New council hits ground running

By Staff, 01/18/17 10:30 AM

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PRESCOTT – New members of the Prescott City Council showed a willingness to question decisions made by the mayor and former council.

This was evident at the January council meeting Tuesday night, where new councilmen Jerry Hightower, Carla Christopher, Stacy Jester, Bobbie Brown and Tommy Poole were introduced, along with Robert Loe the new city clerk.

The meeting began with Jason Holsclaw, with Stephens, Inc., returning to discuss refinancing the city’s water bond issue, initially issued in 2009. He told the panel the idea is to restructure the bond to keep the payments the same, but generate around $600,000 for water and sewer projects. If this is done, he said, it would extend the payments 15 years with the payments being $100,000 annually. The bond would be paid off in 2047, unless it were restructured again at a future date.

Holsclaw said the bond interest is based on market conditions, which have leveled out since November’s General Election and are currently around 4.5 percent on a 30-year loan. He said the old bond would be paid off and new bonds issued, with money being placed in a debt service fund equal to half a payment, or around $50,000, for emergencies. The bonds, he continued, would be sold in $5,000 increments in the amount of $1,695,000. All but around $600,000 of this would be used to retire the existing bond and pay all fees for the new bond.

Hightower asked if these projects are needing to be done or if they were being worked on.

Brown questioned a bridge, asking if it’s been done and paid for. She was told the bridge work has been completed and paid off.

Prescott Mayor Terry Oliver said the bridge wasn’t part of the water and sewer project.

Poole asked if the work couldn’t be done without restructuring the bond.

City Accountant Brad Crain said the city would have to look at its reserve fund with the council needing to decide if and how it would be spent. Holsclaw chimed in saying the city’s payment on the bonds being refinanced would be the same, adding if the entire $600,000 isn’t needed, only what would be necessary to do the work would be.

Councilman Howard Austin told the new members when the former council looked at this, Water Superintendent Perry Nelson had informed them on what needed to be done, adding there would be problems if the work isn’t done.

New members of the council discussed the proposed costs, saying the information they had only showed $300,000 for specific projects. Austin said there are other projects needing to be done and the former council looked at how much the city could handle financially. He added there are big projects coming up, including the sewer plant itself. “We’re trying to get the money to do what we can,” he said. “We’re not doing all that’s needing to be done. If we put it off, we could pay a higher interest rate.

Brown asked what, on the list, had and hadn’t been done, while Poole posited the question of where money would come from to do future projects once these are done. Austin said the city could refinance the bonds again.

Councilman Susie Meeks ask why only one contractor was listed, and the council given only one price. Oliver replied the figures the council had were only estimates and the project would have to be bid out.

City Attorney Glenn Vasser suggested having Nelson talk to the new members with a more detailed list of projects needing to be done. The issue was tabled for a second month, and is to be addressed at the February meeting.

Next up was a discussion on extending the amendment to the city’s burn ordinance. The previous council voted to amend the ordinance and allow residents to burn leaves Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, the amendment expired on Jan. 15 and the problem of what to do with leaves and limbs hasn’t been solved.

The problem came about because natural gas prices fell and plants went from using wood chips to natural gas for heating. Hines Trucking had been operating a chip mill and selling wood chips to different plants, but closed chipping operations when plants went to natural gas. The city had been collecting limbs and leaves, taking them to Hines to keep residents from having to burn them.

Questions were raised about residents bagging the leaves and them being taken to the landfill. Chris Hopper, sanitation supervisor, said the landfill doesn’t take leaves.

Hightower said if the burn ordinance is repealed residents will complain because of health issues. Brown asked about the possibility of the city using the limbs and leaves for compost. Oliver said this had been looked into, and tried by other cities, but communities that tried it had fire issues and problems with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).

In the end, the burn ordinance was amended with burning being allowed from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. seven-days-a-week until April 30.

In other business the council approved Melissa Malone to replace Elaine Williams on the Planning and Zoning Committee. The council also chose to keep the meeting time and date the same, the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m., except those months with a Monday holiday, which will see the meetings moved to the Tuesday following the third Monday.

Brown asked about the city’s hiring practices, saying she wanted a list of all department heads, city employees and job descriptions for the supervisors and employees. She also asked about hiring a code enforcement officer.

Oliver said Connie Beard had been hired for the position. This prompted Brown to aske Beard’s qualifications and experience for the job. Oliver said she’s worked at City Hall in the past, transferred from the Prescott Police Department and is familiar with city business and code enforcement.

Brown said the city had a code enforcement officer for four years that was paid more than $100,000 in salary and benefits, yet nothing seemed to be done. Oliver replied the majority of people who were given citations did what they were required, with the problem being absentee owners who don’t care.

Brown asked if the council isn’t informed when there’s a job opening and what the city’s hiring process is. Oliver said the city has always tried to fill positions from within. “That’s how we’ve always done it. That’s how my dad did it.”

Brown said she wants to be more involved and to understand how the process works. Austin said under Arkansas law the mayor does all the hiring. Vasser said the council’s job is to control the purse strings with the mayor doing the hiring and firing.

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