Piggott Council Talks Budget, Approves Rate Increase

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Aldermen addressed a variety of issues at Monday night's regular Piggott City Council meeting, including an increase in trash collection rates for residents. Several projects were also updated, and the 2017 budget was presented for review. With all members in attendance, along with Alderman-elect Travis Williams and key administrative staff, the meeting was called to order by Mayor Jim Poole.

Early in the gathering the council heard from Alan Shelton, of Shelton Sanitation, concerning recent increases in tipping charges at the landfill. Echoing the report he had given the Clay County Quorum Court the previous Monday, Shelton noted his firm had absorbed the past two one-dollar increases in tipping fees, but must seek an increase due to the two-dollar increase which begins on Jan. 1.

"We took over for the city in September of 2012, and have not raised rates in that time, but we've also seen about a 48 and one-half percent increase in tipping charges during that time," he explained. "We're asking for an increase of $1.25 per month for each customer."

Poole, who serves on the solid waste management district, outlined increases in costs of operation for the regional landfill, which belongs to the three counties in the district along with their cities.

"In all fairness, even with an increase our rates are still very cheap," he offered. "There are a lot of places in the state that would love to have our rates."

He stressed the need for keeping the landfill viable, and noted the substantial increases in the cost of equipment in the past few years as an issue.

Shelton also reviewed the company's policy on large item pickups, which is available year-around to city residents.

"We want to remind residents that we do special pickups anytime needed for furniture and appliances," he offered. "I know you used to do a pickup once a year, but this works much better. All the customer has to do is call us and we'll send a truck around to take care of it."

Those wanting to contact the company about a pickup may call the toll free number during regular business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The number is 877-595-1253.

Following the discussion council voted to table the matter until later in the gathering.

During the utilities portion of the agenda the matter was revisited, with the aldermen choosing to accept the new rate for trash pickup.

"We do have money in a reserve account from back when we thought we might buy a truck and go into the trash business," Poole offered. "But, if we don't pass the increase along to the customers we'll soon have a deficit."

Utilities director Brian Haley address the matter, presenting council with a spread sheet of cost and income for solid waste. He noted the effort currently generates around $3,000 a year over and above the administrative costs. "But, if we absorb the increase we'll be looking at losing somewhere around $3,800 a year, dependent on how much bad debt we have," he offered.

For 2016 the city's expenses for trash pickup services was estimated at $227,229 with projected revenue of $228,607, for a profit of $3,434. Using the same number of customers, the new rate would equate to a loss of $3,820.64.

"They do a good job, we just don't get any complaints about their service," Poole offered. "You don't have to do this, and you don't have to do it now, but this increase will go into effect the first of the year."

"We get good service, and we're still a lot cheaper than a lot of places," Alderman Mike Cook noted.

In turn, he offered the motion to accept the rate increase and pass it along to the city's 1,679-or-so customers. The issue passed on a vote of 4-0.

Due to the increase in charges to the city, utility customers will see an increase of $1.25 per month for trash pickup on their January bills. This will raise the rate from $11 to $12.25.

In light of the fact the contract with Shelton expires in October, Poole instructed City Attorney Kimberly Dale to draft a new one reflecting the increase in rates.

Poole also updated council members on the community center roof project, which is now proceeding.

"We got the notification from the USDA that the closing on the loan will be Dec. 9, and the good news is that the interest rate is even lower than we thought, at 2.375 percent," he explained. "The next step will be to have the contract drafted and set up a construction conference with the contractor."

The mayor noted the "long drawn out affair" should see a speedy resolution, and "by this time next month they'll be working on the project."

He also reported work continues on the Safe Routes to School effort with the local school district, noting the contractor is expected to place the warning beacon lights at the crosswalks in the coming weeks.

Another project was also updated, and Poole noted the tree removal on North 12th continues. "We've contracted to have the stumps ground, but this rain has pushed things back just a bit," he offered.

Budget Review

Under the heading of new business, council members were presented with copies of the 2017 proposed budget packets. Poole then gave an overview of the highlights of the budget, noting it must be approved in December.

"Our general turnback is expected to be down some, but the one cent local sales tax and the county tax should hold fairly steady," Poole noted of the projections for 2017. "Our franchise tax dollars are down, and they'll continue to go down--much of it due to people giving up their telephones."

He noted the city gets a franchise tax on phone lines, but no such agreement exists for cell phones and internet. Poole also explained that the budget will cover expenses related to the city-owned farm property near the sewer lagoon, as a well was dug and the land leveled last year.

"Our costs for health insurance will be the same as this year, that's remained steady. But there will be an increase in the APERS (Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System) retirement costs," he added. "Our police department is now at full staff, so vacation and time-off is covered, but they are looking for funds for two more tasers," he added. "We'd also like to be able to find the funds for an additional police car, and there will be some additional costs for having officers certified."

The mayor also noted there will be a new emphasis on bringing jobs to the city in the coming year.

"One of the goals of our General Fund is to help economic development. We've made a number of phone calls to a factory in Jonesboro interested in building a paint room facility that would employ 20 to 30 people," he offered. "Next year we're going to work even harder to attract jobs, and try to fill the buildings that we have available."

In reference to city maintenance issues, Poole noted the street department should see an increase in turnback dollars, and will benefit from sales tax dollars. "We do need a new side-mount mower, although we can't afford a really nice one like the county has-we need one," he added. "We've also done a lot of work on the Pfeiffer building (former factory building, next to community center) and we've moved a lot of stuff there from all departments."

He indicated the fire department had already secured a bay to be used to house a fire truck, and other improvements are continuing to the city-owned property.

Other areas which will be addressed included striping, additional street sweeping and the North 12th Street project. "We're also planning to scale back some of the asphalt work, but will be addressing problems with creeks and ditches identified by the NRCS," he offered.

The problem areas include locations where brush and debris is causing back-wash issues, which increases erosion.

"The fire department won't be getting a new truck this year, but they do a good job for us and we need to do everything we can to keep them with reliable vehicles," he added. "I'm really proud of the new service/rescue truck, it's a great addition."

Poole also indicated improvements were earmarked for the airport, and noted the commission continues to seek funding to install a beacon light. "We're also still looking into the possibility of someone building a private hangar for lease, but since 9/11 everything like that has to go through the FAA," he surmised.

He also reported the city-owned housing units are 80-percent full, with only two apartments available. "We've got two more years on the forgivable loan agreement, then we can get out of the housing business if we choose to sell the units," he added. "Our last audit by the ADFA was just great, and the commended us on the condition of our rental units."

In reference to the Parks Department, Poole noted the community center roof will remain a priority. "We have also spent over $20,000 in repairs to the heating and cooling systems, and we now have that on a maintenance contract to avoid future problems," he added. "We also continue to look for grants, and keep our eye out for future grants."

He also noted additional repairs will be required inside the center, due to the longterm roof issues, and added the parking lot will be sealed in the coming year.

Poole also indicated the facility will be evaluated, and an additional exercise room may be added. He also offered thanks to Joe Cole for the donation of several photos, which now adorn the walls of the center.

In reference to Heritage Park, the mayor noted they'll continue to maintain and improve the facility as the funds are available. "We'll need to stain the fence this year, and we continue to try to find funds to build an additional building/pavilion," he explained. "The fishing rodeo will also be making a comeback next year, but it takes a lot of volunteers to put it on."

After the discussion on the budget, Poole told the aldermen to review the information, noting "we'll be voting on the finalized budget in December."

During his update to the council, Haley indicated the electric department has been busy putting up the Christmas lights. He also reported there were a few power outages over the holiday weekend, one due to a failed transformer. Haley also reported the power plant personnel are working at getting the generators in running condition, and would test all but one of the units prior to winter weather.

"The crew has finished painting the outside of the elevated water tank, and are starting on the inside," he offered. "They say they'll be finished by Dec. 19, and Verizon has already been in contact with us about getting their antenna back up."

Haley also reported work continues on the new lift station on North Johnson Avenue, and noted both departments continue to install the new radio-read meters as time allows. He also reported Justin Welch has completed the fourth stage of lineman school, and is now a full-fledged journeyman lineman. Haley also indicated the electric department is projected to lose several employees to retirement in the coming years, and noted he continues to work to address future needs.

In other business the council--

--Approved a resolution to be forwarded to the FCC concerning the recent rate increase request by NewWave Communications. The resolution notes council feels the rate increase is unjustified due to poor service and product provided by the local cable/internet provider.

--Repealed Ordinance 365, which had been passed in 2015. The ordinance designated the succession for elected offices, and was superseded by recent state legislation, rendering it moot.

--Chose to decline accidental death insurance for officials.

--Approved a 50-cent-per-hour pay increase for the district court judge and clerk to reflect raises recently approved for county employees.

--Voted to change the December meeting to noon on Monday, Dec. 19. A special meeting will also be held at noon on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

--Heard that Tim Boyd has been hired as a member of the electric department. Formerly of GTE, Boyd is a journeyman lineman and will be helping out in a variety of ways in the department.

--Accepted Boyd's resignation from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

--Voted to name Matt Lamborn to the position on the Planning and Zoning Commission vacated by Boyd.

--Were informed the city will receive $5,000 in General Improvement Funds to be used toward the purchase of a new police car.

--Voted to accept the resignation of George Forrest from the Board of Adjustments.

--Tabled consideration of a resolution to proceed with a lien on property at 676 North Thornton Avenue.

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