City Councils Address Variety of Issues

Thursday, May 9, 2019
Hot Springs was the site for the annual convention of the Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association last week. During the gathering Todd Watson (right), with the City of Rector, was recognized with the Water Outstanding Achievement Award. “This is quite an accomplishment for our small town,” Mayor Teresa Roofe said of the honor. First formed in 1931, the common goal of the AWW&WEA has been to provide clean water. Each year they host a conference for those engaged in the design, management, operation and control of water works systems.
courtesy photo

Both the Piggott and Rector city councils met in regular session in the past week, and both handled a varied agenda.

Piggott Council

BY TIM BLAIR

Although the agenda was short, several major issues dominated discussion at Thursday night's regular Piggott City Council meeting. Among the items considered were the 2019 budget for Piggott Community Hospital and an update on efforts to start a community garden program. Council member Tracy Cole also reported to those in attendance on recent efforts to form economic and community development committees.

Postponed a week due to conflicts, all members were in attendance as the meeting was called to order by Mayor Travis Williams at city hall. Also on hand were key city staff members and representatives of PCH.

After dispensing with the consent agenda items, Williams introduced PCH administrator James L. Magee for presentation of the hospital budget. He was joined by Tanya Jordan of PCH, the hospital CPA, officials with St. Bernard's Healthcare and members of the Healthcare Facilities Board.

In giving an overview of the budget, it was noted the hospital is expected to show a profit of around $300,000 for the just completed year of 2018, and is projected to show a profit of about a half million dollars for 2019.

The hospital officials pointed to the closure of the Kennett hospital as key to the increase in profits, along with the additions of the psychiatric clinic, infusion clinic and pediatric services. The report noted this year has brought with it a 1.5 percent increase in salary and wage rates across the board; an increase of 3.75 percent for purchased services and 3.25 percent increase in other expense rates.

In calculating their revenue projections, inpatient revenue and swing bed rate increased 4.75 percent; the outpatient volume increased 5.5 percent and the home health growth rate was estimated at 6.25 percent. They also noted budgeted bad debt expense was estimated at 5.6 percent of gross patient service revenue.

Afterward, the council voted 4-0 to accept the hospital budget as presented. Mayor Williams also commended the efforts of the hospital staff and board, noting “I'm very happy with the way things are going.”

Hospital board members on hand included Danny Brown, David Gregory, Keith Crittenden, Stephanie Lowe and Todd Watson—the latter two the newest members.

Council then heard a report from city clerk Julie McMillon on efforts to launch a community garden. She indicated a committee is being formed, and updated council on discussions concerning location and city involvement. She reported the vacant lot along West Clay Street, near the General Baptist Nursing Home, was being considered. McMillon also reported proponents of the effort are gathering information about other existing programs and are looking into possible grants for equipment and other backing.

“We're also getting the Clay County Extension Service involved, including the 4H, and Mr. (Casey) Simpson at the high school,” she reported. “But, we're still putting together the guidelines and getting input.”

She noted the community garden effort could also be utilized by youth groups, and would serve as a good way to help teach and train kids.

Following the discussion council voted to allow the planning process to continue.

City attorney Kimberly Dale informed council two public hearings will be held prior to the next meeting. The hearings will be held at 5:45 p.m. on May 23, and will concern two more condemnations sought on local properties.

Mayor Williams also updated council on the proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed several years ago against a former Piggott PD officer. He reported the Municipal League had recommended a settlement in the case, of which 10 percent of the cost must be covered by the city. As the city's insurer against such claims, the municipal league will be paying 90 percent of the proposed $14,500 settlement with the city to pay the remainder. Based on the municipal league recommendation, council voted 4-0 to allow Mayor Williams to settle the case.

Cole then outlined an ongoing effort to develop a strategy plan for future economic and community development, planning and zoning. She reported on a meeting on the subject with local leaders, and indicated the last time a plan for local land usage was developed was 1997.

The current plans call for the formation of a team, development of mission and vision and conducting analysis. The effort would address economic development matters, workforce development, community development and input from key parties. It would also seek to develop a strategic plan, setting goals, identifying key actions and responsible parties, setting timelines and determining metrics.

She indicated city officials will be meeting with regional and state economic development officials, and internally, in an effort to draft a plan and will be seeking input and participation from the public.

During his update on utilities, Ted Bellers also spoke of the role the community can take in helping retain businesses and make the city a more desirable place to live and work. He spoke of the need for more beautification efforts, and work to retain current residents and businesses-pointing to the recent closure of the local McDonalds in late April.

Bellers also noted the importance of drafting and enforcing codes designed to promote growth and retention.

Members of the council also reviewed the plans to build round-a-bouts in the city, and discussed the ongoing effort to determine which utilities will need to be moved and who will pay for the effort. They're currently working to establish the history of the utilities in the affected areas, and are seeking background on projects which were completed in the early 1900s. This primarily involves water and sewer lines, although information on the placement of sidewalks and other amenities are also being researched.

The update followed an April 22, meeting with ArDOT on the subject, and it was noted they would be returning to discuss the matter further in mid to late May.

Prior to adjourning, council was informed by Chief Jeff Benbrook that the fire department had sold their cascade system, adding some $11,000 to the funds being set aside for an additional ladder truck.

Rector Council

BY JANE GATEWOOD

Rector City Council addressed a light agenda at the May meeting held Monday evening at City Hall. Council member Lark Sigsby was absent, but a quorum was established.

City Superintendent Todd Watson reported well #1, which had undergone extensive repair is working “great,” adding “it has reduced the pressure on the 100-year-old water pipe system since it takes so much less time for the system to be at full operating force.”

He also thanked council member David Romine for his help and expertise in suggestions for the good of the Rector Water Department and the City of Rector. Mayor Teresa Roofe announced that Watson, and another individual, had been recognized for excellent achievement as water operator in cities of fewer than 3,000 people. Watson had already won district recognition and had been recommended by the district for the state award, which he won for his achievements for the city. The council applauded Watson’s accomplishment.

Superintendent Watson continued with his code enforcement report and was advised by council that a house on Pine Street, close to the 2nd street intersection, has continuously brought-in flea market type items and has, over the past several weekends, held sales of these items from their yard and carport. Watson was also advised by council members who had received complaints from residents that these residents in question were burning furniture behind their house. Watson said that the city would handle the matter going forward.

Mayor Roofe introduced to the council two items of business which did not make it onto the printed agenda except as other business. The City of Rector will be applying for a Fun Grant at Memorial Park for the purpose of refurbishing playground equipment and constructing an additional t-ball field. She noted the swing set that had been at the old elementary school will be removed. Additionally, one of the slides which is in broken and cracked, caused by fire, will be removed. She explained that there are two other slides available. A swing set with a handicap-accessible swing is also part of the plan as are other recreational play sets. Mayor Roofe will meet with Zach Foster to create a cite plan. The grant is a non-matching grant totaling $50,000, for cities with population under 2,500 citizens.

“Considering the cost of new equipment, this is a relatively small grant, though the amount of money seems large,” noted the mayor. “We have not done much work there in the last few years and it’s time for some updates.”

In addition, Mayor Roofe informed the council of contact that she received from Sharon Sanders, of Chicago, regarding Complete Count Census committees. She indicated the council will take under advisement the recommendations and suggestions from Sanders for methods to make sure all citizens are counted, even those who have a post office box for an address. Citizens without a recorded address are routinely uncounted unless local representatives make it a point to contact these residents. The council members discussed the importance of this census, especially as related to Rector’s LMI percentage.

LMI refers to Low to Moderate Income percentages. Under these guidelines, if Rector’s numbers could be more current the city could apply for more grants and funds which are available.

“We want everyone to understand how important this 2020 census is to Rector and that the U.S. Census Department will not share personal information and that it should not be regarded as an intrusion of privacy but an opportunity to help Rector by providing numbers in households,” said Mayor Roofe.

Other council members suggested multiple steps to reach all citizens prior to April, 2020.

Earlier in the meeting, Fire Chief Hutie Bowden advised the council of seven calls, four in the city and three in the county, five being medical first-responder calls.

Police Chief Glenn Leach reported two accidents, six car letters, three dog letters, and 39 court docket items resulting in $2,455 collected. Chief Leach asked the council if the members were aware of the house on Pine Street at the railroad tracks being razed. He and Superintendent Watson were asked about the progress of clean-up of the burned house and lot on 2nd Street near Stewart. Mayor Roofe said that she trusts First Baptist Church will complete the clean-up as they have purchased the lot.

The Community Center reported 10 events, six of which brought $220 income, plus $100 in donation, and $205 in entertainment income.

Council member Romine asked about the city’s condemned properties and the cost of razing each and cleaning up the lots. The action was tabled until the June meeting when city attorney Kimberly Dale will advise next steps. Watson mentioned letting the bids for all three property locations.

Superintendent Watson stated he had talked twice with the railroad office in reply to Romine’s question on railroad crossing status. He reported at this point, nothing has been done. Watson said that over time, rocks on the tracks rise to the top and will fall onto the rubber part of the tracks. Trains can run over these rocks send the rocks flying and create sparks. He noted the sparks that people see are not coming from the train car wheels on the rails.

Council Member Romine and Mayor Roofe commended the Rector Community Museum for the exceptional open house activities over the past weekend. They commented on the artifacts’ placement and organization. “Very impressive,” said Romine. “If you have not been to the museum, I urge you to go.”

“It’s fascinating. You could spend days looking at all the interesting things and how they have them organized,” commented Mayor Roofe.

As the meeting ended, Superintendent Watson reported the new side-by-side stickers are in. He also indicated the new pump station is also in and ready to be installed.

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