Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

TOP STORY >> Lonoke tax would go to city parks

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

No organized opposition has materialized to a two-cent hamburger tax proposal that Lonoke voters will see when they go to the polls Tuesday, according to Mayor Tom Privett.

The money, which would be earmarked for improving Lonoke parks, could amount to $100,000 a year at first, then more as the town grows and when a second interstate cloverleaf is built, Privett said.

Currently, the city council subsidizes the parks to the tune of about $75,000 a year, so some or all of that money could be available for other city needs.

Because the money is for park improvements, including lights for several ball fields, Privett has talked to local coaches asking them to support the measure and to ask parents of players to vote for it as well.

In addition, those who use the community center would benefit from the tax.

Several area churches and some school officials also support the new tax, which Privett said would be paid primarily by travelers passing by on I-40.

He said supporters also have worked from a list of active voters — those most likely to vote — asking for their support. Privett said he was confident the tax would be approved, but added that if a lot of people turn out to vote down the proposed statewide tax authority for highways and higher education, that the negative voting could spill over to hurt the city’s hamburger tax.

Privett said the land behind the community center was city owned and that tennis courts, an exercise trail and perhaps parking could be constructed with new tax money.

The ball fields also need new concession stands and the large open ditch running west of the ballpark road should be covered.
Meanwhile, the new walking trail on the railroad right of way running from downtown Lonoke to the ball field still needs lighting, benches, trees and more amenities, Privett said.

“We are one of the few cities from Little Rock to Memphis that do not have this tax,” the mayor said. “Cabot, Little Rock, North Little Rock. It’s on the ballot in Conway, Brinkley, Forrest City and Carlisle, I think.”

Privett said that Ken Patel, who owns two motels on the I-40 exit, is not “totally happy” with the tax, which would affect restaurants and motels primarily, but “is not adamantly against it either.”

Privett said that a study has shown that 85 percent of the revenue raised by a hamburger tax is money that comes in off the interstate, “which is not a burden on our people,” Privett said.

Privett said the money would also allow the city to develop additional parks as the city grows.