Going with the flow
Tontitown leaders say unlimited, cheaper water needed
How much is independence worth? Maybe that’s an unfair question, seeing as the nation just celebrated its own Declaration of Independence 241 years ago. So much of what the United States is as a nation today was set on course by that “most memorable epoch in the history of America,” as John Adams said.
Tontitown, that little 1898 settlement of Italians that lately has grown by leaps and bounds in terms of population, has a question of independence on the ballot next week, according to Mayor Paul Colvin. City leaders have asked voters to approve a funding mechanism for a new water connection.
Voting started Wednesday and will conclude Tuesday, which is officially Election Day.
What are voters asked to approve? A three-fourths percent increase in the city’s sales tax rate will be devoted to paying off up to $7.8 million in bonded debt to build a seven-mile water line. The tax would evaporate as soon as the 30-year bonds it will support are paid off. If voters say yes, the overall sales tax would be 10.5 cents of every dollar spent (6.5 cents state, 1.25 cents county and 2.75 cents city).
One of the prime selling points for a sales tax is that everyone who spends money in town, including those just passing through, will help pay for the water line project.
The 18-inch pipeline will run west, connecting the city to the treated Beaver Lake water delivered now to smaller, rural cities by the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority. Tontitown has since 1971 been a customer of Springdale’s water utility, operating under a retail purchase contract that places a cap on how much water Tontitown can use each month.
The current five-year contract sets a maximum of 18 million gallons a month, or 600,000 a day. These days, Tontitown’s water users typically consume or use about 400,000 a day.
Those limitations, Colvin says, could prove a constraint on the city’s growth. If the city has an opportunity to land a hotel or a factory of some sort, Springdale’s caps could stand in the way. With the new pipeline, Tontitown could get as much water as it needs, he said. Its future won’t be dependent on another city’s decision making.
The water from the public water authority is cheaper than Springdale’s and there would be no limits on the town’s consumption. City leaders have said Springdale raised rates for Tontitown three times over the last two years.
From a long-term planning perspective, the move makes sense if Tontitown residents are convinced the usage caps and the costs of water from Springdale are the primary barriers to the town’s future growth, whether that’s residential growth or commercial/industrial. Contractual arrangements can sometimes be negotiated, but Tontitown officials have said Springdale officials have made clear “our city should be exploring future water service possibilities, as Springdale may not be able to provide us with the amount of water that our city will need in the future.”
The ballot question is about the water supply, but it’s also about what it takes for Tontitown to be the master of its own destiny and whether residents believe investing in the new water line and provider is among the most critical needs for the town’s future.
It’s a major financial commitment that residents and visitors will pay a price for, but nothing comes free (or even cheap) when it comes to infrastructure. Rejecting the tax, we suspect, won’t stifle Tontitown’s progress, but it will make navigating growth more complicated and, perhaps, slower.
Whether to make that commitment is a fair question from the city leaders in Tontitown. Now it’s the voters who will get to make the final decision.