Mayor Butch Berry gave a State of the City address highlighting accomplishments and events of 2018 at Monday night’s city council meeting. All aldermen were present, but City Attorney Tim Weaver was absent which resulted in deferral of the majority of new business items to the next regular meeting on Feb. 25.
Berry said 2018 showed a glimpse of light as the city emerged from a period of significant financial constraints. Accomplishments were 1) the city paid off the loan on the Police Dept. building, 2) City council passed Ord. 2265 which provides for the early retirement of both the 2008 and 2010 Water Sewer Bonds, 3) City expenses ran 3.78 percent under budget, and 4) the city raised its cash reserves by $572,779.
Berry commended Police and Fire departments for dedicated service – police responded to 1,734 calls and Fire/EMS responded to 1,558 incidents. The Public Works Dept. was recognized for identifying and repairing water line leaks reducing water usage by 15,729,000 gallons, and the transit system remains the only in Arkansas that is solely self-supporting and does not receive any city funding.
The Mayor provided thanks to the CAPC, Parks, the Task Force on Economic Development, Code Enforcement, HDC and the Planning Commission for their service. “A town that works together in a positive manner can solve problems easier and quicker than the ones that don’t work together,” he said.
Veteran, businessman and brewer take the mike
Public Comments began with Ferguson Stewart thanking council for allowing him to serve the last five years on the Parks Commission. “It has been a pleasure and I think I have left it in good condition for the public,” he said. He thanked council for appointing him to the Planning Commission, and stated he’s a veteran and an American Legion Chaplain. The 100th birthday of the American Legion will be honored at Post No. 9 on June 29.
The next public comment was from business owner Don Patterson who recently purchased the Fun Spot on US62. He said he and his family are working hard to get the business open “to hopefully serve the city honorably and well.” Patterson is the former vice-president of operations for French environmental company Veolia, where he worked for 30 years.
The final comment came from Dave Hartmann who applied for the Parks Commission. He said he and his wife moved to Eureka Springs in April 2018 from Vermont, and are starting a brewery here. Hartmann is a hiker, mountain biker and kayaker and has a natural affinity for Eureka Parks. “We are here, we have energy, we don’t have kids, we have time, how can we help out with the city?”
There were no commission or committee reports. The city received three applications for volunteers to three separate commissions, but neither discussed nor selected any new members. Alderman Melissa Greene said, “Years ago commissions used to come [to the city council meeting] maybe three or four times a year and give a report on what was going on.” Greene said it was incredibly beneficial to discuss issues at that time. “I think we’ve lost that.”
Alderman Terry McClung responded, “We just gotta ask them to come.” Berry apologized, saying, “It’s my fault,” and said he would like to see them appear on a quarterly basis.
Sidewalks + guidelines + Code enforcement = workshops
The first item of new business began by Berry stating there will be a public workshop on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. regarding information from the Historic District Commission about sidewalk surfaces.
The second agenda item was discussion of Code enforcement and policy procedures. Alderman Mickey Schneider began by saying, “It’s really important that all of our commissions, committees and city working groups all have exact guidelines to follow.” Schneider said she believes these guidelines should be followed as written, “to the nth degree. This is for the safety and sake of the city and therefore the residents of the city.” She went on to insist, “The whole city has gotten really complacent.”
Discussion progressed to city staff having one full-time code enforcer. Both the Chair of the HDC and Chair of the Planning Commission were present, and HDC Chair Steve Holifield said they do maintain a complaint file which is communicated to city staff, which informs the status back to the HDC. Planning Commission Chair Ann Sallee stated they do not maintain a complaint file for privacy purposes and to prevent retaliation. “We don’t see any complaints whatsoever,” she said. Complaints are handled within the city administration.
Greene asked Berry to provide a report to council on code citations or complaints from the last year to see how they are being addressed. “I think there is some lack of communications and I hear a word that is distressing to me and it is called discretion. To me codes don’t have discretion.” Greene believes there should be a warning system and a citation issued if the warning system fails.
Alderman Susan Harman said it would be beneficial for the HDC and Planning to sit down at an annual workshop and discuss issues with code enforcement staff members. Berry said they have that opportunity at anytime. “That’s pretty much a policy they need to establish themselves,” he said arguing that council should not interfere and direct commissions’ policies.
Harman rebutted saying this is not interference, but a courtesy workshop.
Schneider then made a motion, which Greene seconded, that council pass a resolution mandating an annual workshop including HDC, Planning, and council with city staff in regards to code guidelines and rules. Discussion took off.
While in favor of increasing city-commission communications, alderman Bob Thomas said a resolution was not necessary as council has the authority to hold a workshop as often as needed. McClung suggested a non-mandatory workshop, “not a forcible situation” with council’s endorsement. Rather than a resolution, McClung asked if it would not be much simpler for council to vote to direct the mayor to set up a workshop.
Schneider said from her past experience, without a resolution nothing would be done, and Berry asked why not try and find out? Schneider kidded, “I’ll bet you five bucks.”
Planning Chair Sallee said she would like to discuss with her commission an outline of issues before the workshop. “There is no doubt that at Planning we are struggling with some inconsistencies with Code and some of the ways the codes are handled.” Harman concurred that having an outline going into a workshop would be helpful and added that the workshop should also utilize past citations/complaints/lawsuits to develop improvements.
Thomas emphasized how important it is to hold a prepared and organized workshop. “Workshops don’t just happen… there has to be some logistical planning done.”
Ultimately, Schneider withdrew her motion, Greene withdrew her second, and Berry accepted administrative responsibility to set up the discussed workshop(s). A date will be given at the next meeting.
The third and final item on the agenda was the 2018 fourth quarter financial report by the City Clerk/Treasurer Ann Armstrong, who said the report was submitted for the mayor’s approval, and is printed out and available at City Hall.
The next council meeting is Monday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.