There has been some discussion around town and on social media expressing concern about two properties which the Gravette School District owns and are considering selling to the City of Gravette. Clarification of how the possibility of this transaction came about is central to the discussion: A school board member attended a recent City Council meeting and seemed to be speaking on behalf of the school board when an offer for the two properties was solicited. Discussion began about long term possibilities for community use in light of the school desiring to sell. In a later advertised working session convened specifically for the purpose of exploring this and other capital improvement projects, the city council reached a consensus that if the property was being offered and could be purchased for an affordable amount, it would be reasonable that the city take on its ongoing maintenance and begin planning for its eventual development.
It is easy to find merit in the city having interest in both the 'Hiwasse Fire Station' property and the 'Old Bus Barn' property - particularly if that interest is specifically solicited. Keep in mind that the Hiwasse property has not only been used for years by the Gravette Fire Department to house a satellite fire station for the Hiwasse area, but has been largely maintained by the city as well. It is centrally located in the Hiwasse community, often used as a community center, and is adjacent to another property being offered for purchase by the city ('Old Holloway Property') which, when combined would create a public space accessible directly from Highway 72 that can be cleaned up and developed as warranted.
The 'Old Bus Barn' property is currently undeveloped except for largely unused and dilapidated structures, is the only land remaining adjacent to one of the city's main complexes (Civic Center, Pool, Museum) that is not already developed, and is conveniently located near the center of town and the school (unlike any other property owned by the city that would be appropriate for this type of development). If the school is not interested in developing it and desires to sell it, I suggest it would be irresponsible for the city council to not at least consider it for future development.
Another point of discussion has been the assumption that the City will need to raise taxes in order to fund such purchases. This assumption is completely false. I would refer you to the recently passed revision to the budget that calls for a $500k+ surplus in the General & Capital Improvement Funds for 2015 - which includes the appropriation for the purchases discussed at $65,000 for both properties. As it relates to potential projects with these properties and others (Main Street, etc.), the 3/4 cent sales tax repaying the Water/Sewer bond is nearing retirement and the citizens will have an opportunity to utilize that revenue stream by voting to maintain our current tax rate. There is a lot more information forthcoming on this issue.
Should the school deem it to be in their best interest to either keep the property for their own expansion plans or sell it to another entity, I have no apparent reason to object. It should not offend the City in any way if there were to be a retraction of the solicitation or if they simply do not accept the offer. Although City Hall has no official position regarding future expansion of school facilities, we are always happy to see development inside our city!
-Mayor Kurt Maddox