by Clay Herrmann
The Garland Good Government Group (GGGG) hosted a forum at the Garland County Public Library on May 12, 2016 about the Garland County Special Election scheduled for June 28. The measure if approved by Garland County voters would authorize a bond issue to raise approximately 56 million dollars and also would authorize a 5/8 percent sales tax to pay down the bond issue(s) over an estimated 5-6 year period. 30 million dollars of the funds raised by the proposed bond issue is designated to be a contribution to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) slated to be used toward an estimated 65 million dollar cost for bringing a 2-lane extension of the MLK bypass to the HWY 5/7 Junction north of Hot Springs.
This contribution would be on top of other taxes that fund AHTD, including the aggressively and successfully marketed 1/2 percent state sales tax passed by Arkansas voters in 2012.
Garland County Judge Rick Davis led in speaking FOR passage. He addressed various aspects of the proposal at some length and invited citizens to visit the website GCPAVEITFORWARD.COM for additional details.
Garland County Sheriff Michael McCormick expressed his reluctant support stating that he hates paying high sales tax and considers himself to be very conservative in general, but was supporting this measure.
Ronnie Weaver, Director of Operations at LifeNet EMS spoke about the time-saving benefit for ambulance transport from the Hot Springs Village and the northern part of Garland County to the two Hot Springs Hospitals.
George Pritchett, spokesperson for the Garland County Tax Alliance (GCTA), spoke in opposition to the sales tax and bond issue to be voted on in next month’s special election.
Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez was reported to be out of town and unable to attend. Approximately ten years ago work on completing the bypass to the 5/7 Junction was halted on account of the “hot water in a well” issue by the intervention of the recently arrived HSNP Superintendent. A two year geological study followed and evidently in the meantime the money allocated for the bypass by AHTD went elsewhere. Questions the Superintendent could have spoken to include:
1) What possibility might exist that she or someone else with NPS could find reason to stop the bypass again?
2) At this public forum Judge Davis spoke of his view that there would likely be 2 or 3 interchanges along the route of the bypass extension. Senator Alan Clark expressed his understanding based on conversations with you and other stakeholders two months or so ago, that at the very least there would be an interchange for Millcreek Road. In my interview with you a couple of weeks ago, my questions included asking you about interchanges. I understood you to say very clearly that you were opposed to ANY interchanges along the route. Have I misunderstood you? Two or three interchanges? Only Millcreek Road? Or none?
3) I also asked you about whether or not you oppose a 4-lane divided extension to match the rest of the MLK bypass. Judge Davis informs us that the plan calls for acquiring land of a width along the route sufficient to accommodate 4 or 5 lanes … in anticipation of possible future widening. For Hot Springs watershed or other reasons, do you or would you object to a 4-lane divided highway to match the rest of the bypass?
Also not available for questions at this meeting was any representative of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.
There was opportunity for the audience to ask questions at the end of the program. The forum was ably moderated by Tom Wilkins (The Five Star Dinner Theatre).