December 18, 2013 Edition

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WR Council discusses
budget, end-of-year bonuses

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council discussed next year's budget, employee health insurance, and renaming a portion of East Free Street to Bobcat Avenue. They also heard a report from Charles Snapp, who is on the city's Planning Commission and a member of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee, about new welcome signs for Walnut Ridge and Hoxie.

Mayor Don House opened the meeting by thanking the city's employees for their hard work and efforts throughout last week's ice and snowstorm. "Every department has done all they could to help our citizens through the bad weather. The police department reported a lot of small accidents but few big ones, which says a lot about how careful our citizens have been," House said.

Charles Snapp, who serves on the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee, was a guest at the meeting. He informed the council that four new welcome signs have been ordered. They have been paid for with a sponsorship grant from Don and Fran Cavenaugh and the committee has asked the city to assist with their installation in the spring. (See related story.)

The cost of health insurance for city employees is set to increase the first of the year. The premiums will rise from $490 to $530 for each of 41 employees currently covered by the city.

"If we do nothing, it will cost the city an extra $2,000 a month," Alderman Ed Lawson said. "If we raise the deductible from $500 to $1,200 a year, it will place a burden on our employees. I suggest we do nothing for now and review this at the first quarter of next year.

There is a lot to understand about any changes and the Municipal League is working to help us find our best option."

Alderman Boyce Dixon agreed. "Let's look at what's best for our employees and go from there."

Alderman Rob Combs suggested that in the future the city look at having city council members pay their own insurance costs. The insurance coverage is currently available to council members and is offered to them when they are elected. Combs said he would like to see the council drop that as one of the benefits in future elections.

Budget Chairman Anthony Pinkston brought the council up to date on the state of this year's budget and the budget for next year.

"We did well this year," Pinkston said. "The budget committee's suggestion is that we follow the same budget for next year." However, he said they would like to talk to the city's department heads before they adopt the budget in case it needs a little tweaking, keeping in mind the city needs a new fire truck.

Mayor House told the council that the department heads have all done a great job and are all to be commended. "Our employees work hard," he said, "and we are grateful to them."

The council unanimously approved end-of-year bonuses for city employees. Full-time employees will receive $125, part-time employees will be paid $75 and auxiliary policemen and volunteer firemen, $50.

Councilmen went into executive session to discuss a replacement for Carolyn Hayes, who is retiring at the end of the year, one year short of her four-year term. After a 25-minute session it was announced that no decision had been made and interviews for the position will continue. Hayes is retiring for health reasons after 15 years in office.

In other business:

  • the council was informed that the city's attorney is working with the Department of Workforce Services regarding their concerns about property located adjacent to their offices at 116 West Elm.

  • Alderman Rob Combs was named mayor pro tem for 2014.

  • Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin asked that a portion of East Free Street that runs in front of Walnut Ridge's Sharum Gymnasium and Sexton's Football Field be renamed Bobcat Avenue. Wallin and Lawson will talk to residents along that street and report back to the council.

  • the council was informed that street repairs are still ongoing.

  • Alderman Wendell Jones requested that city department heads resume giving monthly reports at council meetings so citizens may be kept informed about the work they are doing.

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