One step closer — White Hall voters may consider bond issue for aquatic park

WHITE HALL — The municipal Advertising and Promotion Commission voted unanimously Friday to recommend the city’s aldermen call a citywide referendum on a proposed bond issue to finance construction of a $7.5 million community center and aquatic park.

The motion adopted by commissioners stated the City Council should consider a tax-exempt municipal bond issue for $4 million or more, to be paid back over 15-years.

Mayor Noel Foster asked the commission to recommend a $4 million bond issue to begin construction, with the issue to be retired with revenues from the 2 percent sales tax on prepared food.

The city has banked $3.5 million generated by the “hamburger tax” since it was adopted in 1997.

White Hall residents indicated in a survey conducted in 2012 that they favored construction of a community center and water park, including a swimming pool.

Foster emphasized that he was not recommending an additional or new tax, but to pledge revenues from the “hamburger tax” and fees generated at the center and aquatic park, citing the low interest rates available on municipal bonds in the current market.

He said the recommendation will be submitted the council on Feb. 19, adding if approved by aldermen, a referendum on the proposed bonds could be held in May.

The proposed 24,000-square-foot community center could be finished in spring 2014 if the plan is adopted by voters, he added, and the aquatic park should be opened by the summer of 2014.

The mayor, along with Aldermen Ken Smith and David Beck, toured a number of municipality owned and operated centers with aquatic parks last year.

Smith said the tour indicated centers with only swimming pools found the pools were “money pits,” but were making a profit if they offered a number of aquatic features.

Foster has proposed an aquatic park include a large pool that would include lap swimming, a splash park for younger children, giant slides, diving boards and rock climbing walls. For older residents with limited mobility, a “zero entry area would allow for water aerobics” and other activities.

Fees and strict enforcement of rules will offset operational costs and provide for a safe environment, Foster emphasized. “That’s the key to keeping troublemakers and undesirables away for a family friendly facility.”

School resource officers could be assigned to the center and park during the summer months, he added, noting 40 to 50 part-time summer jobs would be generated for local youth.

The city cleared a large tract southeast of Dollarway and Hoadley roads, with architect Fred Reed of Pine Bluff and McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. of Little Rock developing plans for the project.