There were moments of unanimous agreement at Monday's City Council meeting, but the predominant feelings throughout the evening -- and prevalent at the close of the meeting -- were acrimony and dissatisfaction.
Early on, Mayor Morris Pate reported on the June 21 Urban Deer Hunt Committee meeting. He explained that rules that have been drawn up require hunters to be at least 10 feet off the ground in blinds and 50 yards from any property lines or structures.
He said that hunters typically aim no more than 30 feet away and they would be shooting downward, so the chances of stray arrows causing damage on neighboring properties would be greatly diminished.
Alderman Karen Lindblad pointed out that the time and place of the event was supposed to be set by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. She asked why was it decided not to do what AGF authored regarding hunter proficiency and why the city decided to run the hunt.
Pate explained that the city was following what AGF had authorized by operating the hunt as a club hunt and that the city is following AGF-approved seasons and dates.
Lindblad continued that residents are telling her they are concerned that hunters won't know the property lines. It is difficult to know where the property lines are around Eureka Springs, especially in the hollows where some of the hunting will take place.
Pate answered that it is up to the property owners to explain the property lines to hunters. Lindblad asked whether the owners would be out supervising the hunters to ensure the lines were not crossed. She asked how the city would protect residents who do not want hunters on their property.
Pate reiterated that it will be up to the property owners and hunters.
Lindblad replied, "It's a pretty crazy set-up."
She said many people are saying this is not what they voted for. She pointed out that even though there is a break in the hunt during the busy tourist season in October there are still lots of events happening in September and December during the scheduled hunt.
During her comments at the end of the meeting, Lindblad again mentioned that residents feel like they are not getting what they asked for. She asked that the Deer Hunt Committee appear at the next meeting because she feels she is not getting her questions answered. She said, "This is a very big deal to some people," and she appealed to residents to make their opinions known about the deer hunt.
The Auditorium discussion
The agenda for Monday's meeting listed "Auditorium Commission ordinance for referendum," but Alderman Butch Berry noted that he did not remember their previous discussion being about a referendum, which if approved would mean the council was approving putting a proposed sales tax on the November ballot. Alderman James DeVito agreed and said he also would not agree to having that discussion until they first set up an Auditorium Commission.
Alderman Parker Raphael said he remembered the talk at previous meetings being about proposing a quarter-cent sales tax to support operations at the Aud.
Berry replied that there are two separate issues. The first thing would be to set up the commission. Then, the commission can proceed with how it gets financed.
DeVito noted the incredible changes that have occurred at The Aud since this discussion first surfaced a year ago. More than 150 nights have been booked for this year, which he said is unprecedented.
The Aud might even end up in the black at the end of this year, he said. DeVito is in favor of the commission but not of discussing a potential sales tax at this time. "Wait until the end of the year and see," he suggested.
Berry moved to have City Attorney Tim Weaver review the draft ordinance establishing the commission, and the vote was 2-4, with Balance, Lindblad and Raphael voting No and Alderman Ken Pownall abstaining, which counts as a "No."
Ballot with yellow bags
Pownall said he has heard from residents who are concerned that changes to the yellow bag situation will violate the contract. The contract states that any modifications to the contract must be approved by both parties. He asked Weaver if council can even put this on the ballot or must this come from a petition.
Weaver said a contract between the city and another party is usually not available to the people. It is a contract, not a resolution or ordinance.
Pownall aksed if council can ask for changes.
Weaver replied that the city can request changes but all parties must agree to the changes. The city cannot unilaterally alter the contract.
Pownall said, "I wish we had been told that up front."
Ballance said she wanted to know from the mayor why one stipulation of the contract is enforced on residents and not on businesses. She said businesses do not use approved bags.
Weaver cautioned her to be careful of what she is claiming.
Ballance then stated that the city might have customers not in compliance, and she asked the mayor if he would find out if the contract is being enforced equitably.
Pate asked if the rest of the Yellow Bag Committee could attend the next meeting to answer questions. Ballance answered that she can ask but she cannot compel them to appear.
Pate asked who the members were and when they meet. He said he had never been informed of a meeting.
Ballance replied that he had been informed and there were different persons who assisted her in getting information, and the meetings were always open to anyone interested.
Pate then observed that there were no set committee members other than Ballance.
The council then began discussing the ramifications of members of commissions failing to attend meetings for their respective commissions.
Pownall reported that only the Planning Commission allows for the removal of a commissioner by recommendation of the mayor and a majority vote of council. Other commissions state a member can be removed "for cause," but the causes are not specified.
Lindblad said council should look into it.
"We put them on, so we should be able to make rules for their participation," she said.
Pownall commented that council needs the other half of the formula. He said a chairman could recommend removal because of lack of attendance, for example. "We need something in place that allows this table to do something," he said.
Ballance agreed that the council should look into this issue.
Berry, however, said, "It sound like a witch hunt more than anything else." He said they have a hard enough time getting people to serve. "I'm not sure we have a problem or if Mr. Pownall is trying to head off a problem," Berry added.
Lindblad insisted it was not a witch hunt. If someone does not show up without notice then it is reasonable to question whether they belong in their seat. She again pointed out that council puts them on, so there should be some rules in place.
Pownall moved to have Weaver draft the statement they are looking for regarding removing non-participating commission members.
Weaver said he would need more guidance as to what council wants.
DeVito moved to postpone the discussion until council can return with suggestions for Weaver, and the vote was unanimous.
Vacation of Vine Street
Matt Bishop, attorney for Cornerstone Bank which owns the property at the corner of Vine Street and Mill Hollow Road, told council he needs to set a date for a public hearing regarding the vacation of Vine Street.
At issue is the building formerly know as Cafe Santa Fe, which somehow had expanded onto a portion of Vine Street. Vine Street is a short undeveloped street used only as a driveway for the former restaurant and for one neighbor.
Ballance spoke up that she had conversed with city planning consultant Jim von Tungeln. He had said to her it was his opinion that once a city vacates property, it would never get the property back, which she said represents a loss to the residents at large. She said that von Tungeln had said if there any opposition to a vacation, he would not be in favor of it.
Raphael moved to set the date for the public hearing because he said council needed to hear the different sides of the issue.
Ballance continued that there are other options, such as a 99-year lease or tearing down the infringing structures.
DeVito moved to establish Wednesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the courtroom as the time for the public hearing, and the vote was 5-1, with only Pownall voting No.
Restructure the CAPC tax
Ballance asked Weaver if he knew of any legislation which prohibited council from putting to a vote of the people restructuring the three percent sales tax which supports the City Advertising and Promotions Commission.
Weaver replied that the ordinance enacting CAPC would prevent it.
Ballance continued, "Then the people have no say?"
Weaver answered, "The already had their say. They voted to approve the tax."
Ballance then moved to place on the ballot a measure reducing the CAPC sales tax from 3 percent to 2 percent.
DeVito said such a measure would have to come from an initiative from the people. The legislation was designed to keep council from meddling in this way.
Weaver pointed out the law enabling CAPC is a state law, and a city referendum cannot change state law.
Ballance then asked if, to get this on the ballot, they would need a petition from the people or can council initiate the action from this table.
Weaver said he would need to research it before answering, and he might be able to have an answer before the next meeting.
The vote to have Weaver research it was 4-2, with Berry and DeVito voting No.
Adjustments to EMS charges
Assistant Fire Chief Bob Pettus told council that in 2006 council set fees, and he thinks it is time to readjust them. He explained that his plan is to increase fees in such a way that most of the increase will be paid by insurance companies or Medicare and there will only a minimal increase to patients and no increase to needy patients, though there will be a significant increase in revenue to EMS.
Lindblad asked Pettus about the different codes on the chart that council had been given and explain the differences between them. Lindblad also said she was concerned that the city must "write off" charges over and above insurance payments for some patients who can't afford to pay.
Ballance asked how the money billed is collected and where it goes.
Pettus explained that a billing company collects funds and makes deposits in a bank account, EMS pays the billing company, and the net proceeds go into the city's general fund.
Ballance explained that from her many years of experience in the medical field, she felt the increases requested were in line with the industry standard.
After much discussion, Patterson said that he was hoping the increase could be effective Sept. 1. Pownall said he wanted Weaver to review the document first. DeVito said that because of the timeliness of the issue, council could go ahead and pass the first reading and still have time to address concerns at the subsequent readings.
The vote on sending the document to Weaver before reading it, however, was 3-3, with DeVito, Berry and Raphael voting No. Pate cast the deciding Yes vote to send it to Weaver before the first reading.
DeVito moved to assign a number and place the ordinance updating code regarding animal-drawn vehicles in town on its first reading.
Council discussed points regarding pickup and drop-off locations and whether the vehicles could use U.S. Highway 62. The council unanimously accepted the ordinance on its first reading, and it will come up again for a second reading at the next meeting.
Council considered a proposed ordinance regulating limousine service in town. The intent of the ordinance is to more clearly distinguish limousines from taxis and protect the city's taxi franchise.
After much discussion, council voted to establish a one-hour minimum and a rate of $75 per hour for limousine service. The vote on the one-hour minimum was 3-3, with Ballance, Lindblad and Raphael voting No, and Pate casting the deciding Yes vote. The council unanimously accepted the amended ordinance on its first reading, and it will come up again for a second reading at the next meeting.
* Pam Crockett was approved to sit on the Hospital Commission by a vote of 3-2-1, Lindblad and Pownall voting No, Ballance abstaining, and Pate casting the fourth Yes vote for approval. The vote on Mary Jean Sell for the Hospital Commission was 2-4, with Ballance, Lindblad, Raphael and Pownall voting No.
* Council unanimously approved Laurie Stevens to sit on the Cemetery Commission. Mary Ann Pownall, secretary/treasurer of the commission, told council that whereas last year at this time they had already sold 14 plots, this year they have sold only four. Since their only income is from the sale of plots, they are in "dire straits." She said their ending balance at the end of May was $1,512.86. Tom Rinnels, cemetery sexton, wanted everyone to know that many plots are available.
* Resolution #601, the Climate Action Plan, passed its final reading. The resolution recognizes climate change is a threat to society and it endorses the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the city by identifying certain positive actions the city can take. Vote was unanimous to approve the resolution.
* Council approved the first reading of a revision to the ordinance regarding non-conforming properties in the R-1 zone. Planning Commission recommended the changes because zoning revisions and other changes rendered some properties inappropriate for the list. Vote was unanimous the first reading of the ordinance.
* City Clerk/Treasurer Ann Armstrong told council that because of the 2010 census, the ward map for the city needed to be revised. To make sure the wards are as equally populated as possible, ward lines were redrawn to move 148 persons from Ward 3 to Ward 2. The vote to approve the revised map was unanimous.
* Council also approved unanimously a motion to ask Weaver to draft an ordinance by the next meeting allowing residents to vote by ward.
* Council convened an executive session after which they voted to take no action.
* In her closing comments, Ballance said she had been to a Municipal League Conference and learned a lot. One of the points she came away with was about the limits of the mayor's spending authority. She was told that if money has not been appropriated by a vote of council, it should not be spent. She said she figured that a retired law enforcement official would pay more attention to following the law.
* Pate answered by stating that for his year and a half of sitting at the table, he has been hearing aldermen make accusations without all the information. He said apparently they do not have a clue what goes on at city hall. He pointed out it was council that did not have a mid-year review last year and it was council that did not have a budget in place this year according to state requirements. He said he was tired of listening to all this stuff. He said it will go on for six more months until the elections and he predicted changes will be made.
The City Council's next regular meeting will be Monday, July 9, 6 p.m.