September 21, 2016 Edition

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City to address issues
with community center

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Issues surrounding the Walnut Ridge Community Center were brought before the Walnut Ridge City Council at Monday night's meeting by Marion McDaniel and Bobby McDaniel.

Concerns were shared by both citizens about the school not being charged for water and sewer. The school recently started paying water and will start paying for sewer starting with September's usage.

The Lawrence County School District not paying for water and sewer was included in an operating agreement related to the Walnut Ridge Community Center. With split ownership, the school has been paying electric and gas for the center while the city was not charging water and sewer. Maintenance on the building was to be split between the city and school.

Marion and Bobby both said that not charging for water and sewer was in violation of Arkansas Code § 14-42-108, which states it unlawful for a city official to provide the service of a utility at anything but the regular rate.

City Attorney Nancy Hall said that the operating agreement has been handled wrong and that the community center is classified as a municipal auditorium, which means that the city should be paying for the upkeep and operations of the building.

However, the city does not have it within its budget to pay for the upkeep, and the school district has invested nearly half a million dollars in repairs and operations of the building in the last five years alone.

Mayor Charles Snapp formed a committee of Aldermen Allen Smith and Jon Walter to look into the community center and determine a course of action to correct any rules being violated.

Currently the city doesn't utilize the building much and all scheduling is handled through the school. One suggestion supported by Alderman Jeff Taylor was to turn the building over to the school.

The city can't afford to keep the building and the school already has first priority in its use, added Taylor.

There is currently no action being taken by the school or the city for any reimbursement of water and sewer used or repairs and maintenances of the building.

Bobby and Marion both put in recommendations for resignations in connection with the violations associated with Arkansas Code § 14-42-108, including Snapp, City Water Works Superintendent Jon Kopp and members of the water commission. The recommendations were noted in the minutes but no action was taken.

Hall commented that it was her legal opinion that officials did not intend to misinform when addressing the issues with this operating agreement in the past, and she did commend both Bobby and Marion for their investigative work and bringing these violations to the city's attention.

Also at the meeting:

Alderman Daniel Abbott presented an ordinance to compensate council members for special meetings at a rate of $25 per meeting. Aldermen Wendell Jones and Walter both noted the current economic state of the city during discussion. Walter added that he thought it was a good idea but bad timing, especially as they were looking to ask for a voluntary fire fee (see related story). The ordinance failed on a 6-2 vote.

aldermen approved a rezoning of property at 19 Lawrence 434. The land, which was previously zoned for mobile homes, is now zoned for apartments.

Snapp informed the council that fencing on leased property along the railroad is required at parking lots to prevent people from accidentally driving onto tracks. He noted an affordable option has been suggested, but is awaiting approval.

aldermen reviewed figures for the Walnut Ridge City Pool. The pool came in under the projected revenue of $20,000, only making $17,941.50. There is no intent in closing the pool in future seasons, but the numbers will be reviewed to look into ways to offset the cost of the pool, which has always operated at a loss.

the council approved the second readings of ordinances addressing the misuse and abuse of the recycling bin and the increase in sewer rates.

an ordinance allowing the city to continue to contract with Storage in a Snapp, of which Mayor Snapp is part owner, was approved.

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