Piggott Council Hears Positive Financial Update

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Members of the Piggott City Council met in regular session Monday evening at city hall and reviewed the annual financial update. The aldermen also heard some positive news concerning electric rates, along with an update on the community center roofing project. A previous ordinance was also amended, allowing the Piggott PD to collect bonds and fines.

With all members in attendance, along with key administrative personnel, the meeting was called to order by Mayor Jim Poole. After dispensing with the usual consent agenda items the council turned their attention to the ongoing effort to replace the roof of the community center.

"We're currently waiting on the architect to forward the plans to the USDA," Poole explained. "Then we'll be able to proceed."

Council also heard an update on the Safe Routes to School grant effort, being done in conjunction with the Piggott School District. Under the plan, new crosswalks, street lettering and a speed bump have been installed around both campuses. The plan also calls for the installation of flashing lights at the Main Street crossings at both the elementary and high school, and additional lights on South Garfield between the high school and the old gym.

Poole also updated the council members the work on widening North 12th Street. He indicated Travis Bedwell has been contracted to remove several trees on the west side of the street, allowing the project to be completed. The area in question is just south of North Street/U.S. Highway 62, West. Work is expected to begin by early next week.

Council members also approved a resolution allowing for the city to seek condemnation of three additional properties. "So far we've completed the process on 18 properties in the city," Poole said of the ongoing effort. Additional homes and lots are also being considered.

City Treasurer Jamie Cluck provided the council with an update, noting the city's finances are in good shape.

"Overall, things are in good shape. Income for the municipal pool was up about $5,000 this year, although we still have some maintenance and other work to do on it for next year," she noted. "We also plan to expand some of the programs, such as the adult swim, which was very popular."

She also noted the financial situation for street, maintenance and drainage was in good shape. "They're all holding their own and we should be able to do some additional drainage projects next year, barring any catastrophes."

Cluck noted the city's financial shape is the best she's seen in her 18 and one-half years working in city hall. "We're doing a good job of holding our own, and we hope it continues that way in 2017."

She also indicated the city's sales tax receipts have been strong, "last month our sales tax intake was over $37,000 with the one-cent for the city and one-cent for the hospital, and that was great."

As for the community center, Cluck indicated the facility still requires repair and replacement of air conditioning unit, but thanks to recent cut-backs it has been holding its own financially.

The cut in hours has also resulted in thousands of dollars in savings on energy, most notably in cooling the building. "We're going to continue to try to save, but will also be working with the community to meet the needs of the public as far as when we're open," she added.

Both Poole and Cluck applauded the Piggott Street Department for the work they've done recently at Heritage Park. "They're out there daily making repairs, and trying to make it a better facility for the citizens," she noted. "Now that we have a healthier budget, we're also looking into offering some programs at Heritage Park in the future."

Poole also updated council members on the effort to install new crossing guards at the Court Street crossing in the city. "The railroad asked us to raise our wires at the crossing and we got that done this past week," he noted. "The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is working with the railroad on this, and they're getting federal funds. They'll be installing new short-arm crossing gates on Court Street sometime early next month.

During his update, Utilities Manager Brian Haley noted customers can expect a smaller bill for the current cycle. "This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, and Brian has done a great job," Poole noted. "On this coming month's bill we're able to give customers a cut of 2.7 cents on a kilowatt and we hope that this will continue. And, after the first of the year we'll try to be able to work the cuts into the rate system."

Under this plan the monthly fuel adjustment cut on power bills won't be as high, but the applicable rate would be. "He's worked a long time on this to set us up as a network transmission location, as opposed to point-to-point metering," Poole said of Haley's efforts. "And, hopefully this will help lead to getting these rates down."

The mayor also noted rates would be impacted with the future opening of Big River Steel, as it will require a great deal of electric from the regional grid.

"We have been working for a while now to transition from point-to-point to network transmission, and as a result this month we realized about a $23,000 savings," Haley explained. "Plus SWPA waived their transmission fees which meant another $17,000 or so while they wait to see what our actual cost is going to be from them."

Going forward, he indicated the city should be able to save around $23,000 each month thanks to the new system, which equates to a windfall of about one cent per kilowatt hour. "The savings would be dependent on the usage, but a 10kw customer would save about $10 a month."

Haley also echoed the comments of Poole, noting the savings would only be realized if the Plum Point power plant continue to operate as it should and nothing else changes. He also noted he was fairly confident the conditions will improve, and the savings could be as much as two cents a kilowatt hour.

Poole applauded the work of Haley, and the other city employees, for the effort adding, "he's spent a lot of time on this, even on his own time."

Haley also updated the council on the three major projects currently underway for the water and sewer department. He noted the Verizon cell phone antennae have all been removed from the water tower in the industrial park, and the painting project will be getting underway soon. He noted the company has 90 days to complete the job, but he expected it would be wrapped-up in a much shorter period of time.

During the project the Verizon antennae have been placed on a temporary tower, although some customers have indicated a low signal in some parts of town.

Work on the lift station on Johnson Avenue is also expected to begin soon, and the project to replace the city's fluoridation equipment continues with new components expected to be delivered to the work site this week. Haley also indicated both departments continue to install the new radio-read meters.

Late in the meeting Poole told council he had received a letter from NewWave Communications indicating another rate increase, the second of this calendar year. He noted all of the services will cost more, and council discussed drafting a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in reference to the increases. Poole also reviewed some of the particulars of the franchise agreement, and the contract by which the company pays the city to use the existing utility poles.

In other business the council--

--Authorized the destruction of checks for parks and recreation revenue, parks and recreation maintenance and for the community center.

--Amended Ordinance #620-14 which authorizes the police department to collect bonds and fines.

--Passed a resolution allowing the city to assess the general property tax.

--Signed a proclamation designating Oct. 7, as "Go Pink Day" in conjunction with a statewide effort backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

--Discussed a mandatory permit for making street cuts, or street bores, and instructed City Attorney Kimberly Dale to draft the measure.

--Gave approval to begin paying the USDA payment by draft.

--Accepted the resignation of George Forrest from the Board of Adjustments.

The council also discussed issues with Forrest's residence on Scurlock Avenue, and the use of the residential property for business purposes. Poole indicated the city was looking into the matter further, and would have an update at a future meeting.

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