Mayor Still talks city improvements, eclipse activities at Lions Club today
Hope Mayor Don Still, appearing at today’s Lions Club meeting, said he views it as a necessity for Hope to add to and enhance its facilities to attract more companies and people to the town in the future and that a sales tax may be needed to accomplish this goal. 

Still also promoted events being planned for the coming months, including the Paul W. Klipsch Birthday Bash March 7-9th, days of shopping and concerts leading up to the April 8th eclipse and Train Day on May 4th. 

But most of his speech addressed the possibility of the city of Hope making multiple capital investments, possibly in a new fire department headquarters to replace the main fire department now located on 308 East Second, possibly in an aquatic park, a splash pad and covered basketball courts for Northside Park, turf infields for the softball fields, turfing for one soccer field. 

Over the next several weeks, Still said, public meetings will be held during city board meetings-- the next one is scheduled for February 20th at 7:00 p.m—to hear from Hope residents and those with an interest in Hope about what they would prefer the city to build next to add to quality of life. 

Mayor Still began this part of his talk by saying it had been a long time since a capital investment had been made to Hope’s parks. “The last money we've spent out in the park, pretty big money, is when I started playing softball, which was 20 years ago. Kelly Fields has probably been down there probably 40 years. And then the soccer field was the last big improvement we made when we bought the soccer field to put that in. Well, it's time for us to look at the next phase,” Still said. 

He said that in talking with other mayors he had found that with work weeks becoming shorter, more young people were wanting outdoor and recreation facilities. He continued, “We’re looking at three or four things. We’ve had public meetings. We’ve been talking to engineers about getting us some prices.” 

Here Still addressed potential upgrades to playing surfaces at Fair Park: “We're putting a turf infield in some of the softball fields. We're looking at--maybe if the voters approve it--putting a turf soccer field down at the park. And people ask me, ‘Why do we need a soccer field?’ I think last year, we had 700 kids come out for soccer. … All over the state soccer is kind of taking the place of baseball, and other sports.” He added that a turf soccer field would likely bring tournaments to the city that would bring people to the city, contributing the its economy. 

Still also spoke about either adding a swimming pool or upgrading the present one and making additions to Northside Park. “[At] Northside we're thinking, we're planning on maybe covering the basketball court somewhere, and then putting in a splash pad over there.” 

A potential new fire station was also mentioned. “If you've been by the fire station, we're having to buy a new ladder truck. And when we get this ladder truck, it will not fit in our fire station. So we definitely need an upgrade on that,” Still said. 

How would these capital investments be funded? “There'll be a lot more information when we get down to what we're really going to try to do. But it's going to be a penny sale tax. And we have to figure out how long we want to try to do it,” Still said. He said the current Hempstead County Courthouse was an example of what could be accomplished with a small sales tax. 

“I like taxes that I can see what it did, see what I paid for. And that’s what this tax is all about.” He said the county had taken its turn in raising funds for the courthouse and that the city would be taking its turn now.  “We let the school try theirs. It's our turn to see what we can do. I'm always proud of Hope I'm proud of what we have. But we can do better, we can do better in recreation. It’s time for us to step up,” Still said. 

Still took questions from the Lions members. One asked him to comment on the broadband available in the city. “It's unbelievable. The remote working that people do and they were ready to move from the big city and they're looking for a place like hope where they can go to Little Rock and go to Dallas quickly, but they're still not in that big city,” Still said. 

City director Mark Ross, a long-time Lion member, reminded the assembled that during the public sessions to take place during the next several city board meetings, not only are Hope residents urged to voice their preferences but also business owners who may not live in town and residents in the area who regularly come to Hope and would like to see the town add more quality of life-oriented facilities. 

Another Lion member asked about pickleball courts. Still said, “Pickleball is definitely worth putting in the package.” “Pickleball and tennis,” added Ross. 

“How much money are you trying to raise?” another Lion asked. “I think $1.8 [million]. It’s just according to whether we go with the rec center, with indoor basketball court. What we’re doing right now is they’re [the engineers] are giving us numbers to come back and see. The board will decide how much we’re going to go for. On the ballot there will be the rec center and then the fire station. So there will be two different items.” 

Still said that if the city board proceeds with a ballot initiative without the rec center, it would likely have to request a one-cent tax over five years. But if the board pushes for a rec center and pool, the tax might have to last up to eight years. “I don’t know if the public would be willing to go that long on a tax,” Still said. 

A Lion commented that he had seen a rapid improvement in the Nashville, Arkansas Parks System while the system in Hope had remained “stagnant.”  Mayor Still said that in the period when Paul Henley was running the Hope Parks system, more grant funding was available from the state, but that since then “it’s dried up, and it’s like everybody in the state is going for the same dollar.” 

Still said that Benton probably has one of the most impressive parks system in the state now. “They passed that tax, and they put the dollars to it. … They made that first rate.” 

In response to the next question, Still and Ross said the Hope for the Future survey that has been passed around in printed form at city board meetings and which is available on line for all respondents is still being collected and scrutinized by city officials. 

Another question was whether the rec center had the potential to generate revenue for the city. Still said this was unlikely and the intent was to allow the use of it for free. “ost facilities that we look at in rec center like that is usually a cost instead of we don't Very seldom do they turn a profit, because you got to man it and then you got to heat and cool it and everything else. So if that went through, I hate to say we'll keep adding taxes, but then we'd have to add a maintenance tax on there. And that would be operations and maintenance. So we're in early stages. All we're doing today is just telling you, ‘Hey, it's coming,’ … and the board will decide how far we go and how deep we go.” 

Other questions asked during the meeting pertained to how other towns fund their rec centers and whether to charge for memberships. Ross said one reason for the public meetings was for the board to hear ideas. Another City Director present, Kiffinea Talley said that charging membership fees might well reduce the number who would vote for the rec center. Both Ross and Still made clear this was an unlikely option as parks are considered a public service. 

Still closed by acknowledging not many of the Lions would not benefit directly from the parks facilities improvements. “But we’ve got to pay forward. We have to look at the future. Are we going to stay the same? Or are we're going to build to where people move here? I hate taxes. I just want to see taxes that I get what I pay for.  The courthouse was a perfect example. I mean, I was just praying that thing would turn out as well as it did, because I knew, the city board knew we would come after you guys [to help fund city capital projects].” 

On Eclipse Festivities in Downtown Hope and at Hope Municipal Airport 

At the beginning of his appearance, Mayor Still described what will take place over the weekend of the April 8th eclipse.  

Saturday April 6th at 9:00 a.m. things will get started with Solar Shopping Downtown. 

On Saturday afternoon Jacob Perez, who has played guitar and sung at Amigo Juan’s and at the most recent Watermelon Festival, will perform at the Pocket Park downtown. 

On Saturday night at 6:00 p.m., the Dusty Rose Band will perform at the Klipsch Visitor’s Center outdoor stage. 

On Sunday evening, April 7th at 6:00 p.m., Wyatt Putnam and Mae Estes will perform contemporary country at the Fair Park stage. Both are Southwest Arkansas natives, Estes being from Hope. 

Then on Monday, April 8th for the main event, gates at the Hope Municipal Airport will be opened at 9:00 a.m.  “The airport will be the perfect place to be, because you can see the eclipse coming and leaving,” Still said. “I recommend you get there early,” he added, mentioning that people from Knoxville, Tennessee, which was in the zone of totality for the 2017 eclipse said travel down two-lane highways became impossible about an hour before and after that eclipse.  Special glasses will be available at the airport on a first come first serve basis.

“There’ll be a big crowd of people here,” Still said. “So be prepared.”