Over the past two months, city officials have sponsored several public meetings to educate the public about the special election scheduled for Sept. 14 when voters will decide on whether to approve a bond issue for streets and a 1% city sales tax.
Several meetings were not attended by anyone from the public. Justice of the peace Brian Armas and City Council member Ginger Larsen attended.
The last public meeting was held during the hour before the regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17. Former City Council member Nadine Telgemeier attended and asked numerous questions about finances.
"Of this $1.5 million project, is there a cap you're putting on for Street bond payments?" she queried.
Street Department superintendent Nathan See told her the first one-quarter of the sales tax revenue was dedicated to paying off the bond.
"Will you have multiple future bonds?" she asked.
"We can have more, but have to ask the voters in another election if we seek another bond," See said, explaining that as the bond is paid off, the city may ask for more up to the maximum of $5.8 million.
Telgemeier asked what the interest rate would be and was told hopefully 4% or less.
City Council member Cody Keene said money left after the bond repayment is divided between the city departments specified in the ordinance asking for the sales tax.
"It's split at the council's discretion?" Telgemeier asked.
"Yes. They all have to get something of that portion," See said.
Telgemeier asked Fire Chief Jared Powell what he needed to make the department full-time. He said that realistically, for a city the size of Pea Ridge, he needed five personnel per day -- two people for the ambulance and three for the fire. "That's a dream, though," Powell said, adding that he has hired two full-time paramedics and needs to hire a third. He said he is still using part-time EMTs (emergency medical technicians). He said ideally he would like to have 12 people so he could have three total per full-time shift.
Stephanie Henson, billing clerk for the Ambulance Department said more money is being collected and that revenue is helping to fund personnel.
"We were using a third-party billing company; they were only collecting about $6,000 and our call volume hasn't changed," Powell said. Now, Henson has collected $117,000.
"They promised the moon and didn't get off the launch pad," Mayor Jackie Crabtree said of the former billing company.
Council member Ginger Larson said city department heads are "working from behind already."
"The needs they have are great ... working from behind is hard. The sales tax up front, if that passes, a large portion will be used to dig them out of the holes right now, their lists are long," she said, adding that the money would help them "get their head above water."
She said once that happens, the city can "fund what they need on a regular basis. We're still working on budget from sales tax from 1984 and our city has grown and grown and grown. It's not just adequate. Those life saving departments and the infrastructure department, we have to look at it from a different perspective."
City resident Boyd McNiel criticized city officials and said the tax was not necessary.
"Show us where the city is spending frivolously in any department," Larsen challenged McNiel.
"I don't go around looking for something; I ain't trying to nit-pick," McNiel said. "But, just like when they built the high school, it's a hard time justifying that score board for gym."
"Do your needs change over time? Are you the same as you were in 1990?" Keene asked McNiel. "And neither does the city!"
"I don't sit in this seat for fun," Larsen said. "I sit here because I care. I bother Nathan (See), Sandy (Button) and the mayor to death. I'm not sorry. I want what's best for this city.
"None of us are sitting up here for fun. As the city grows, our needs change," she said. "We need to prepare our police, fire, parks, streets for that growth. We have to do what's right for our citizens. You would not believe how many different opinions you get on one topic."
Mayor Crabtree said: "The sales tax is the fairest. It's not just the citizens who pay it, but anyone who comes through town and buys something. Property tax is just for citizens. We're not asking just our citizens to pay."