Apr 18, 2015
Conway’s Mayor is Addicted to Parks
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell’s addiction to parks and immature grasp of city finances are catching up with him and causing legal trouble for the City of Conway. A lawsuit now in front of Circuit Judge Michael Murphy alleges Conway unlawfully used proceeds from a quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2001 for expansion of Conway’s parks...
A lawsuit now in front of Circuit Judge Michael Murphy alleges Conway unlawfully used proceeds from a quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2001 for expansion of Conway’s parks program instead of promised raises for police and fire departments.
Richard Shumate Jr., a police officer, and Damon Reed, firefighter, filed suit in September 2012 on behalf of Conway taxpayers and “hundreds of general and street fund employees,” but recently filed paperwork seeking class action status.
The suit harkens back to another financial fiasco just five years ago where the Mayor and Council’s great grasp of city finances was again on display. In early 2010, Conway’s Chief Financial Officer resigned after it was discovered the city’s financial reserves at around $1 million were less than half of the $3.5 million that had been reported.
Even though the Mayor and City Council are responsible for understanding and approving city finances (never mind they always spend way beyond the city’s means), the absent CFO was blamed for the suddenly discovered discrepancy, which was followed by several years of budget-tightening in some city operations. But the Mayor’s parks obsession continued unabated with the 2010 opening of the (still unfinished) Conway Expo Center.
All the while the Mayor promised that rededication of an existing tax would be spent on providing badly needed raises to Conway’s police officers and fire fighters. It was 2012 before raises of any kind for uniformed employees finally materialized, but Conway’s parks still continued to grow.
The Mayor’s addiction to parks is creating havoc with city finances; his overly intense focus on “nice-to-have” parks clearly interferes with sound financial decision-making elsewhere in the budget. It was only a year ago the City was “having a cash flow crunch,” which led to $3.3 million in budget cuts and numerous increases in city fees (not dependent upon voter approval).
We’ve heard for years that “sales tax revenues are flat,” which just leads to the Mayor wanting to raise (or “rededicate”) taxes. But even though the entire country is still suffering from pull-backs in spending (and the area’s oil boom has now gone bust), the Mayor still wants parks — and wants to pay for city operations with new shopping centers and “the sales tax revenue they will generate.”
Remember, when voters approved the 2012 tax rededication/increase and city employees got raises to the midpoint of surveyed salaried levels, uniformed employees did not. Remember, the Mayor passed that tax increase using police/fire salaries as part of the justification.
Our Mayor is now determined to spend millions of dollars Conway doesn’t have to provide yet another “nice-to-have” park facility but, as usual, doesn’t have much of a clue as to how much it will actually cost and how/when funding will actually materialize.
We wonder how Judge Murphy (former attorney for the City of Conway) will rule on Shumate and Reed’s 2012 lawsuit. The bigger question is how long will Conway’s City Council — and Conway taxpayers — continue to enable the Mayor’s addiction to parks over basic safety?