Searcy officials chose Tuesday night to set a special election for February to allow voters to decide on a bond issue that would finance nearly $8.5 million in improvements to the Searcy Sports Complex, including adding artificial-turf baseball and softball fields.

The Searcy City Council passed an ordinance to set up the special election Feb. 9. The bonds would be paid by advertising and promotion tax revenue.

The bonds would allow the city to get started on the huge project instead of waiting until it has accumulated enough A&P tax money to pay for it, according to Searcy City Attorney Buck Gibson.

In addition to four new fields each for youth baseball and softball, the project would include improvements to existing soccer fields and concession, drainage, utility, sidewalk, signage, landscaping, lighting and parking. The parking improvements would add an estimated 700 spots.

Being able to host big tournaments, which would draw visitors and revenue to Searcy, is the ultimate goal, according to Councilman Chris Howell, chairman of the Searcy Advertising Tourism and Promotion Commission.

Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne emphasized that residents will not be voting on a new tax.

“This is just giving us the money to work with and finance it instead of trying to piece it together little bit at a time,” Osborne said. “This just gives us the influx of a large amount of money to do it all and do it at the same time.”

Early in August, Howell unveiled details of the city’s vision for the improvements with a PowerPoint presentation at the A&P Commission’s monthly meeting at City Hall. The conceptual illustrations presented were of an eight-field design of a Ruston, La., park.

According to Howell, the reason using turf is important is because city officials have been told that it can rain 4 inches an hour and as soon as it stops raining, “you can be on those fields playing, which will put us at a big advantage in the tournament world in hosting tournaments because chances are you are going to get to play.”

Commissioner Tommy Centola said when the plans came out that he liked a new entrance to the complex planned for Queensway Street and the ability with the turf fields to play despite the weather.

“I watch constantly when they ask, ‘Are we going to play?’ because of the rain,” Centola said. “Putting in turf fields is going to end that.”

Osborne said when the city began collecting the A&P tax in June 2019, a huge project was in mind for the community.

“Chris Howell, the chairman of the commission who is also on the council, kind of took this under his wing and has been taking care of that, putting these plans in place,” Osborne said.

He noted that the improvements were not just for baseball but for “the Searcy Sports Complex, [including] softball, soccer, football, adult softball, everything out there, and later down the road we are even looking at the possibility of a pool” being added at the Searcy Swim Center.

If voters approve of the bond issue, Osborne said “we will start a complete renovation out there.”

The city levies a 3 percent tax on hotels, motels and similar rental accommodations and a 1 percent tax on restaurants and similar prepared food businesses. The A&P tax was passed by the council in March 2019.

The A&P tax receipts collected through the initial six months of 2020 totaled $455,555. This is a monthly average of $75,925 with projected annualized receipts of $911,100. The A&P tax receipts collected in 2019 totaled $534,677, a monthly average of $76,383.

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