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Sales tax passes amid low turnout

by David Showers | June 29, 2016 at 4:00 a.m.

A turnout in the low teens for Tuesday's special election on the sales-tax supported road improvement bond issue didn't dampen support for the referendum.

The unofficial tally showed the five-eighths cent sales tax passed by about a two-to-one margin, with 4,601 voting in favor of it and 2,637 opposing it. The temporary levy will secure a $54,695,000 bond issue for road improvements that include a two-lane extension of the King Expressway from the Highway 70 east interchange to the junction of highways 5 and 7.

Bond proceeds will pay for $30 million of the estimated $65 million project, with the state picking up the balance of the cost. The other $20 million dedicated to road improvements will be divided between the county and its four municipalities on a population basis. The county will receive $12.3 million, and Hot Springs will get $7.3 million.

Northern Garland County voters overwhelmingly approved the measure. Unofficial election day returns from Faith Fellowship Church on Highway 7 north and the Unitarian Universalist and Village Bible churches in Hot Springs Village showed the referendum carried by a 708-95 margin.

Results from Jessieville First Baptist Church and Fountain Lake School were unavailable at presstime. The five northern Garland County polling locations had combined for more than 400 votes by early afternoon. Faith Fellowship Church was the busiest, with 117. The 1,080 votes cast there during early voting were the second most behind the election commission's 1,861.

Voters skewed older, as more than half the ballots were cast by voters 65 or older. Their more than 3,700 votes outpaced the approximately 600 cast by voters 44 and younger by a six-to-one margin.

Unofficial returns available at presstime had Richard Street Baptist Church and Oaklawn First Church of God as the only polling locations where voters didn't support the referendum. The former had 57 votes against and 51 for it, while the latter had 71 opposed to it and 64 in support of it. The election day vote at Hot Springs Memorial Field was deadlocked at 105 apiece.

The referendum carried the five days of early voting by a 2,472-1,498 margin. Monday was the busiest day. The 945 voters who checked via the county's electronic pollbook system accounted for about quarter of the 3,970 unofficial early and absentee vote total.

By 2 p.m. Tuesday, fewer than 1,300 voters had cast election day ballots, with more than half of them coming between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Voter traffic had slowed by the noon hour but picked up again during the early afternoon, with 262 votes being cast between 2-3 p.m.

County Judge Rick Davis was one of the referendum's primary backers. He and other supporters solicited endorsements after the quorum court voted in March to call for the special election. The prepared statement he issued Tuesday called the expressway extension an economic imperative.

"This project is a key piece of overall transportation and economic development and growth plans by providing more efficient transport of people, goods and services, and to also remove some of the heavy truck traffic and freight traffic from our county roads and city streets," he said.

Davis said the low turnout was upsetting. The referendum for the five-eighths cent sales tax voters approved in October 2011 to build the county detention center saw more than 10,000 people go to the polls. The county has more than 60,000 registered voters.

The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce-affiliated Pave It Forward Ballot Question Committee spent $45,100 leading up to the start of early voting on an advocacy campaign that focused on garnering endorsements from civic clubs and other community organizations.

"It's a little disappointing," Davis said Tuesday night while watching the returns come in at the chamber of commerce. "I thought more people would be interested in this, but it's a good project for our community and for our infrastructure."

Davis said right of way acquisition for the expressway project will begin next summer, with bidding on the construction phase expected to begin in 2019. The project is expected to be completed in 2023.

Collection of the five-eighths cent sales tax will begin in July 2017, after the current five-eighths cent sales tax paying down the $42 million in capital improvement bonds that built the jail sunsets later this year.

Local on 06/29/2016

Print Headline: Sales tax passes amid low turnout


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