Continuing the eight-year, 1-cent sales and use tax was mentioned by several Searcy City Council candidates during a virtual forum as vital to infrastructure needs in the city.

The eight candidates for contested seats on the council were asked at the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce’s virtual forum by moderator Roby Brock, editor and host of “Talk Business and Politics,” “What you guys think are the most important infrastructure issues within the city and how they need to be addressed.”

The four contested Searcy council races in the Nov. 3 general election are Ward 1, Position 1: incumbent Logan Cothern vs. challenger Kenneth Olree; Ward 1, Position 2: challenger Karen Marshall vs. challenger David Morris; Ward 2, Position 1: incumbent Chris Howell vs. challenger Davis Threlkeld; and Ward 3, Position 1: challenger Tommy Centola vs. challenger Tonia Hale.

Each candidate also has been given the opportunity by The Daily Citizen to expand on their answers since their responses were time-limited.

Ward 1, Pos. 1

Kenneth Olree: “I think regarding infrastructure we need to do things that are best for the long-term future. As I mentioned a moment ago [in answer to a previous question], I think that having something of a business incubator, some things that are not specifically infrastructure, but I think other things that would help that is one place in the code of enforcement, perhaps a single new position, that I would call a small business advocate.

“One of the things I have heard from our small businesses is that there’s regulations, laws, there’s rules all over the place. It’s very difficult to go to a one-stop shop and make sure you have appropriately complied with all permits, taxes, fees. So I think doing something like that would actually help our economic situation quite a bit to have one person in the code enforcement who does not enforce the law at all; they are simply the small business advocate that can say, ‘This is what the city requires. This is what the ordinances say.’

“These are the ordinances that are enforced. I think we have a number of ordinances that are obsolete and no longer enforced, but our small business owners and our potential small business owners don’t know ... which ones are enforced and which ones aren’t, and so we need someone that can help our small businesses out.

“Once we grow the economic base through having better economic development for our small businesses both current existing mom and pop’s but also small business that are technology-oriented that have growth potential, we’ll be able to do many more other infrastructure things – roads and parks and these types of things. But I think we are going to need to focus on developing the right economic environment for our small businesses first.”

Logan Cothern: “I think maintaining our streets, maintaining our sanitation department, the trucks and equipment because that’s probably the most pressing complaint, not getting their limbs and that sort of thing picked up. We need to continue to work on our sanitation equipment, continue to upgrade the police department. We have an excellent fire department. We need to work on those and I think we need to work on the library and other things and add some amenities for the citizens, too.”

Ward 1, Pos. 1

David Morris: “Well, I think everyone has addressed the question very well. I think there’s about three words that sum that up and that’s: the eight-year plan, and that’s the continuation. We already talked about the eight-year plan. Everything we addressed in here and addressed so far, it was part of that eight-year plan; it was very comprehensive.

“The one thing that had to fall out of that plan that I regretted is the fact that we did not chose to build a splash pad here in Searcy [at Yancey Park] for our children. We moved to the indoor pool and took the money away from that and the City Council voted to take those funds and apply them to the indoor pool. A new outdoor pool in conjunction with our swim center would be fantastic.

“A new community center; we already addressed that issue. The sports complex, the playgrounds and hopefully the A&P tax with the [$8.45 million] bond issue will help that. The library is another issue and is very sensitive to me. We tried to do a new library; it might have been too big, too complex. The funding shortage might not have been right. We certainly need a new library. I grew up in the library we have now.

“Logan hit the streets and the drainage, very much important issues. Think where we’d be in the city of Searcy if we did not have Beebe-Capps Expressway and now the new [Arkansas Highway 13] bypass. The new bypass, connector route, takes about 7,000 vehicles per day and it moves over 2,400 vehicles out of the city limits of Searcy, out of our main streets. But, the streets, drainages issues, very, very important.

“So I think basically talking about infrastructure, just continuation of a new plan; there again whether it would be eight-year or 10-year or permanent. I am very supportive of a permanent tax like [incumbent Ward 2, Position 1 candidate] Chris [Howell] has already mentioned, the bond issue and things of that nature that will carry us well into the future for future growth of our infrastructure.”

Karen Marshall: “I’m very much obviously in favor of the improvements for the city, whether it be the complexes, the tennis courts, definitely a community center that can host multiple, whether it be basketball volleyball, tournaments.

“Also, looking at the library, but looking at a different angle with the library. Knowing that the police are looking at in the future having a different police station. There are looking for a different fire station north of town by the training towers that can be a training facility. We’re looking at alternatives and thinking outside the box, not just building things, but if we are building a new police station then why not look at the existing police station to refocus and put in a library there? It’s two stories; the upstairs stories have great clean rooms that can be utilized for computers, which is what they say they are needing now in our library [adding more computer space].

“I think we need to continue to look forward to help the community, help businesses. If we try to get unique product companies, we need to put those plans in place as well, not just the eight-year tax. It’s putting everything together and say these are our needs, these are our priorities, and put those down and then see what we can do to move forward with those.”

Ward 2, Pos. 1

Davis Threlkeld: “I tell you the most important issue is what I have overwhelmingly heard in my discussion with constituents over the last six months – the No. 1 issue they almost always talk about is drainage. Yes, the new tax has allowed more aggressive paving projects, but I feel at the same time, drainage and new projects need to address how our streets are the public good of a street. I think we are in a very unique community. They [his constituents] would like drainage addressed.”

Chris Howell: “I’d like to add on to what Davis said. Drainage is important. The library is important. All of these things everybody has mentioned are important, but I’d like to focus on is how we are going to pay for them, then we can do whatever if we have the funds, right? The one-cent that’s in place now, I am a proponent of making it permanent because when you sunset a tax you really limit what you can do with it because everything you do has to be paid for before that sunset.

“For instance, currently our eight-year plan has to be paid for before the eight years is up. Any project that we do has to be paid for. If we make it permanent, limitless as far as ideas we can do with that money. All these projects that we have been talking about will be on the table for improvements with that one-cent permanent tax. So, my answer is all the things that everyone is talking about as far as paying for it, we need the one-cent permanent.”

Ward 3, Pos. 2

Tonia Hale: “I’m going to kind of echo what Mr. Howell said. I think the continuation of the sales tax is very important, and each of our local city departments, the fire, the police, the sanitation, they are all important. For us to continue and advance in those positions, the sales tax is very important, so I feel like as Mr. Howell stated, that needs to be a permanent tax because if it’s not then we have to go back and rebudget, make a budget around the revenue that we don’t have. So, if that sales tax is continued then we are able to help each department and progress. Progression is the key.”

Tommy Centola: “Well, everyone has raised great points and I was going to hit on a bunch of them. Instead of doing that, the eight-year, 1 percent tax, it must be continued. And, one thing I’d like to see that used for is a stronger police presence. When I first moved here, the crime wasn’t heard of in Searcy and lately, I believe Ken mentioned this, robberies, murders in Searcy, it’s just something that wasn’t heard of 15 years ago. I would like to see part of that 1 percent tax strengthening and putting more police officers on the street for a better presence and the protection of Searcy.”

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