A month ago, Eureka Springs City Council decided that the Oct. 9 meeting would be the time to finally decide where the city would permanently move its meetings. At Monday evening’s meeting on that appointed date, council decided not to decide just yet.
First of all, Mayor Butch Berry introduced a new twist to the decision. One choice for a new meeting site was 25 Norris, a city-owned property currently the site of Dr. Charles Beard’s medical office. Berry said when he and alderman Terry McClung first met with Beard earlier in the year, they understood Beard was planning to move his practice to a town in southern Arkansas possibly by the end of the year, so he and McClung considered the 25 Norris property as a candidate for a new meeting site for city government meetings.
Berry announced Monday evening he had learned in a letter from Beard’s attorney, “It is Dr. Beard’s intent to continue leasing the property at 25 Norris Street to be able to continue to provide medical services to residents of Eureka and surrounding areas.” The letter also stated articles in local papers to the contrary are affecting his business.
In addition, Berry learned that no one has a copy of a lease for the property. Beard has been at that address since at least 1987 according to his attorney’s letter. Berry said some time since then, the building needed roof repairs and some arrangement was made (of which no records exist) in which Beard would fix the roof in lieu of rent. Beard also made improvements to the plumbing and HVAC, but at some point Berry has not been able to pinpoint, Beard no longer made lease payments.
“I was pretty amazed,” Berry commented. No one at city hall, Beard’s office, the Hospital Commission or Eureka Springs Hospital has found a copy of the lease, so Berry produced a new one for council’s perusal. Berry said City Attorney Tim Weaver had drafted a lease asking for $2000 per month. He explained he arrived at that amount by comparing the square footage of the upstairs and basement at 25 Norris with comparable properties in the area.
Weaver had also prepared a resolution authorizing Berry to execute a lease for the property. Berry said the resolution would give the city a starting point.
Alderman Kristi Kendrick interjected they were considering using that space as the future site for city meetings, and they could also entertain other offers if they wanted to lease the property. She suggested they defer any decision.
Alderman Mickey Schneider interpreted the previous comments as kicking out a 30-year renter of the space. She advocated for Beard’s situation.
McClung stated they must decide about a meeting space before considering the lease of that building. He admitted 25 Norris was at the top of the list as a permanent meeting space.
Council voted to table the resolution pending further discussion about a permanent meeting space.
Berry then reported that he had further conversations with the Community Center Foundation and the Eureka Springs School District about arrangements for a space at the Community Center. He said the Foundation offered a space council had toured before rent-free in exchange for making repairs to sidewalks and the parking area outside. The city would have to furnish the space.
Berry said School Supt. Bryan Pruitt’s understanding was the district could not give the property to the city. Just to make sure, Berry asked State Sen. Bryan King to ask for an Attorney General’s opinion. Berry said the response from the Foundation has been positive. They want the city to have a presence at the Community Center, and Berry said it is possible all city hall offices could be relocated there.
Alderman David Mitchell commented the Community Center is a great idea, but he was concerned the Foundation could default on its lease and go away leaving the city in a predicament at that site. “It’s not sounding like a solid deal,” he remarked.
Berry said if the property were given to the city, there would still be office or studio space to rent, and the Foundation would still be in charge of maintenance. But first, they need to hear from the Attorney General.
Kendrick then abruptly moved to move city meetings permanently to the 25 Norris site. McClung seconded for the purpose of discussion, and alderman Bob Thomas asked if council could postpone the decision.
McClung said his first choice as things stood would have been 25 Norris, but the Foundation site was very intriguing. He said he had reservations about the Community Center, but could envision a good situation for the city. “I would like to postpone a vote. I want to see where this school thing leads,” he stated.
Mitchell also noted since they have moved meetings to the Auditorium lobby, there is no urgency to act. Though he leaned heavily toward the Norris site, he agreed it might be worthwhile to see if the Community Center site can work out.
Schneider’s characterization was 25 Norris “does not do squat for the city,” but the Community Center is “a free place with potential.”
McClung moved they defer their decision until they get the Attorney General’s decision. He said the Community Center might be an option they should not pass up.
The vote on McClung’s motion was 5-1, Kendrick voting No.
Public Works report
Director Dwayne Allen of the Public Works Department said crews are making progress on repairing the city’s water delivery system, but they’re still losing water. He figured in 2016 the city paid for $240,000 worth of water that leaked out somewhere in the system.
In November, his crews will start tearing up Flint Street to repair a major problem there.
Mitchell commented $240,000 lost in one year should become an emergency.
Comment about comments
Kendrick observed the Council Comments forum has been used to announce the birth of puppies, wish happy birthday to family members, solicit bumper stickers, deride council decisions, insult members of the public by calling them self-centered and disrespectful, and slur the disabled. She said Council Comments should not be a time for aldermen to “blather on about irrelevant matters or conduct personal attacks.” Therefore, she moved to have Council Comments removed from the agenda permanently and for aldermen to make their comments during Public Comments subject to the same time limit. There was no second, so her motion failed. Then Kendrick moved to adjourn meetings before council comments. That motion also did not get a second.
- Berry said Police Chief Thomas Achord would be hiring another dispatcher soon, and that salaries for ESPD and ESFD were commensurate with other positions in the area although no city employee has had a raise in three years. He said there would be more to discuss as they prepare the 2018 budget.
- Tanya Seabaugh told council she was an employee at the Transit Department, and they have not had raises in more than three years. “We would like a raise, please,” she implored.
- James DeVito urged council to be proactive and take its time as it looks for a new permanent meeting space. “Don’t spend on a temporary place,” he advised. He added there was a space in the Auditorium basement that could be renovated for use as a meeting space.
- Council unanimously passed Resolution 716, intended to create a fair market for all businesses and consumers. The resolution states that because “the playing field, as it currently stands, favors out-of-state Internet retailers” and enables “online stores to undercut local retail prices,” council urges the legislature to vote “in favor of legislation requiring the collection and remittance of state and local taxes by all retailers, thus making competition in a true free market, and giving any business an equal opportunity to compete, innovate and create jobs.”
- Aldermen also passed all three readings of Ordinance 2259, which makes a necessary correction in City Code regarding the one-eighth cent sales tax for Lake Leatherwood City Park.
- Resolution 717, which authorizes Berry to execute a proportionate share agreement for paying the District Judge, was approved. Eureka Springs pays its share of $8378.57 annually. Two accompanying ordinances were postponed until the next meeting.
Next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m., in the Auditorium lobby. The meeting will be preceded by a budget workshop at 5:15 p.m.