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story.lead_photo.caption Keith Bryant/The Weekly Vista Bella Vista fire chief Steve Sims (left, background) fields questions alongside police chief James Graves during a town hall session last Wednesday, Feb. 5, focused on a municipal bond issue that will be going to voters during the March 3 primary election.

Bella Vistans got a chance to hear about proposed city projects and ask questions last week at a trio of city-organized town hall meetings.

Mayor Peter Christie said that between meeting with church and volunteer groups and the city's presentations, he's done roughly a dozen presentations about the proposed projects.

City council approved an ordinance last year calling a special election on the questions of issuing $24.2 million in bonds backed by a 1% sales tax to cover the construction costs of a new police department, a raze and rebuild of Fire Station 3 and a fire training facility, expected to be on the ballot during the March 3 primary election.

There will be two separate questions on the ballot. The police and fire items are on separate questions because state law requires different uses to be on different questions. A 1% sales tax will take effect if either or both items are approved by voters.

During the Wednesday, Feb. 5, presentation Christie said that he doesn't expect the projects to use these proposed bonds in their entirety, but it's important to have enough money available to cover the entire project without having to go back and ask voters for more.

Christie likened the bond to a mortgage, saying that while many people may buy a home, it's typically done on credit because very few individuals are in a position to buy their home out-of-pocket.

The bonds will only be drawn from for the particular projects they are approved for and the city will not be in possession of the bond sales tax revenue at any point. The revenue will be collected and go directly toward paying off the bond and will be removed once the bond is fully paid.

If both projects are approved, Christie said it is estimated the bond will be paid off in 10 years, though it could go longer if the city sees an economic downturn.

These projects are important for keeping Bella Vista ahead of upcoming growth, he said.

"I don't want to be in a position of trying to play catch-up," he said.

Additionally, he said, the proposed public safety building should be adequate for the police department's growth for multiple decades. The proposed project includes more space to allow the department to grow, as well as a shell space the department can build into in the future, he said.

"We need to plan for the next 30 years," he said.

Fire Station 3 is currently inadequate for the area it needs to serve, he said.

"It doesn't meet fire code, it needs an ambulance... we need to modernize it," Christie said.

A fire training facility, which includes a training tower and a concrete pad for driving training, will help the city ensure it keeps fire personnel and apparatus in town during training.

Currently, firefighters travel to other cities, including Rogers, Siloam Springs, Springdale and others, along with department equipment in order to keep up on their mandatory training requirements.

If something happens while firefighters are training, the city could be short on fire protection.

The facility will also allow for police training, Christie added.

Fire chief Steve Sims said the department is constantly looking for ways to train, with firefighters practicing their core competencies each month.

It's hard to train on facilities like church parking lots without damaging them because these facilities aren't purpose-built to withstand heavy firetrucks and other abuse the training puts on them.

It's also worth noting, he said, the proposed training facility off Chelsea Road will include bays for two firetrucks that can be used as backup units.

Ultimately the location could become Fire Station 5, he said.

Police chief James Graves was asked about the proposed Forest Hills Boulevard location for the public safety building, which would house the police department, court facility and dispatch center.

The location should not reduce response times because officers aren't dispatched directly from the department.

"For the most part officers are out in the field," he said.

Asked if the current department has made recruiting new officers more difficult, Graves said he doesn't believe it's had a major impact but the area has a very competitive job market.

Bella Vista can't afford to pay as much as larger cities in the area, he said, and having a less appealing facility isn't likely to help with hiring.

"It's hard to walk somebody through there and convince them how professional we are," he said.

One Bella Vista resident, Charles Pritchard, said he moved into town recently and was initially concerned at the prospect of a sales tax increase, but on further reading he found Bella Vista's sales tax is already lower than neighboring cities.

Pritchard said he was also glad to see the city already has the land for these facilities, which provides some savings.

"It's fairly obvious... that it's necessary," he said.

General News on 02/12/2020

Print Headline: City officials discuss proposed projects at town hall meetings

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