Hope City Board hears presentation on Wastewater rates, approves wireless network purchase, new Housing Authority commissioner

The Hope City Board met Tuesday night in its first April regular meeting.

The agenda item that got the most time in last night’s regular meeting of the Hope Board of Directors, which can be seen in its entirety below this story, was the Annual Wastewater Rates Review, which had City Manager J.R. Wilson presenting the current financial state of the city’s Wastewater Department as heading for disaster unless revenue increases.

Agenda information presented to the board and the public by Wilson’s office acknowledged the problem being “tremendous needs in our Wastewater collection and treatment system” and pointed to a bond issue being needed soon to address it. During his talk to the board last night, Wilson also said a rate increase or other changes to the ways the Wastewater Department collects revenue should also be considered.

An ordinance passed in 2007 obliges the board to look at its Wastewater rate structure at least every year. The last time the board established new rates was 2013 for a nine-year duration. That rate schedule expired January 1, 2021.

In his presentation, Wilson first provided a rundown of the current rate structure “in a nutshell.” As explained in the Agenda Information, it consists of these charges:

a. A $10.50 Debt Service/Base Rate for all users of the system meant to support debt service for the system

b. A $2.75 Operation, Maintenance and Replacement (OM&R) Rate per  1000 gallons used (or .00275 per gallon) for all metered customers.  c. Non-metered residential users are charged 6000 gallons per month  (6000 X .00275 = $16.50)

d. Non-metered commercial users are charged for 26,000 gallons per  month (26000 x .00275 = $715)

e. Factory or industrial users are required to be metered.

f. An excessive strength charge can be charged to a particular user if the BOD or Suspended Solids exceeds 200 mg/L or if other pollutants in their  waste water exceed the range of normal domestic sewage. 

Wilson then used images on the screen in the meeting room to show areas in the current rate structure that could be changed to increase revenues. One area of concentration was on rates being charged the Hope Housing Authority, which pays the Wastewater bill for all its estimated 228 residents which usually ends up $4,668 per month ($56,016 per year) below the cost of the services it uses. Bringing the charge into line with current law would add a cost of $20.47 per resident. Wilson said he recognized the difficulty of the question of raising the Housing Authority’s rate but wanted to present the information to the board as it makes its decisions.

Wilson also showed a line graph showing the trend of expenses rising as the revenue remains relatively stagnant. Salary and benefits costs are rising. He also pointed to the fix that was required recently near Pleasant Ridge apartments, requiring a 15-foot dig and a $10,061.37 cost as an example of the kind of expense that would be coming up more often as the wastewater infrastructure ages.

No decision was made by the directors on wastewater rates last night and consideration of a change looks to be a multi-meeting process.

The directors did approve unanimously an ordinance on an emergency basis to waive the bid process for the purchase on the Arkansas Wireless Information Network of two talkgroups, explained by Police Chief Kim Tomlin as being like channels, reserved for use by city emergency personnel. The project to bring Hope into the network is 75 percent financed by a grant. A bid process, explains the ordinance, would not have been possible “because AWIN talk-groups are sole source and can only be purchased from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.”

The board also approved unanimously the nomination of Stephanie Espinoza to the Hope Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners to replace Clifford Knowles after his resignation. The nomination was sent by HHA Director Leola Graves in time to avoid having the Hope board make its own choice for that commissioner’s seat. Espinoza is a local accountant.

In its consideration of bids for the Kelly Fields and Soccer Complex Concession Stands, the board designated HeBrews 11:1 Café owner Arnetta Bradford as the winner with bids of $500 per year of a three-year contract. The decision had been tabled at the second March board meeting to review the contract’s language regarding when the concession stands must be opened. A motion by Director Trevor Coffee to award Bradford the contract was seconded by Director Linda Clark and then passed unanimously.

The board heard from Sylvia Brown, representing the Visibility Outreach Touch Engage South Arkansas Collective (VOTE SoAR), on goals for the second annual Juneteenth Celebration, to take place Friday June 16-Sunday June 18. This year a reception will occur in Old Washington to commemorate the black community’s contributions, including the town’s status as the southwest district site for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a post-Civil War endeavor to educate former slaves. Brown said VOTE SoAR is seeking three categories of sponsorships, the Black Futures level ($500 or up), Carter G. Woodson Pioneers ($175 and up) and Freedom Fighters (up to $50).  She said she would be seeking sponsorships from the board and from Hope’s Advertising and Tourist Commission soon.

In Wilson’s City Manager’s Report, he said the city had received a letter from the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, Division of Environmental Quality asking for a submission of five-year waste disposal fee plans for Hope’s landfill. This was sent and received. Another letter from Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, this time from its Office of Air Quality notified the city that its landfill would be subject to Arkansas’ state plan. This followed an EPA notification that the landfill would be subject to its plan. A response is being worked on to this by Hope’s engineer John Keckler of Crist Engineering.

Wilson also reported on the progress of the city’s deal to mow the I-30 Interchange for the Arkansas Department of Transportation for about a $21,000 per year reimbursement. ARDOT should be sending plans soon for the city to sign.

The resignation of City Clerk NaTashia Rileydavis was mentioned, which followed her passage on first attempt of the CPA licensing exam. Having been appointed an instructor at Southern Arkansas University, she has agreed to continue in her city clerkship until a replacement can be found.

Wilson said the city is negotiating now with Ritter Communications which is not paying a franchise fee.  Dana Suttles Trucking is wanting to lease city land near the airport for the use of its business.

New pictures of the Directors are now hung outside the meeting room in City Hall.

Wilson is enthusiastic about the Hope Municipal Airport’s recent appearance changes after having taken a tour there.

Both batting cages are now ready for use at Fair Park. The Pocket Park still needs a bench. The city is looking for options to place one there. Placing electrical outlets in the 34 lighting poles of the Streetscape project would cost $65,000 to unite their outlets along one circuit.  A sidewalk laying-in near Home Builders Depot required some additional work to remove old pipes and avoid water leakage at an extra cost of $5,800.

Director Coffee asked about progress at Sixth Street. Wilson said he knew no work had been done for a while and that the crew was working on a project on Patmos Road. Asked by Vice-mayor Kiffinea Talley whether penalties could be applied, Wilson said this could only be imposed based on monetary damages to the city.

In Citizen Request, Edmundo Dominguez, Yerger Middle School math teacher and assistant soccer coach at Hope High School said the lighting and the fields themselves at the Soccer Complex both need improvement. The fields frequently suffer from a lack of drainage. He pointed to the benefits of the city having a good Soccer Complex, potentially in hosting tournaments. Asked if he had a preference on which field would be best to fix first, he said field one.

Wilson and Parks Superintendent Summer Powell praised Dominguez’ voluntarism. “We’ll work on that,” Mayor Don Still said. “Keep coming back. The barking dog gets the bone. That’s the way it goes.”

There being no other Citizen Requests, Mayor Still adjourned the meeting.