Piggott Council Meets

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Two meetings of the Piggott City Council were held as the old year drew to a close, and 2018 was at hand.

Piggott City Council members met in regular sesson at noon on Tuesday, Dec. 28, in their final meeting of 2017. With all members in attendance, allong with key administrative personnel, they considered a number of issues and approved the 2018 general and MLWS budgets.

Prior to the regular meeting a public hearing was held concerning condenmation of a variety of parcels in the city. Afterward, the council entered into regular session.

After handing the usual agenda items, they turned their attention to resolutions to proceed on the properties. City Attorney Kimberly Dale noted the proper notices had been published, and the resolutions were approved on a vote of 4-0.

Under new business, council heard from Mike Scott with the Job Stimulus Board about a proposed change in the way their audits are conducted.

The board requested a change which would allow them to be subjected to a legislative audit by the state, as opposed to being required to hire a Certified Public Accountant each year.

“We're also required to have it done by March 15, and that is the worse time of the year for CPA's,” Scott offered. “We'd like that stipulation to say we'll present it upon completion.”

Changes in the way the board operates are required by council, and then must be forwarded to the state for review and final determination. It was approved without dissent.

Council then voted to move the January meeting, due to a conflict, and re-scheduled it for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

The 2018 budget for revenue and expenses was then presented, and reviewed, by council members.

“This does not include an amendments to the 2017 budget, we'll have to do that in January,” Mayor Jim Poole explained.

After discussing several of the line-items, the council voted 4-0 to accept the budget.

Council then considered, and approved, a resolution which officially accepted the 2016 city budget as presented at the time. According to Poole, an oversight resulted in the resolution not being approved at the time, which was brought to their attention by state auditors.

The resolution was presented, and approved, unanimously.

Council members then voted to amend the agenda, and add two additional items.

First, they voted to name Beth Daffron to the Planning and Zoning Commission. She replaces Shawn Parker, and will serve out the remainder of his un-expired term.

Next, they amended the agenda to allow them to consider the MLWS budget for the coming year for electric, water and wastewater.

Utilities Director Brian Haley provided an overview, and noted there will be a slight decrease in the base millage rate for electric in the year to come. With the exception of a line-item concerning the fuel adjustment numbers, the budget was accepted on a vote of 4-0.

Council members then considered an ordinance allowing the city to waive competitive bidding on the purchase of a sewer machine, approving it on all three readings.

The action will allow the MLWS to purchase the machine from Ditchwitch of Arkansas at a cost of $43,525.

The ordinance to allow the purchase was approved on a roll call vote of 4-0, along with the accompanying emergency clause which allowed it to immediately go into effect.

Late in the meeting council members once again amended the agenda, as they discussed the automatic utility rate increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

By ordinance, the city's rates are tied to the CPI and automatically go up accordingly. The past three years council members have voted to waive the increases in an effort to keep rates low, but at the expense of reserves.

Haley told council members the estimates for the CPI are currently between 1.8 and 2.2 percent, although the final numbers for 2017 had yet to be determined. He noted rates would be down slightly this year, and indicated they'll be looking about about $13,000 less in revenues.

After discussing the impact of the CPI, and the expected costs of power, council members voted to table the matter until later in January.

Afterward, they voted to adjourn.

Special Meeting

Members of the Piggott City Council met in special session Friday morning at city hall to address the matter of debt to the city-owned utility department by Piggott Community Hospital—also a city-owned entity. At issue was a bill in excess of $445,000, which had accrued over the course of the past 24 months. Following a lengthy, and often impassioned, discussion the council chose to forgive the debt and offer PCH a lower rate--with several stipulations.

“You all know what we're here to deal with, we didn't create the problem but in the end you know we'll get the blame for it,” Mayor Jim Poole noted in opening the meeting to discussion on the matter. “But, I don't see any way out of it. We're just gonna' have to swallow it this time, and try to establish a system in the future where we're more of a priority.”

He indicated there were ample reserves in the MLWS coffers to cover the debt, which reflects only a small portion of the electric, water and sewer used by PCH during the time the total grew.

“Over that period of time they payed about $900,000 toward their bills,” Poole offered. “What are we going to do? We can't shut them off.”

Each of the four council members voiced similar sentiments, but noted they felt more accountability was needed. “We need to see a plan, what do we have to go on that would lead us to believe they would be able to pay their next bill if we forgive this one?” Councilman Travis Williams added. “We need to see some type of a plan about what they'll do going forward.”

Council members Mike Cook, Jamey Parks and Jeff Benbrook offered similar thoughts on the matter and all voiced their opinion that a better working relationship be developed between city government and the hospital board.

Poole indicated the city currently has between two and three million dollars in reserve, and explained that the electric usage the hospital is being billed for has already been paid for.

“We've already paid for that power, we have already absorbed the loss,” he added. “It's up to you, but we just can't stand by and let 200 jobs, and a two million dollar payroll, go away.”

Councilman Cook, the longest tenured of the four current members, indicated he felt some of the problems had surfaced after council declined to give the hospital a lower rate—instead choosing to offset costs by a rebate in years past.

“All I know is that if we've got people out there who can't get the job done, we need to get some people out there who can,” he added. “I don't care who it is.”

Afterward, Cook offered a motion to forgive the debt effective with the Jan. 10, due date, and offer the hospital the industrial usage rate. The motion came with the stipulation that the Healthcare Facilities Board provide council with a detailed plan for addressing the matter, in person, at their Jan. 30, regular meeting.

In offering the motion Cook also addressed the residents of the city, adding. “I just want to say to the people of Piggott, Ark., and to everyone who had their electric turned off in the past year cause they couldn't pay their bill, that they can thank the administrators and people out at the hospital since they didn't have to come up with the money they owed.”

Utilities Director Brian Haley, and MLWS finance officer Sandy Low, were on hand to answer questions and provide background information.

Haley indicated the city would offer electric to the hospital at the industrial customer rate, which is still above cost. “We make about a penny a kilowatt hour on the industrial rate,” he explained. “We still make a little profit, that's to cover our overhead and such.”

Low said in recent years the hospital's monthly utility bill has ranged in the low to mid $30,000 range, with last month's bill around $38,000. This amount includes electric usage, water, sewer and trash disposal as well.

Council members reviewed the issue at great length, and considered tabling it until their regular Jan. 30, meeting. As a compromise, Cook offered the motion to forgive the debt, and establish the new industrial rate, with the stipulation that representatives of the hospital attend the Jan. 30 meeting, and provide a detail plan concerning how they will address the matter going forward. If this stipulation is not met, the forgiveness of the debt would be rescinded automatically.

Parks offered the second to the motion, and on a roll-call vote it was approved 4-0.

For the record, the full amount of the forgiveness amounted to $445,172.07.

Afterward, council members voted to adjourn.

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