Piggott City Council Meets

Thursday, June 30, 2016

An ordinance concerning the new FEMA flood plain map was approved at Monday night's meeting of the Piggott City Council. The measure adopts the new Flood Damage Prevention Program, and the code which accompanies the National Flood Insurance Program. During the regular monthly gathering the aldermen also heard updates on the widening project on North 12th Avenue, the efforts to replace the community center roof and the mosquito problem within the city. They also accepted the low bid for the "Safe Route to Schools" project, which is being done in conjunction with the Piggott School District, agreed to allow a lease/purchase agreement on city owned buildings and were informed new Christmas decorations are on order.

After dispensing with the usual approval of minutes, and clerk's reports, the council members heard an update on the North 12th Avenue project.

"We're currently getting bids on having the trees removed," Mayor Jim Poole reported. "Getting the roots out of there, and dealing with gas lines, seem to be our biggest problem."

He also noted the MLWS tree removal equipment was not big enough to handle the trees in question, and asked the aldermen for their approval to allow him to contract the needed work. The request was approved on a vote of 4-0.

Poole also indicated the city's $300,000 loan had been approved for repairs to the community center roof, adding he hoped the cost estimates are less. "Whatever we don't use will go back toward the principle without penalty, and the note is set up over a 20 period. So, if we use it all the payments would be about $1,600 a month," he explained.

The bids for the Safe Route to Schools project were reviewed, with the low bid submitted by Hessling Construction, of Jonesboro. They submitted a bid of $69,329.77 while Greene County Excavating bid the job at $77,931.50 and Sugg Construction submitted a bid of $82,856.50. The aldermen voted to accept the low bid without dissent.

The funds for the project were sought in conjunction with the Piggott School District, and will be used for safety improvements. The plan calls for the installation of new signs, and lights, at the school crossing in front of Piggott Elementary School. Additionally, a speed bump and new crossing signs are to be installed between the PHS main campus and the old gym on South Garfield.

The council members also gave approval to a lease/purchase agreement on the former Aerial Bouquets warehouse, located at 1211 South Garfield Avenue.

"The Job Stimulus Board has approved a lease/purchase agreement on the old Aerial Bouquets building, and would like your approval," Board Chair Mike Scott told the council members. "We can legally enter into the lease agreement without council action, but you must give final approval on the sale of the property."

Scott noted the agreement outlined a $750-per-month lease agreement for the 40,000 square foot facility, with all payments going toward the selling price of $250,000. The contract also allows the lessee the opportunity to also purchase the adjacent building, located at 1197 South Garfield, which is 20,000 square foot.

"The second building, or the north building, is currently leased by Helena Chemical at a rental rate of $7,500 per year," he added. "But, should they vacate the lessee will have the option on that building as well."

He presented copies of the proposed lease/purchase agreement to the aldermen, which indicated the agreement will be with local businessmen Freedom Hobbs and Jeremi Wicker. The council voted 4-0 to allow the board to enter into the contract.

Council then addressed the proposed ordinance dealing with the flood plain map, and the related insurance program.

"You could look at this as a necessary evil, but we must approve the new flood plain map and regulations," Poole told the council. "Since we are a part of the program, we must approve the new map or no one will be able to get flood insurance within the city limits."

He noted the new code requires that each parcel be evaluated, and a certification filed, before any building permit or loan is issued. "Even if you lived on top of Mt. Nebo, you'd still have to check with the flood plain manager and have your property certified before you could get, extend or amend any loan," he explained. "This code makes it a part of getting a building permit, and the city will enforce the measure through the Planning and Zoning Commission."

The mayor noted the only way the FEMA map can be changed is by revision, which must be approved by both the Corps of Engineers and FEMA. He explained the main difference would be in insurance rates, which could have a wide range.

Council members introduced the ordinance, waived the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, and approved it on a vote of 4-0. The accompanying emergency clause was also approved without dissent.

Those wanting to view the new map may find it online at http://maps.riskmap6.com/AR/Clay/

Poole also sought input from the council on the city's efforts to control the mosquito population, especially in light of the recent concerns about the Zika virus. "We are currently spraying a larvaecide and a contact spray, but our equipment is getting old and it takes a lot of time to cover the entire city," he offered. "But, having a company come in and address the matter can be expensive. And, even if we got a new unit we'd have to run both the do a good job."

He noted many cities are opting for aerial spraying, but indicated the annual price tag could be close to $100,000.

"We're doing all we can right now, but we are going to start cracking down on problem areas where there are a lot of old tires, or an old swimming pool, providing a breeding ground," he added. "We can do everything in our power, but a good wind can blow millions of mosquitoes in from the fields that surround the city."

With the council's blessings, he indicated he would look into all the options available and report on his findings at the next meeting.

The mayor also reported on a project to clean debris and underbrush from along Sugar Creek. "Clay County Drainage District has offered to partner with us on cleaning out Sugar Creek alongside the old Darling building," he explained. "The cost is around $12,000 and they've agreed to split it with us 50/50. And, they'll come back and "mop" the banks at no cost to us."

The clean-up effort will include the section from around Highway 49 to the Graves ditch, south of the industrial park. Council members gave unanimous approval.

In a related note, Poole indicated he continues to explore avenues for reducing flooding in the southeast portion of the city. "I checked during the recent rain, and Big Slough begins to back-up toward our ball fields before it's even full," he noted. "They've offered to put a flood gate at the end of the ditch, but they also said it could slow things down. We have problems down there that need attention."

During his report to council, Utilities Director Brian Haley reported on a request by Piggott Community Hospital to adjust their electric rate.

"The hospital has asked if we could offer them the manufacturing rate, or a special rate," Haley indicated.

"The hospital employs over 200 people, and has a payroll of more than seven million dollars," Poole noted. "We gave Darling the manufacturing rate, and they were only employing 35 or 40 people. We have to do everything we can for our hospital."

Haley offered a compromise plan, which calls for the hospital to remain at the same rate but provides a $10,000 a month rebate. "Under this plan the rates would still be higher than our manufacturing rate, which is specified for manufacturing facilities only, but would help them financially," he noted.

Poole also explained that since the city was considered a non-profit entity, any additional funds going to the hospital would be matched in their Medicare program.

The rebate plan was approved by the aldermen on a vote of 4-0, with the change to go into effect with the August billing.

Haley also provided an update on the water department, noting there was some good news concerning the water tower painting project. "We had the paint from the tank tested, and the lead levels were low enough that we didn't have to contain the clean-up, so it will save us money," he explained.

He also sought guidance from the council on the city water department's fluoridation efforts. "Recently the law changed, and cities of less than 5,000 do not have to add fluoride to their water. We've been doing it since the 1980s, when we started at the urging of a local dentist," he explained. "We have the opportunity acquire a $70,000 grant to replace our fluoridation equipment, and build new buildings, although it will cost about $97,000 to complete the project."

In recent years a movement has gained momentum to remove all fluoridation efforts, although the Arkansas Department of Health still recommends its use.

"We are not required to continue, but we already have the process in place--and we don't know if the law will change in the next few years and require us to add it anyway," Poole offered. "If we don't take advantage of the grant we'll have to foot the bill ourselves."

With that in mind, the council members agreed to accept the grant monies and authorized the additional funds to re-work the system.

Haley also indicated Electric Superintendent Bruce Swan has ordered Christmas decorations, which will be used on public buildings for the holiday season.

"With the old lights we were spending over $30,000 a year just on manpower to put them up and maintain them," Poole explained. "Not to mention the cost of the electricity and such."

This prompted the removal of the lights following last year's holiday.

"We have a budget of $25,000, and hope to add more lights each year," Haley reported. "He's ordered a number of fiberglass characters and LED lights for the tree on the courthouse lawn. These things have to be ordered early in the year in order to get them in on time."

Poole noted the figurines, and lights, would be used on public buildings, including the courthouse, city hall, library, fire station and depot--but not on the community center. Additional decorations are also being planned for Heritage Park.

During the gathering the council also voted to allow Poole to adjust the rental and clean-up deposits for use of the pavilions and amphitheater at the park. He indicated the clean-up fee of $25 was so low, that most of those who entered into the agreement left the job for the city to do and suggested a higher deposit.

Council also voted to waive the rental fee for the Piggott Community Center for an upcoming fundraiser. At the request of the Piggott Make-A-Wish Committee, they voted to waive the fee for a father-daughter dance, set for Feb. 4.

Last year the council waived the fees for use of the center for the first such event, which raised over $10,000 for the charity.

Terming the request a, "no brainer" council gave approval on a vote of 4-0.

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