Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

TOP STORY>> Improvement fund helps area

I SHORT: Sen. Glover leads in lining up money for his pet projects, although Sen. Capps, Reps. Bond, Evans, Pate, Prater, Schulte and Wood also do well for their districts.

Leader staff report

Whether they love general improvement funds or hate them, local legislators lined up to bring tax money back to their homefolks at the end of the recently concluded 85th General Assembly.

Some, like state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, say they would rather have seen much or all of the $231 million in the General Improvement Fund (GIF) earmarked instead for improving school facilities, but failing that, Bond said he wanted to support important local projects, such as improving the Jacksonville library.

Senators each were allotted $750,000.

Depending on their tenure, House members were allowed to earmark $104,000, $158,000 or $212,000.

The Associated Press released a list of GIF requests by primary sponsor, including the amount of the request, which is not generally the amount that will ultimately be funded.

For instance, state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, sponsored a bill asking for $1 million toward construction of a Carlisle Civic Center—an appropriation that will actually be about $350,000, he said Friday.

As a senator, he was entitled to fund $750,000 worth of projects requested in three of the four counties in his district.

Glover said that in more than 20 years in the General Assembly, the civic center appropriation would be the first time he’s brought money back to his hometown.

Glover said the amounts listed in the AP account were misleading. For instance, it says he got $300,000 for badly needed improvement of the Lonoke County Jail. Glover, state Rep. Susan Schulte, R-Cabot; and state Rep. Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke, each earmarked about $100,000 toward the jail, but as primary sponsor, it shows up in Glover’s list as $300,000 and makes it look like Schulte funded nothing but a handful of volunteer fire departments and community projects to the tune of $60,000.

In a breakdown, if all are fully funded, the fire departments at Mountain Springs, Ward, Austin, and CSZ will receive $10,000 each. The libraries in Cabot and Ward will each receive $5,000 and the remaining $10,000 will be divided equally between the Cabot Senior Center and the Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke.

Neither is Evans credited with his share of the jail money, but he gets full credit for the $113,000 earmarked for the Bayou Meto Water District—which Glover contributed to without credit on the AP list.

Evans, himself a farmer, said he was gratified to be able to contribute to the Bayou Meto irrigation project.

“It’s so important with our ground water and getting irrigation over here,” he said.
“We have to get out of this aquifer, need an alternative to the ground water. We can’t produce products without water.”

Of the list of GIF project sponsors and amounts, Bond said “It’s hard to look at those (amounts) and figure out who did what for whom.”

Bond noted that although he received credit for the $300,000 earmarked for construction, renovation and equipping of a library in Jacksonville, although other’s contributed and the project is only going to receive $190,000.

Bond’s share of the GIF money is about $160,000, so he’s not the only one kicking in for the library.

“I have never been a big fan of the fund, but that is the current way business is done with one time money and as representative of Jacksonville, it would not be in the best interest of the district to turn it down,” Bond said.

“We fought hard to hold the money down to about $19 million on a side. We were desperate to keep them from dipping into adequacy trust fund.”

State Rep. Sandra Prater, D-Jacksonville, was in on the appropriation for the Jacksonville Senior Center.

Prater said she asked for about $270,000 but got about $175,000. She and state Sen. Mary Ann Salmon together got $40,000 for a new North Pulaski community center complex slated for 15 donated acres on Republican Road.

General Improvement Fund requests were Rep. Jeff Wood’s favorite legislation although not the biggest challenge facing the 85th General Assembly, said the Sherwood Democrat.
“The biggest challenge facing us was balancing the budget. Meeting everyone’s needs as best we could without raising taxes. It took a lot of sacrifice,” Wood said.

“You really have to fight for your district to get its share.”

Wood sponsored $62,700 in grants for certified teachers, Arkansas National Guard and C-Step programs.

He requested $40,000 each for the Sherwood Rotary Club Veterans Memorial and the Jack Evans Senior Center. Additionally Wood requested $10,000 for the fire departments in Gravel Ridge, Sherwood, Runyan Acres and Sylvan Hills.

Rep. Mark Pate, D-Bald Knob, agreed in addition to the education facilities funding legislation, creating a balanced budget while meeting needs was the biggest challenge legislators faced as a whole.

The largest GIF requests he sponsored were for $50,000 for Arkansas State University-Beebe and $60,000 for the White County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The White County Chapter requested the money to help them buy or lease a different facility and purchase an additional vehicle and possibly a trailer for emergency disaster services.

Pate sponsored requests for 16 volunteer fire departments in communities like Antioch, Floyd, Gum Springs and Center Hill. The requests ranged from $3,000 for the Joy Volunteer Fire Department to $10,000 for the Garner Fire Department.

“I represent an area with a lot of rural territory and that’s why I try hard to help volunteer fire departments because they’re so limited with their income. They can struggle by with pie auctions, barbecues and fish fries. They know how to stretch a dollar and this funding goes a long way with them,” Pate said.

In this session, Pate was able to get funding for water, sewer and street maintenance for several of the towns he serves.

He requested $15,000 for West Point, Griffithville, Georgetown and Garner, $20,000 for Judsonia and McRae and $25,000 for Bald Knob and Beebe.

Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, sponsored a request for $500,000 for Arkansas State University-Beebe and $50,000 each for the White County Aging Program/Lightle Senior Center, the White County Regional Library System and White County United Way.

He also sponsored requests for $20,000 for water, sewer and street improvements in Beebe, Judsonia and McRae.