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2012 February 20 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Ark. College Delays Vote on Tax Increase

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — A Hot Springs community college’s Board of Trustees postponed an April special election after attorneys questioned whether the school could legally use a property tax increase to fund campus construction projects.

The National Park Community College board had scheduled an April 10 referendum in which Garland County voters would be asked to decide whether to support a 2.2 mill increase that would generate up to $13 million to pay for capital projects. But the board voted to postpone the vote until legal issues are settled.

A mill is one-tenth of a cent. When used as a property tax rate, each mill produces $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed valuation.

School president Sally Carder told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record that a 1973 law permits millage increases to pay for construction projects. But a 1977 statute that allows colleges to ask voters to approve property-tax increases says such money can be used for operating expenses without mentioning capital projects.

“I have had some sleepless nights over this, but the intent of the law needs to be defined and clarified for us to feel comfortable to go forward with this millage,” she said.

Carder said the school will seek an attorney general’s opinion to clarify the issue, but it’s likely the vote won’t be held until after next year’s regular legislative session, when lawmakers can decide whether to amend the statute.

Carder said the reputation of the college, which is about 40 miles west of Little Rock, is more important than going forward with the special election this year.

“Our reputation is built on integrity and honesty, and I don’t think we want to go to the voters if there is any question whatsoever,” she said.

Mahlon Griggs, the Board of Trustees’ outgoing chairman, said the community supports the plan for construction on campus.

“We are very disappointed that this unintended consequence of the legislation will delay our efforts,” Griggs said. “While the interpretation of the law is unclear, we felt we had no choice but to let the Legislature correct the problem before we proceed.”

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