City Manager J.R. Wilson also presented information to the directors on a software for wastewater rate planning and other accounting needs and a set of financial options for a future project to increase the quality of life for Hope residents.
After the invocation, pledge of allegiance and approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, two leaders from the Arkansas Municipal League, John Wilkerson, General Counsel and Jack Kritcher, Legislative Liaison presented the Distinguished Legislator Award for the 94th General Assembly to State Representative Danny Watson.
Wilkerson said he knew of how helpful Watson is to the City of Hope, naming a recent example: “I was reminded just last session, he passed a very important FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] bill to protect confidential informants, which not just helped the City of Hope, but helped the state of Arkansas as a whole.”
Watson accepted the award, telling the Municipal League delegation he was grateful for the league’s help teaching new municipal officials how to do their jobs, a service they offer regardless of the size or distance of the city.
Next, Wilson introduced two representatives from the software company Waterworth, Lachlan Hunter and Calvin Coles, who appeared on the screen in the boardroom. Using data from the past five years, the two demonstrated ways of seeing the data unfold in bar and line graphs. The system could be used to plot out ways the city’s wastewater service could use gradual rate increases to repay loans used to fund equipment upgrades. Coles said the software came at a cost of an annual subscription of $7,800.
Mayor Don Still said Waterworth’s software is one tool the city can consider.
The next item pertained to the Fireman’s Pension Millage, renewing it for another year at one mill. The millage was passed in the November 5, 2002 election. State law requires the renewing of the millage yearly. This renewal will be sent to the Hempstead County Quorum Court for that body to establish rates for taxing entities in its November meeting. The board unanimously approved the renewal.
Renewal of the 2024 General Millage rate of five mills was also approved and will also be sent to the quorum court.
Because of a need to adjust language in an ordinance passed in the last meeting to allow for spouses of firemen to collect pensions after the death of said firemen from the LOPFI (Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System) if “the retired firefighter and surviving spouse married after retirement, were married for at least five (5) years and the marriage occurred within five (5) years of the retirement date.” The corrective ordinance was passed unanimously.
Next, Police Chief Kim Tomlin told of finding out the city’s order of a 2023 Ford Interceptor for $45,780 was not likely to be fulfilled. But from a dealer in Siloam Springs, she found a 2023 Chevrolet Tahoe available for purchase immediately at $44,317. The emergency equipment upfit for the vehicle will add $9,478.54. Because of the lack of availability of such vehicles, the city board approved the waiving of the bid process for the purchase of the Tahoe, but also asked Tomlin to report in the next meeting on the available of an additional Tahoe to cover future needs since, as Director Trevor Coffee pointed out, the United Auto Workers may halt production because of a strike.
Wilson then introduced material to the board. He had Stephens Public Finance compile a packet showing options for the structuring of a sales and use tax to finance capital improvements like an aquatic park, improvements to the soccer and softball fields or other kinds of plans residents might suggest. He told directors to consider picks to lead committees concerned with gathering ideas for quality of life improvements in Hope. Director Ross said he knew there was need in Hope for projects that would provide area youth with ways to spend their time. Director Coffee pointed out the need for a new fire station and improvements to the city pool.
The Stephens packet includes the fact that Hope’s sales and use tax is one percent or one cent of every dollar paid. Over the past 12 months, this has yielded $2,836,249. Based on projections that take into account the past 12 months of revenue generated, the Stephens document says a 1/8 cent sales tax would generate $354,531 per year; a quarter cent, $709,062; 3/8 cent, $1,063.593; a half cent, $1,418,124 and a whole cent $2,836,249.
Ross brought up a recent visit to Arkadelphia when he learned of the runaway success of the aquatic park there. Before COVID, the park was receiving 26,000 paying visitors a year, drawing from places well outside the town, including Hope.
Wilson said he hated to contemplate a tax but he also knew the truth of the statement that if cities don’t invest in themselves, they die. The tax could be given a sunset clause, but if not, the tax would need two votes on the 2024 ballot.
In his city manager’s report, Wilson said the lease of the concession stand at Kelly Field had been given up and would be awarded to the second-place bidder. He also announced that A Taste of Hope would take place downtown Saturday October 7 and patrons could help fill in a paint-by-numbers mural nearby.
Wilson also announced that a concrete bridge declared surplus material May 3, 2022, has apparently been sold.
The Streetscape Project, Wilson said, is in its last stages of inspections by city officials and fixes being completed afterward by the contractor. Asked whether he had received notice from Arkansas Highway Department about scheduling a hearing on the troubles Hope has had with stalled trains, Wilson said he had just received an acknowledgment Hope’s written complaint and hearing request had been received.
Sylvia Brown of VOTE SoAR asked about whether it would be helpful if a group of supporters came to Hope’s presentation of its request for an Outdoor Recreation Grant from Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism to build a splash pad in Northside Park. Wilson said he did not yet have notice that Hope’s application had made it to the presentation round, but if the request for a presentation arrived, he would make it public and that if community members wanted to come to it, “we’d be glad to have you.”