One percent sales tax possible for Fayetteville sewers

ROBERT J. SMITH
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

FAYETTEVILLE -- City officials met Thursday with engineers designing sewer-treatment system improvements and said it will be another 11 days before final costs are spelled out for the project, now estimated up to $110 million.
Mayor Dan Coody and Administrative Services Director John Maguire said a public meeting of the city's Water and Sewer Committee will be held March 27 at City Hall.
Coody and Maguire on Thursday revealed some of what's being discussed, including plans for a public vote in the fall on a sales tax to pay for the construction plan. Higher user fees to pay for the operation of a new plant are also possible, Maguire said.
"We want the first public hearing to be one where everything is laid out," Coody said after his two-hour meeting with private engineers designing sewer-treatment system improvements. "We've always been talking about $90 million to $100 million, but it's going to be $100 million or $110 million now.
"Everything is fluid and could change until we have the meeting on the 27th."
A November 1999 Capital Improvement Program listing put together by the city estimated the project's cost at $106.28 million.
The city expects to build a new sewer-treatment plant on the west side, upgrade the existing Paul Noland Wastewater Treatment Plant on the city's east side, bury new sewer pipes and buy sludge-disposal equipment.
Currently, all of Fayetteville's waste water is piped to the east-side plant. The new system will split the flow between the updated plant and a new plant capable of treating 10.1 million gallons of waste water each day.
Maguire said the city is looking at a vote this fall on a sales tax to pay for construction. Officials are discussing a 1 percent sales tax that would decrease to a 0.75 percent sales tax after three or four years as an option, Maguire said. It would expire in approximately 2011, Maguire said.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's revolving-loan program would provide $80 million to $90 million for the project, Maguire said. That money would be paid back with sales tax revenue.
Less clear is the user-fee issue to pay the $1.95 million operational costs of a new plant north of Farmington. Maguire said Black and Veatch Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., is determining what fees would cover the operating costs, Maguire said. The firm is helping design the sludge-disposal system and conducts periodic sewer and water rate studies for Fayetteville.
City leaders envision starting construction in summer 2002 and finishing in 2004.
The city once had a goal of knowing all the costs and which improvements would be needed by November 2000. That date was pushed back to February 2001 and now March 27.
"It's the details that we need and just don't have yet," Maguire said.