Holiday Islanders tell it to the judge

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Residents of Holiday Island packed the courthouse in Berryville on the morning of Feb. 23 as points were presented for and against incorporating their community as a town, which would make it the second largest town in Carroll County. County Judge Sam Barr presided.

Wesley Stille told Barr he represented the 896 residents who signed the petition in favor of incorporation, and his committee had followed guidelines under Arkansas law.

Stille explained steps taken during 2017 to educate residents including posting a PowerPoint presentation on the HI website and conducting three public forums, other Q&A sessions, and neighborhood meetings. They distributed pamphlets and deployed trained canvassers, resulting in many phone calls and emails.

Stille maintained the community was adequately educated on incorporation. “We did what we were allowed to do under the law,” he told Barr.

His records indicated there were 1594 qualified voters in Holiday Island. They discovered 124 of that total had either died or moved, leaving 1470. They made contact with 1097, or 75 percent, of the total. The petition was signed by 896 residents, which is 82 percent. Stille said 126 voters, or 11 percent, opposed incorporation, and 75 people said they were undecided.

Stille pointed out these numbers indicate those in favor outnumbered opposition by 7.5-1, and he claimed he’s still receiving requests to sign the petition although the deadline has passed. He said the count was verified in the County Clerk’s office, and he hoped Barr would deem the petition right and proper.

He told Barr that within 30 days of a decision in favor of incorporation, Holiday Island would set an election date for mayor, three aldermen and a clerk-treasurer. They intend to become a town first and eventually become a city of the second class.

Barr asked about a budget for the new town, and Stille answered the sources of revenue would be turnback funds and eventually a sales tax to be determined by the town council. He anticipated the Suburban Improvement District would be necessary for at least five years while the new town developed a revenue stream.

He and Barr went over what sections of Holiday Island would and would not be included in proposed town limits, and Barr insisted the mayor of Beaver should submit a letter in favor of the proposed boundaries. Barr was not totally satisfied with the lack of a clear plan for when and how property assessments would be replaced by sales tax and if there would be duplication. Stille responded sales tax would be the responsibility of the new town council.

Barr opened up the hearing to public comments, and first to speak was James Loomis. He said he had been in city government most of his career including serving as the city manager of Lubbock, and remarked, “God bless these people, but they don’t know what they’re getting into.” He stated there must be a sales tax to make the town work, and there is an infrastructure already in place paid for by assessments, which is a tax. There is a fire department already, and the community is served by sheriff’s deputies. To replace these services, he maintained, “they’ll raise taxes on me.”

Loomis claimed the committee did not consult with an attorney and petitioners left out information in presentations to residents, which is why so many were in favor of incorporation. He conjectured residents might have felt otherwise if they had more information.

Other speakers cited lack of a clear financial plan for the transition period. A primary reason presented for incorporating was to increase revenue, but Dale Mitchell skeptically called this “a magic bullet for our dilemma.” He was not the only speaker who chided commissioners for shaky financial management in the past, and lack of a clearer strategy for the transition.

Dan Kees, committee member and SID commissioner, stated the law presupposes the SID would not last forever. He said benefits would be exhausted by 2035 and even before then assessments would be capped. Funds would be so restricted they would no longer be able to manage the district. He contended it was inevitable the community would need to incorporate.

David Makidon, chair of the HISID board, told Barr the SID was set up to manage the community as it is created, but the board cannot pass or enforce ordinances. He noted that even the legislature urged them to incorporate. His sentiments were echoed by Ken Mills, who commented they cannot solve problems such as building codes and animal control, and they want to be a real town so residents can get what they deserve. He pointed out every community has its problems, but Holiday Island is prepared to confront and solve theirs.

Last to speak was Alex Thurocy who observed, “This is a rare community we have!” He listed the inherent values he found when he moved to the area, and maintained some problems are beyond their control but some were created internally by trying to live beyond available means. He said there are always pros and cons and debates, but he hoped, whatever the result, “we try to preserve what we have.”

Barr said he would take a few days to study the law, speak with the attorney, and give his answer in a week to ten days.

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