Go­ing with the flow

Ton­ti­town lead­ers say un­lim­ited, cheaper wa­ter needed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

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.

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