The Hope City Board of Directors held a virtual meeting on Tuesday in accordance with Governor Hutchinson’s social distancing mandate. Directors and members of the community were able to conference in remotely to attend the meeting.
Census Partner, Chandra Lavender, updated the board on the census activities for the City of Hope. Lavender began by thanking everyone for the work they have done in promoting the census by placing signs and billboards throughout the city, decals on trucks and mailing information to residents. Lavender stressed that even though times are uncertain during the COVID environment, the census is even more important now than ever due to this funding being used for things like hospitals. Infrastructure and education. Lavender noted that the response rate for Hempstead County is at 39.4%. 43.4% for the City of Hope and 42.9% for the State of Arkansas. She encouraged the Board to continue promoting the census and to incorporate other strategies such as creating testimonies discussing how easy the forms are to fill out, asking churches to assist by announcing it during services and reaching out to local employers. Mayor Montgomery asked about the response rate for 2010 for comparision to 2020, Lavender responded that the rate for the City of Hope was 61.8% in 2010. Director Don Still asked City Manager Catherine Cook if there was funding for census advertising and Cook stated that the City was paying for it, but it is aggregated in one list to show the total cost. Director Still suggested taking postcards to local restaurants to place in to-go orders since so many residents are ordering out at this time. Lavender concluded by saying that the deadline for the online census form has been extended to August 31, she stated that you do not have to have a code to fill out the form, you may respond with only your address. Citizens may also call in to complete the census over the phone or mail the form back. Director Trevor Coffee asked if the city was still allowing residents to come into the City Hall to complete the form online and Cook stated that there have not been any requests in the last few weeks, but that the computer is in the hall and they will allow anyone to come inside to fill their census form out online.
The City of Hope received 2 bids on lawn maintenance for the City Hall. The bids submitted were from Justin’s Lawn Service for $298.50 per month and Pecas Lawn Care for $320.00 per month. The city recommended accepting the bid from Justin’s Lawn Service. Director Mark Ross asked if Justin’s Lawn Service was handling the lawn maintenance at this time and Cook responded that another company was doing it. Director Coffee asked what the current rate for lawn maintenance was, Cook responded that she did not know the exact amount, but that it was more than this bid. Director Still made a motion to accept the bid from Justin’s Lawn Care and the board approved to accept.
Catherine Cook updated the Board on the Landfill Bids. 11 bids were received on the Class 4 Phase 2 landfill expansion, with amounts ranging from $190,450 up to $402,608.13. Cook stated that the engineer’s estimate on this project is $350,000, so there were several very good bids for this project. The low bid contractor is in the process of finalizing their Arkansas Contractor’s License, which must be done before it is brought before the board for approval. In the case that this bid is not good, there is another low bidder, so there will still be a good low bid. These bids are good until May 23rd, so there is still time to have the bids presented to the Board and the contracts finalized. Cook stated that the contractors were aware that there will not be a need to issue a Notice to Proceed due to the weather and developments in the Coronavirus pandemic. Cook also notified the Board that given the amounts of the low bids, the City may not have to borrow any money for this project. Mayor Montgomery asked if they had given the contractor a deadline to acquire his Arkansas Contractor’s License, Cook responded that if he is already in the process of obtaining it, the engineer will more than likely recommend they give him until May 23 date. Director Still asked if there were references on this contractor because they did not want to run into any problems. Cook responded that they felt good about them, the contractors came out to look at the landfill and they have a lot of dirt work experience.
Catherine Cook updated the Board on the City’s response to COVID-19. She stated that all departments are still providing essential services to the residents of the City of Hope. Some changes have been made to operations to protect city employees and citizens. The parks are open for walking and general recreation, but ballfields, soccer fields, playgrounds and park facilities are all closed to comply with the Governors mandate of social distancing. Money is being refunded to individuals that have rented facilities and those that have not received a refund may call the park office at 870-777-7500. Northside park has remained closed at night, but the Fair Park is not closed due to long term RV residents. She stated that they are now required to use their own facilities and are not allowed to use any park facilities at this time.
The Hope Police Department and Hope Fire Department are doing a great job dealing with essential services. Both offices are closed to public and citizens may contact using normal means, or call 911 if there is an emergency.
The Public works office is closed to public, but they may be contacted at 777-8644. Cook stated that they will be considering closing down curbside pickup over the next few weeks depending on how things are going. The clean-up day on April 23 has been cancelled, and they will try to reschedule later in the year.
Several employees that are able to work from home are already telecommuting for some portion of their work, others are being scheduled for different shifts during the workday to prevent less chance of exposure for an entire department. Equipment and machines have been segregated for specific shifts and are being disinfected. Cook stated that with sanitation being on the front lines, they may need to go to one day a week trash pick up, but no decision has been made on that at this time. Another option would be to ask residents to set their trash out in the morning and wait until late afternoon to pick it up, due to COVID breaking down in the sunlight. Employees that have been exposed or have a spouse or significant other that have been exposed are being asked to quarantine for 14 days. If any employee is diagnosed, the proper guidelines will be followed. Employees are being encouraged to stay home after work and on weekends. Cook stated that they are considered an essential service and they do not want anyone at risk.
Cook stated that she has been participating in conference calls and virtual meetings each day, as well as watching the Governor’s report to the public to keep up with best practices and stay on top of COVID-19 response.
Cook also discussed a curfew for the City of Hope. She stated that she has had a lot of questions on a curfew and that the Governor is being very clear that curfews are being closely looked at by his office. They will initially have to be considered by the Arkansas Municipal League and Cook wanted the Board to be aware that there may be a special called meeting to consider passing a curfew ordinance. The only curfew on the City’s books is Ordinance 1229, a youth curfew passed in October of 1993, still in place today. She said that there have been a few issues of gatherings in large crowds, but the Police Department has been using very good methods to go out and deal with them and they hope it is not a continuing problem. In the event there is, Chief Wilson has been working on a draft for the Board to consider in a special meeting.
Mayor Montgomery stated that they are having weekly calls with the County, Pafford Medical Services, the hospital, Hempstead County Health Unit and the Office of Emergency Management. Hope is doing well compared to surrounding counties. Montgomery said that the city and county are both doing a very good job and they just need citizens to continue to comply with guidelines asked of them so that everyone can hopefully get out of this quicker than anticipated.
Director Linda Clark asked what citizens need to do if they have symptoms and need to be tested. Cook instructed that they need to call their primary healthcare provider to be screened over the phone and that determine if they need to be tested. Citizens are being discouraged from going directly to the provider’s office.
Chandra Lavender, from the Census Bureau, made the comment that field operations for the Census Bureau have been suspended until April 15. There should be no home visits or face to face contact due to COVID-19.
Director Clark requested that COVID-19 information be updated on the TV station, Cook stated that they would they would get that information on there.
For the City Manager’s Report, Cook stated that they are continuing regular services, but not starting any projects due to contractors unable to come in. They are looking at the budget and what capital projects can be delayed due to the sales tax budget being down. AT&T and Centerpoint have not completed 6th street and she is unsure at this time when they will be able to complete that project.
Director Coffee asked for an update on the Atwood’s property. Director Still stated that he spoke with the president of the company and another contact. Atwood’s is still 100% on board, but their legal department is holding it up. Still stated that he will call again to see if they have found anything else out.
Director Ross asked if the surveyors were completed with the Streetscape Project. Cook stated that she is not sure if they are done or not, they may need to do some data processing, but she is glad to see they are continuing with work on the project.
Director Kiffanie Talley asked about the status of the upcoming Summer Municipal League Conference. Cook stated that they have rescheduled the conference to August 19-21.
Director Coffee asked for an update on the appraisal for the industrial park property. Cook stated that the surveyor is still working on it and the appraisal cannot be worked on until the survey is complete.
Director Clark inquired about Arkansas Disaster Relief and asked what it would fund. Cook stated that they have submitted the FEMA application and expenses such as overtime, the hiring of additional employees due to illness would be mainly be covered, with a possibility of covering EMS expenses. It will not cover lost revenue from sales tax.
There was one citizens request from Don Freel. He made the comment that when the 1993 ordinance was drawn up, not one person it applies to today was born. He requested that the city share the information on the ordinance so those individuals will be aware of it.
Mayor Montgomery concluded the meeting, saying that we will get through this as long as we continue to work together. He said he is proud to see the citizens of hope and city services all working together.
The City of Hope Board of Directors will meet again on April 21, 2020.