Get the facts, then go vote

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It's a presidential election year, and this particular presidential election is perhaps the most divisive, vitriolic, just plain nasty campaign in my lifetime -- if not ever.

For that reason alone, there is certain to be an enormous voter turnout on Nov. 8, both across the United States and right here in Carroll County. Voters on both sides of the aisle are fired up about the national race and eager to have their say in the outcome.

But Carroll County voters also likely will have an opportunity to help decide two local issues -- issues that could ultimately impact them much more than who sits in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C.

In eastern Carroll County, voters will decide the fate of a proposed ambulance service district (assuming the Carroll County Quorum Court moves ahead with ordinances that would create the ambulance district and place the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot). And in Eureka Springs, voters will be asked to approve or reject a one-cent sales tax that would be used to finance improvements to the city's water and sewer infrastructure and help subsidize the operation of the historic Auditorium.

Although I have personal opinions about both of these issues, I won't be revealing them in this space. I cover the quorum court regularly and help direct coverage of Eureka Springs city government. It's important that our news coverage be impartial, and sharing my opinion here would not serve that purpose.

I can, however, tell you why I believe both of these issues are critically important and why you should be a registered, active, informed voter.

First, the ambulance service. Essentially, the proposed ambulance service district would allow the county to contract with a company of its choosing to guarantee ambulance service to residents east of the Kings River. Ostensibly, the benefits of this arrangement would be the fact that the county would have some measure of control over ambulance service and that there would be a dedicated provider in place with a binding agreement. But those benefits would come with a price: an estimated $550,000 annually, to be paid by residents of eastern Carroll County through a millage. Critics of the proposal point to the fact that there is a company already providing service in the eastern half of the county, with no public subsidy. Those critics ask: Why would residents pay for something they are already receiving for free?

Again, my purpose here is not to persuade you to vote one way or another on this issue. But I urge you, I implore you, to study this issue and prepare yourself to make an informed decision. You might never need ambulance service. Or maybe your very life will depend on it. This literally could be a life or death situation. Please recognize the importance of this issue, and please vote.

Moving on to the proposed tax increase in Eureka Springs, these are the basic facts. The city's water and sewer systems need significant work. Why that situation exists is open for debate. Likewise, the city has been operating The Auditorium at a financial loss.

Mayor Butch Berry believes the sales tax increase is the best way to generate the revenue needed to make the necessary water and sewer improvements and make the Auditorium viable financially without asking the city's residents to shoulder the entire load. Berry's thought is that a sales tax would allow the city to bolster its revenue mostly at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Eureka Springs each year.

Critics of the proposal question why the city finds itself in such a dire financial situation and whether at some point, the city's tax rates (Berry's proposal would push tax on lodging in the city to more than 15 percent) will have an adverse affect on tourism. If the tax increase is rejected, the next step may be an increase in water and/or sewer rates.

Again, this is a critically important issue with significant ramifications for the city and its residents. I'm not here to tell you which way to vote. But I am here to ask you to gather as much information as you can, give the issue some serious thought, then go to the polls and exercise your right to vote.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.