By Martin Couch
On Tuesday night a mere 20 people showed up for a Town Hall meeting regarding the proposed FairPlex in Saline County.
The small group that gathered at the Holiday Inn Express in Bryant were informed about the project which would cost Saline County residents an additional one-cent in sales tax to create.[more]
Questions were raised by Bryant business owners and the aldermen present following the presentation.
“I don’t like the fact that people have to pay taxes,” Benton Advertising and Promotions executive director Jill Jones told her audience. “I don’t like the fact that city councils don’t give us a say-so in how taxes are spent. My goal is to explain the road that brought us here and give the information needed to make a decision. I can’t change the tax rate in Bryant and I can’t change the leadership in any other municipality. All I can do is show what we are proposing and why it merits consideration.”
The bonds that it will take to build the facility have been worded in the referendum to be paid off in five to seven years and “sunset” the tax.
“The county has a good track record of doing what they say with tax money,” Jones said. “It could not be clearer in what you get with your money and when it will expire. It has been checked by the state’s attorney general and it cannot be changed.”
One-eighth of the one-cent tax is to go to expansion or an improvement fund, similar to that of a 401K plan, according to Jones. The remaining 7/8ths of the tax is set to go to construction, which is slated to take 18 to 24 months.
But still, what would Bryant residents get from the FairPlex, besides 30 percent of its annual revenue that is estimated at $8 million a year?
“Take, for example, a family of four with an annual income of $30,000 which is around $2,700 take-home a month,” Jones illustrated. “Basically, the only taxable income that family would be spending in Saline County would be for groceries and entertainment and, on the average, a family of four spends around $600 a month. The one-cent sales tax would mean that family would spend an extra $4 to $6 and this is a finite tax. It sunsets as soon as the bonds are paid off and those numbers are based on 2006 figures without growth.”
Currently, there are 105,000 people in Saline County and there is not a niche to bring in new businesses, Jones asserted. Nearly 62 percent of the population drives across the county line to work every day.
“We need opportunity here and expand our tax base to bring in more revenue into the county without sacrificing our home life,” Jones added.
Nearly 830 jobs will be created in the construction of the facility and 330 jobs will remain after its opening, she asserted.
“The FairPlex creates a new industry for the county and bolsters our tourism effort,” Jones said. “It also bridges urban and rural areas in the county by providing a common facility that could be used by everyone.”
Benton and Bryant, the two most populated cities in the county, were used in the main study to by consulting firm Crossroads of Tampa, Fla., in an economic impact study.
“It would mean $8 million a year dropped into the Bryant economy at restaurants, retail shops, cell phone stores, gas stations, and ATMs — all of the things that people have to do when they are out and about,” Jones said. “With real business opportunities and room for advancements, it brings revenue to the county and I think it’s important we understand that this is a joint community effort. I don’t think any business owner in Saline County would really want to say they would not want business, because the patrons don’t live in the city limits. We are creating a catalyst for county-wide economic growth.”
A special election has been called on Aug. 10 for Saline County voters to determine if a FairPlex is feasible. There will be two more Town Hall meetings to be held in July in the Bryant area about the issue and residents are urged to attend.