January 22, 2014 Edition

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WR Council OK's
budget, halts appointees

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council adopted a budget for 2014, learned about a slight increase in water rates and were updated on the hazardous property located adjacent to the Workforce Center at their meeting on Jan. 14. The council also withheld approval of the mayor's two nominees for the airport commission.

Mayor Don House told the council that the city ended 2013 with a surplus in the budget, and recommended that they adopt the same budget as last year for 2014.

Budget chairman Anthony Pinkston agreed, telling the council that they can tweak the budget later if the need arises. The $2,296,713 budget was passed unanimously, and Alderman Ed Lawson commended the department heads for staying within their budgets during the past year.

An increase in water bills for city residents will be reflected on their February bills. City Water Works Manager Jon Kopp told the council that the Northeast Arkansas Water Authority is raising its rates due to selling less water than expected.

"Their rates are going up 40 cents per one thousand gallons, and will cost the city an extra $5,000 per month," Kopp said. "We will have to pass the cost on to our citizens."

Kopp said the minimum bill is currently $22.40 and will go up $1.60 per month for the average customer. The minimum bill includes 1,000 gallons of water and two thousand gallons of sewer usage.

Kopp added that there are no more raises expected in the near future and that the sewer plant is in the clear with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. "The plant will have to have some major overhauls sometime in the future, hopefully not for 10 or 15 years," he added.

City Attorney Adam Weeks is continuing to work on resolving the problem with the building adjacent to the Workforce Center on West Elm.

The decaying building is a hazard to the Workforce Center, its employees and other citizens. Owner J.R. Rogers was notified and given 90 days to take action to repair or remove the building.

"We're about two-thirds of the way through our 90-day period with Rogers," Weeks said. "He has said he plans to fix it and to get counsel, but he hasn't notified me of specific plans."

Weeks advised the council to stay the course. "We must go ahead. After the 90-day period we can continue the condemnation process if we don't see positive action on Rogers' part," he said.

Council rejects mayor's nominees

The Walnut Ridge Airport has two commissioner positions that need to be filled, but the council voted against appointing Mayor Houses' nominees at the meeting. House recommended C.L. Clark and Sam Massey for the five-year terms, but councilmen voted 5-2 against placing them on the commission without further review.

"It's nothing personal against them," Alderman Rob Combs said. "I just feel we need to take a closer look at their qualifications and any possible conflicts of interest that might arise."

"At some point we have to educate ourselves as a council," Alderman Lawson added.

Clark owns a construction business, and Massey has served on the airport commission for 10 years.

Combs said he had talked to several people and they were concerned that Clark has a financial interest in serving on the commission.

"If people think that, we don't want to give them even the appearance of any impropriety," Combs said. "We need to take our time and get more information before we appoint anyone. We just need to be more informed."

Mayor House replied that he would not allow a commissioner to profit from their position. Airport commissioners receive no pay for their services.

Aldermen Michael "Button" Wallin and Wendell Jones voted in favor of the appointments. Wallin said, "You've got to get people who know what they are doing. Massey is a long-time member, and Clark has experience with aviation-related issues."

The council agreed to hold a special meeting to appoint new commissioners if necessary.

In other business:

  • the council passed a budget cleanup ordinance.

  • councilmen asked the city attorney to look into the possibility of allowing Walnut Ridge High School's proposed skeet shooting class to meet on property owned by the school across from the community center. The city has an ordinance against firing guns inside city limits.

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