Pope County community considers using casino tax revenue to fund county projects

Wednesday 12th February 2020

POPE COUNTY, Ark - On March 3rd Pope County voters have the chance to weigh in on a controversial topic, the casino. This time, however, they aren't voting for or against the casino itself but how the tax revenue would be used.

Last year the state of Arkansas passed Act 703, which allows counties like Pope to use tax revenue from casinos to pay off bonds. Pope County has several projects they believe could be funded from that kind of money. Tuesday night County officials held a public forum to answer questions and clear up misconceptions about the bond.

While there's no word on when a casino will ever be built in the county, officials are pretty confident it will happen.

"I think in the end there will be a casino in Pope County," Pope County Judge Ben Cross said.

Judge Cross says the county may as well benefit from tax revenue from a possible casino. The judge is working to pass a bond that would allow the new cash flow to fund county infrastructure.

"If I was going to drive one point home this is no tax for Pope County, this is simply taking the casino and having them provide the tax base for your infrastructure," Judge Cross said.

There's five projects on the bond which will be on the March ballot: A criminal justice center, Russellville Fire Department sub station and purchase of Russellville Police Department vehicles, Russellville Central Library facility, Senior Adult Wellness Center annex, and a multi-purpose event center. In total, it will cost more than $80,000,000

"Some of those five are needs and some of them are wants but all of them can be financed by the Act 703 bond initiative," Judge Cross said.

While Cross thinks it's a no brainer, some in the community don't see it that way.

"The bond issue is one of the worst ideas as far as fiscal policy for Pope county that I have ever heard," Pope County resident Harold Tate said.

Tate believes this bond is too big of a risk not knowing if or when a casino is coming and how it will do.

"We're basing a 30 year tax revenue upon projected income of a casino and we can not possibly know what the revenue is going to be for the casino over a period of 30 years," Tate said.

Judge Cross says the community doesn't need to worry.

"This will not even be bonded up for three or four years. You have to have a casino built, in operation and a revenue tax base established before you can ever bond up the first penny," Judge Cross said.

According to Cross, even if the casino fails, tax payers won't be responsible. Only if the bond itself fails could tax payers be the one footing the bill.

"If we take advantage of it, that won't be necessary," Judge Cross said.

If there is no casino, the bond is void. If that happens or id the bond fails, county officials will discuss those five items and figure out what is a need or a want. From there the projects could cause an increase in taxes in the county. Early voting starts February 18th and the election is March 3rd.

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