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Council debates bond proposals

Maumelle Parks and Recreation director Phillip Raborn Jeremy Peppas photoBuy Photo
Maumelle Parks and Recreation director Phillip Raborn Jeremy Peppas photo

The Maumelle City Council met Monday night in an informal workshop to discuss various bond proposals for the city.

The Council and Mayor Mike Watson discussed seven proposals in a meeting that lasted for more than two hours.

Nearly half of that time was spent hearing a presentation from Parks and Recreation director Phillip Raborn on the proposed indoor aquatic center and its projected cost of more than $7 million.

Raborn said he and his staff looked at four different centers around the state to get an idea of what an indoor swimming facility would cost to build and maintain.

The centers were located in Bryant, Cabot, Clarksville and Heber Springs. The first three all have eight lanes and are closest to what Maumelle has planned, while Heber Springs is at six lanes for its competition pool

Cabot’s center has been in operation since 2006 and is the oldest of the four, while Clarksville’s is the newest as it opened last November.

In his presentation, Raborn estimated that it would cost Maumelle $454,808 annually to staff and maintain the facility if it were to be built.

Those numbers line up fairly close to the other centers that are similar in construction to what Maumelle has planned with Cabot’s costing the city the least at $432,187.

Heber Springs smaller facility costs its city just $117,000 annually and they also don’t pay for the water to fill it but Raborn estimated that if it was larger and with the additional expenses that Maumelle would have, it would cost $454,132 annually.

Clarksville’s new facility is the one that impressed Raborn the most.

“Clarksville is the closest to what we want,” he said. “If I could pick one, that would be the one.”

With only a couple of months of data, Clarksville was also the facility that made the least amount of money at $84,500 while Bryant made $715,000 last year but, Raborn said, that membership there also includes its community center.

Another thing all four cities has that Maumelle doesn’t is additional tax revenue but that could be changing.

Alderman Preston Lewis proposed that a quarter-cent sales tax should be on the ballot, along with the bond projects, to let the people of Maumelle decide.

“To me, that’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” Lewis said.

He continued, “we would have to have a safety net … it would be crazy not to.”

Others on the Council discussed the sales tax option and Alderman Steve Mosley said he ran on a pledge of no new taxes.

“The minute you add a tax increase,” said Alderman and former mayor Burch Johnson. “It makes people think a little more.”

Any sales tax increase would be with the millage that the city already receives and those using the facility would also have to pay for memberships.

So pool users would be paying for the facility three different ways through millage, sales tax and membership fees.

“To me, it is all or nothing,” Lewis said. “To have the pool, you have to have the tax.”

Raborn said paying for the pool would require significant revenue and both he and Watson expressed concerns about forecasting revenue.

Watson projected the facility would need at least 1,500 members paying at least $300 annually for memberships and Raborn that the center would need to be “programmed heavily” with things like swimming lessons and water aerobics that would require people to pay in addition for those.

In Bryant, swim lessons accounted for $60,000 last year but, Raborn said, Bryant, for now, has a larger population with nearby Benton using the facility, along with other people in Saline County.

Benton, like Maumelle, is also considering opening its own indoor pool facility and, Raborn said, that would change what kind of revenue Bryant had.

While the aquatic center drew the most conversation, the Council also went over six other proposals.

The event center at Park on the River is looking at two different renovations split into Phase 1 and Phase 2. Watson said Phase 2 of the renovation couldn’t be approved without approval of Phase 1 as the projects are tied together.

Also discussed was renovation work being done at City Hall and the construction of a new Senior Wellness Center.

Lewis proposed that the city look at combining facilities and having a three-story building that would be a town center concept with the first floor being used by the Senior Center. The second floor would be used for city government and replace City Hall and the third floor would be a ballroom and feature a patio that would look out over Lake Willastein.

The Council agreed the idea had merit and Watson said it should be considered.

But, Lewis said, “If we combine, you wouldn’t have the money for a pool. There’s still something to be said for austerity.”

Watson said the pool projects at $7.6 million, while the two phases of the event center are a combined $7.8 million. The senior center projects at $4.4 million.

Nicole Heaps, the senior center director, said the facility would need to be new construction as architects have looked at the building and said renovations were out of the question.

Also discussed were the construction of an overpass or underpass across Maumelle Boulevard to allow for pedestrians and golf carts to cross the busy street.

Construction of new ball fields at the Diamond Center were called “best value item” by Alderman Caleb Norris.

The new fields would cost a little more than $1 million.

Watson also covered 24 possible city projects in the future and said that his office develop a survey that would go out to Maumelle residents soon to get their input before the matter would go to the Council, then the November election.

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