Hope City Board approves plans for new fire department building, park upgrades, accepts $500 grant for wastewater project among other matters
Above photo: Hope's City Engineer Jeremy Stone stands in front of an illustration of what the front of Hope's new fire department headquarters might look like. He presented to the Hope City Board at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The Hope City Board of Directors in its first regular meeting of May approved Tuesday night a masterplan for projects that would expand the number of recreation options in the city and include upgrades to its parks as well as a new building for an aquatic and recreational center. 

The meeting, and a one-hour working session of the Hope for the Future steering committee that started at 6:00 p.m., one hour before the city board meeting was gaveled into session, can be seen in their entirety on the city’s Facebook site. 

The unanimous vote came after City Manager J.R. Wilson explained that approving the masterplan does not bind the city yet to carrying out a specific plan, but does start a process that will allow for applications for grant funds.  Many decisions still remain before the project can be put before the city’s voters in this November’s election. “Our next meeting is what do we want to actually take to the voters,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said the approval of the masterplan also informs the city’s staff of the long-term goals of the project so that these can be attained as the financing comes on line. 

The board hopes to have the ballot initiatives readied at the end of this month. Then bond counsel and underwriters have a month to finish paperwork that includes the specific language of the ballot items in time to meet deadlines under the law. 

The board also approved a preliminary design for the Fire Department main headquarters. Jeremy Stone, city engineer, started his presentation with a discussion of cost estimates. The total cost for the building is at $2.35 million. Stone emphasized that the amount could come down depending on decisions the board made. The amount includes a $400,000 cost for the land and $125,000 for contingency costs, architectural fees, a generator and furnishings. 

Wilson asked what percentage of the project’s cost would go to engineering. Stone said about eight percent. “I would just say that to me, in my experience of working, that's a good rate,” Wilson said, adding that the city had established a long relationship with Stone Engineering. 

Stone said that he knew what the local contractors could do and that he had experience on other projects in town. “I’ve done the city’s police expansion. I did the county expansion, and I’ve been involved in other buildings here in town, and they’ve always been in budget,” he said, then asked if there were any questions. 

Mayor Don Still said, “This is pretty straight-forward. This has been a need for the last 20 years.” 

Director Mark Ross made the motion to “move forward with the design and the preliminary figures.” Director Reginald Easter seconded. The board unanimously voted in favor. 

In other business, Hope Police Chief Kim Tomlin requested and received permission to apply for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration/Arkansas Highway Safety Office STEP grant, which would fund overtime that would be used by HPD officers to, in the words of the agenda information provided to the public by the city, “address impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving and use of safety restraints.”  

The HPD would apply for $38,978.74, which would be matched by an in-kind value of $17,044.25. About $4,000 can be used to purchase child safety seats and $2,550 can be used to buy an in-car moving radar system.  The application is due by May 31st. The board unanimously approved applying for the grant. 

Tomlin also requested permission to continue receiving the STOP (Stop Violence Against Women) grant which is dispensed by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration’s Office of Intergovernmental Services from federal funding.  The application by HPD would seek to continue over ten years of support from the grant for another two years to pay for 50 percent of one detective’s yearly salary ($29,489.55) and benefits to work in investigating domestic violence-related crimes, requiring a 28 percent in-kind match. 

Director Linda Clark asked Tomlin if Hope PD officers work with Domestic Violence Prevention Inc. Tomlin responded, “We do. Our detective uses them regularly refers them and talks to them about the court system and victim services so that they can get every service that's available to them in our area.” 

Wilson, who previously served at Hope’s Police Chief before moving into city management, explained some matters of policy regarding cases of domestic violence. “We will not drop cases at the PD level. They have to go to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will make that final decision. But unless the prosecutor tells the detective to drop the case, because it's not a good case, we will not drop them without a conversation. We have a policy that mandates arrest. If there's probable cause to arrest,  the officer must arrest.” 

City Attorney Randal Wright said “We need about three more of those officers. That’s a prevalent issue.” 

Tomlin said, “We worked about 100 cases in 2023. There were probably more than that in 2022.” She praised the Hope Police detective who is in charge of investigating those cases. 

Wilson said, “You can imagine that for every case that’s reported to us, there are about four more cases not reported to us.”  Tomlin and Wright agreed. 

Next, Hope Municipal Airport Supervisor Darrell Allen asked for permission to apply for a grant from the Arkansas Division of Aeronautics that would provide $17,000 to fund the addition of a three-inch water line to allow for the faster fill-up of firefighting planes, contractors’ water tank trucks and chemical sprayers.  The city would match $3,400.  Allen noted the Arkansas Department of Agriculture may also contribute funds since they manage the planes that would use the lines. The board approved permission for the application. 

In the next item, with the resignation of Human Resources Director Amber Murr, a need emerges to remove her as signatory to city bank accounts. The City Director sought permission from the board for Police Chief Kim Tomlin to be allowed to act as signatory, adding her to a list that includes City Finance Director Cindy Clark and City Director J.R. Wilson. Wilson mentioned that he would be recommending to the board that Clark take over some of Murr’s previous duties in the second May meeting. 

A brief executive session followed so that a question could be answered. It lasted about five minutes. 

Next, Wilson announced the winning by the city of a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to help with the project to dredge waste water ponds and install an automatic valve to reduce waste water runoff. These funds will prevent the taxpayers of Hope from having to shoulder that amount of the cost of the project by reducing the amount the city must borrow. In Little Rock last week, Wilson, Still and Easter attended an award ceremony with the governor present. The award will be formally accepted and an agreement signed when Wilson meets with the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District board May 15th.  The board voted unanimously to accept the block grant. 

In his City Manager’s Report, Wilson said the grant leaves about $715,000 for the project to be covered by a loan from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The city has a deadline to apply for those funds with a 1.75 percent interest rate that passes in one month, Wilson said, so paperwork needs to be ready by the end of May. 

Wilson also said the relevant service providers had been sent notices about the city’s change to its Franchise Fee Ordinance, which passed in the second April meeting. The change allows the imposing of penalties for franchisees not providing fees on a timely basis and for failure to comply with requests to move lines or equipment. 

Wilson reported numbers from the April 27th Citywide Cleanup Day. Fifty-two truck loads were collected, which breaks down into 834 cubic yards. Civitan Club picked up 18 bags on South Hervey between Seventh and Sixteenth Streets. 

The city is currently receiving bids to perform railroad tamping work in a project that will cost the city up to $50,000. Wilson said the funds will come from moneys paid by local industries specifically for railroad maintenance. The bidding process ends May 16th. 

Wilson reminded the board he would be requesting Cindy Clark to be made City Clerk in addition to her City Finance Director title in the next city board meeting.  He also said Hope PD had received word Tuesday it would receive a local block grant of $7,400. 

Wilson closed his report by praising the board and the steering committee for conducting discussions of plans for the new fire department, park upgrades and potential aquatic/recreational center with sincerity and courtesy. “What I appreciate is the board's great demeanor and the way you handle yourself on this board and the way you all have honest, open discussion and very civil. And I’d just like to say thank you very much, no matter how this turns out. I appreciate our working relationship,” he said. 

Mayor Still praised Wilson for his work as well.  “J.R. has been on the phone a lot. This is a really good project. We have bit off a lot. I’d love to do it all. But maybe we can down the road,” he said. 

In the time for board members’ questions and comments, Ross asked whether Hope could look into having the poles being used for internet service being shortened. Having been to Little Rock, he noticed their internet service poles were kept under five foot tall. Wilson said he would get his code enforcement staff to look into the matter. 

In Citizens Questions, Marcia White spoke in support of placing a priority on installing a splash pad at North Side Park, since it has been long wished for by the residents of that portion of Hope.  She advised the board to do its utmost to present the plans being made for its park upgrade projects well. “Think about how you really want to handle it, when you put that on the ballot.  It’s like trying tosell a piece of cake. You've got to make the cake look presentable,” she said. 

Anna Powell, Executive Director of Hope-Hempstead County Economic Development, Corporation praised the city’s staff for its success in grant writing. She also expressed confidence in the members named to the new Southwest Arkansas Healthcare Authority, a body whose purpose is to maintain quality healthcare access in Hope that includes Powell, Clay Hobbs, Ed Darling, Ben Hale, JR Wilson and Dennis Ramsey. 

The nonprofit was created in the wake of reports of the upcoming possible bankruptcy of Steward Medical Group, the Dallas-based company that owns Hope’s Wadley Regional Medical Center.  Steward announced filing for relief under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code Monday May 6th, saying that an infusion from Medical Properties Trust for initial funding of $75 million and up to an additional $225 million should Steward meet certain conditions will allow its hospitals to remain open. 

A motion to adjourn was called for and approved at about 7:55 p.m.