Op-Ed on Pope County Bonds
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Amendment 100 has been a topic of considerable tension in the community of Pope County. The casino issue has caused divisions in families and friends and amongst our local elected officials. From the beginning, we have been committed to informing the local public about the specific details of this constantly evolving and all-encompassing process. The conversation has shifted from “Should we have a casino?” to “ What should we do with the casino money?”
In the upcoming primary election, Pope County voters will be asked to authorize elected officials to mortgage future casino revenue to pay for a host of possible projects. To be clear, we believe that the projects on the bond issue could be positive additions to our community. We would love to see Pope County officials move forward with them in a fiscally responsible way, but this bond is not it. Our two main concerns with the bond initiative are as follows:
Elected officials in the county are expected to be good stewards of our tax money. Recently, quorum court members communicated that they were operating at 83% of their general fund budget. We would like to see the same approach and planning in reference to the casino revenue. As currently written, the bond initiative does not achieve this. If all five projects are approved by voters, we would be giving the county officials a blank check for $75 million that could be spent with no expiration date.
Secondary to the issue of the money is the legality of the bond initiative. There are glaring problems with the ballot language voters will be asked to consider. First and foremost is that a license has not been issued to a specific casino vendor. You can’t promise to pay with money that doesn’t exist. Even though we are confident that a license will be issued to Legends Resort, until that happens, we should not be authorizing imaginary money to be spent by officials who may not be in office 3-4 years from now. The ballot also references an inter local agreement with the city of Russellville that does not exist.
Legal steps are already being taken to challenge the constitutionality of this bond initiative because of the language. After all of the local resources spent fighting over the local option ordinance, have we not learned to check the constitution before we send an issue to voters?
Our community deserves better than a hastily written bond initiative that is marred with major issues. If we truly want to provide these services to our community there is surely enough time to do it right. We encourage you to vote NO beginning February 18th and tell the elected officials to #BringItBackBetter in November.
Kristin Foster and Nathan George
Sass and the Beard