucks were purchased for the fire department, which cost about $500,000 apiece, Freeman said.

Money that went to police has been used to buy replacement vehicles, and this past year to purchase the dispatch equipment for the new police department, he said.

Another $240,000 went to municipal utilities last year, for water and sewer improvements, Freeman said. The remainder is used for capital improvements city wide, he said.

"We try to use the money primarily for streets and drainage," Freeman said.

About $3.5 million of the tax money was used in widening and repaving Rena Road, and tax money went to fixing the flooding problem on 28th Street, he said.

Street signals at intersections are being updated with video detection systems and battery backups using the money, Freeman said, and numerous streets have been overlaid.

Planned for this year are overlays on Poplar, 28th Street, Alma Boulevard and possibly 9th Street, Freeman said.

Tax revenue also is often used as matching funds to help the city apply for state grants for larger projects, Freeman said.

"The county judge and I have worked together to replace three bridges - on one 40th Street, one on Pointer Trail East and one on Richmond Road - that were cost shares between the county and the city," Freeman said.

Another such project is the Pevehouse Road bridge, with about 70 percent of the $1 million cost being paid with a Federal Emergency Management Grant. Van Buren and the county are splitting the other 30 percent.

A $150,000 levy certification paid for with the 1 cent tax revenue had a big impact on the industrial park, Freeman said.

"We used tax monies to make sure our levies were certified, which made a huge difference on flood insurance rates," Freeman said.

Only two of 75 counties in the state operate without a countywide sales tax. Without the tax, Van Buren would find it difficult to provide quality services, Freeman said.

"We would be in a very different situation if we applied for any grants because we wouldn’t have the matching funds," Freeman said. "We would have to make difficult choices regarding fire and police. We wouldn’t be able to fund park improvements."

Most capital improvements also would suffer, he said.

"As the voters go to the polls, I just want to ask for continued support….to allow the city to move forward and continue to a better quality of life for all residents."

Crawford County residents can cast their early votes at the Crawford County Emergency Operations Center at 1820 Chestnut St. in Van Buren.

Early voting hours at the EOC are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, May 8, and on Monday, May 11. The special election for the sales tax renewal will be Tuesday, May 12.