December 20, 2017 Edition

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Walnut Ridge to consider
sales tax increase

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

With the deadline to fund a new sewer treatment plant fast approaching, Walnut Ridge Alderman Steven Benesch gave a report at Monday night's city council meeting on ways the sewer upgrade committee is looking to finance the plant.

In an effort to avoid increasing water bills, Benesch said the committee has looked into putting a half-cent sales tax on the ballot, which would cover the building and maintenance of the plant.

Additionally, the committee discussed putting a second half-cent sales tax to vote that would be used to fund services being paid through the water bill, such as mosquito control and trash collection, and would lower monthly water bills by $13.50. Anything collected beyond what it takes to cover the mosquito and trash fees would be put into a fund for street overlay.

Both increases are being considered for the May Primary Election ballot. The council authorized Mayor Charles Snapp to seek legal council from J. Shepherd Russell with Friday Eldredge & Clark, LLP, on matters relating to the ballot issue. Legal fees are estimated to cost between $3,000 and $5,000.

The sales tax increase is expected to be presented to the council for consideration at the January or February meeting in order to get it on the May ballot. Council members seemed in favor of offering this option to the citizens as the only other method to fund the plant that the committee has found is to increase the water bills.

Benesch said this way the people can decide how they want to fund the plant, but they have to be aware that if the sales tax fails, they need to be prepared for higher water bills.

Preliminary figures provided by Crist Engineers estimated the average increase on water bills would be $8.05 per month. Snapp said this figure did not factor in maintenance for the plant and the actual increase would be closer to $10 a month based on a household that uses 4,000 gallons.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed the separation of the clerk/treasurer position, which was approved by ordinance last year and will go into effect at the end of 2018.

Alderman Robert Combs said he wanted to address the new positions early due to the county election's fast approach. He said in order to be fair to Sharon Henson, current clerk/treasurer, he wanted all the information to be available about the changes in her position should she wish to consider running for a county position.

The separation of the positions was deemed necessary as the city continues to grow. It will also allow them to hire a treasurer based on qualifications as that position will be appointed by the council, while the clerk will remain an elected official.

Henson said this separation is necessary as the duties of each position are very different. The council will be presented details on the positions, including duties and salaries, at the January or February meeting.

In other business, the council approved:

the 2018 budget as presented, which included $400,000 designated for street overlays.

a resolution recognizing the opioid epidemic and supporting the Municipal Legal Defense Program against those responsible for it.

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