The theme for this week’s meeting… delays and more delays. The council had a relatively brief agenda this week, but it turned into an hour-long meeting with a whole lot of talk, and very little action.
Toby Keith would not have enjoyed this night.
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Starting off the City Council meeting Monday night, we returned to unfinished business of appointing a new civil service commissioner to fill a vacancy.
There is urgency to this appointment since the Civil Service Commission will hold a termination hearing for a police officer next month. The hope was that this would have been filled already so that the new commissioner can be seated and attend training with the commission on procedures for the upcoming hearing. After no candidate received 5 votes at the previous council meeting in November, this appointment was deferred to this week’s meeting. However, there were two council members absent from the meeting and one member recused themselves from the appointment vote. That only left 5 council members who were voting so we all had to be unanimous in our vote between the two candidates (Sam Williams or Kelley Hughes). After three rounds of voting and discussion, including a plea from the Civil Service Chairman to please appoint someone, no candidate received five votes and the Mayor is not allowed to cast a vote for an appointment.
So yet again, this appointment has been delayed until a third council meeting.
I can’t promise we’ll reach the elusive five vote total at our next council meeting either. The council has been one member short for about a year and a half, so if there are additional absences or recusals from votes, it becomes increasingly difficult for various measures to pass.
Stay tuned. We may, or may not, have an appointment made at the next meeting.
Moving onto new business, the council voted on an ordinance which would have doubled the business registration fees in the city of Maumelle. This measure failed by a 4-4 vote of the council. I was a “No” vote on this issue, but my reasons were not necessarily due to the doubling of the fees. Business Permit fees only bring in about $20,000 annually, so doubling them would have brought in about $40,000. This is a small increase when looking at our entire budgeted revenues ($16.6 million in 2023). My reason for voting against this change was due to language in the ordinance that required the city of Maumelle to publish a list of delinquent businesses on the home page of our city’s website. Our website is the “front porch” or welcome mat for the city when residents or prospective businesses are looking at our city. I personally thought it was inappropriate for our home page to have a link to delinquent businesses in Maumelle. That’s not very welcoming in my opinion.
We can certainly make this list public in other areas of our website, but I didn’t think it was appropriate for this to be on our front page.
My other reason for voting “No” was that this ordinance allocated 50% of all business registration fees to go directly to police and fire. When you start allocating revenue items to specific departments, it takes away the council’s ability to budget these revenues into other needed areas. Obviously, we’re going to properly fund police and fire, so there’s no need to send 50% of business registration fees to these departments especially when the amount is only $20,000. I felt this revenue item should stay in the general fund so the council could continue budgeting through our normal process and not tie up dollars by allocating them to specific departments automatically.
In new business, the council heard a resolution that would authorize the city attorney to seek condemnation and begin eminent domain proceedings for a narrow piece of property that is delaying construction of the new roundabout at White Oak Crossing and Country Club Parkway.
Over the course of the year, all other property owners in the area have agreed to sell a portion of their property in order to make room for this new roadway. There is one remaining parcel that the city needs to acquire which amounts to .14 acres or 6,033 square feet of property. After receiving appraisals on this property, the value was $40,722. Offers to purchase at this price were rejected and the property owner countered and asked for $80,000. The city then offered $45,000 for the property and the owner came back with another request for $70,000. Lastly, the city has offered $55,000 for this land that totals .14 acres which is about a 35% price premium over the appraisal we received.
This offer has not been accepted which is why the city asked to begin eminent domain proceedings so the court process could begin and determine a fair price.
The eminent domain process would basically hand this issue off to the court to decide a fair price so that the project could finally move forward. It’s our duty to be fiscally responsible with tax dollars and the city sees no reason to continue offering more money than an appraiser has said this parcel is worth. That is why the Mayor was asking to begin the eminent domain process. However, the council voted 4-4 (Mayor cast a tie-breaking vote) to table this issue until the next meeting to see if the property owner would accept the most recent offer. I was a “no” vote on tabling since I wanted to see the project move forward. The court will likely decide this anyway, so I was supportive of the Mayor’s request to have them begin reviewing the issue.
The last item of business was a housekeeping budget resolution to write off bad debt from our general, street, and sanitation funds. This bad debt comes from many years ago when the city had a community service and sanitation fee that we collected quarterly. These fees were transferred over to Central Arkansas Water and they now collect them on resident’s monthly bills. This debt would likely never be recovered and the cost to pursue it would be greater than the amount of debt we could recover. With no discussion, this resolution passed unanimously by all in attendance.
Glad to see we could come together and finally approve some city business!
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Chad 501-529-1336, email@example.com