Council votes to keep Leatherwood tax revenue under parks commission

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

All revenue from the Lake Leatherwood City Park tax will be staying where it is.

On Monday night, the Eureka Springs City Council voted to keep the revenue under the parks commission’s authority. The council heard from city finance director Lonnie Clark and parks director Justin Huss before making the decision, with Clark saying the tax money is moved into a fund managed by parks each month. Huss said the revenue is kept apart from other funds.

“The Leatherwood tax money is dedicated and counted separately from all the money,” Huss said. “It is accounted for completely separately.”

Clark said he believes the fund is operating well as it is and does not need to be managed by the city.

“I don’t see any reason for us to do that. It’s kept separately in the system,” Clark said. “It’s accounted for. There have never been issues with the method or anything with us.”

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider moved to keep things the same, saying she wants the council to take its “mitts off.” Alderman David Mitchell said he brought the idea to the table because of the way the Arkansas Municipal League responded to a question earlier this month.

“Their last comment was the city council does control the fund but the funds can only be used for those purposes related to Leatherwood City Park,” Mitchell said. “Ultimately, the policy is up to the city and can only be addressed by city council.”

Mitchell said he wants the council to have updated reports on how the tax money is being used.

“It’s imperative that we have the correct information … in front of us on a quarterly basis so we can track that,” Mitchell said. “Nobody said it’s being absconded. That’s not it. If council is accountable and responsible, council should get some type of report.”

Alderman Bob Thomas said he wasn’t sure what Schneider meant about taking the “mitts off.”

“I never wanted to put my mitts on,” Thomas said.

Schneider said the comment was in regard to the council member who wanted the city to be in total control of the parks commission’s money, and Mitchell said that’s not what happened.

“It was addressing the question the Municipal League had,” Mitchell said. “How are we doing our due diligence that we are elected to do for the citizens of this community? It wasn’t questioning [Huss]. It wasn’t questioning parks.”

The council voted on Schneider’s motion, with Schneider, Melissa Greene and Terry McClung voting for it and Mitchell and Thomas abstaining. Mayor Butch Berry voted for the motion, giving it the four votes needed to pass.

Also at the meeting, the council considered a resolution for a six-month moratorium on bed and breakfast applications. Berry said the planning commission requested the moratorium while the code is being updated, and McClung said he doesn’t see a need for it. There are guidelines applicants must follow, McClung said, that make it difficult to even apply in the first place.

“With the 200-foot requirement, aren’t they pretty much dead anyway?” McClung said.

Greene said the planning commission asked for the moratorium because that’s what the citizens want. Applicants can still get a variance, Greene said, to open a bed and breakfast.

“Over and over people have asked me and asked me to please do away with them,” Greene said.

“I don’t hear a lot about it, but that’s just me,” McClung said. “The only time I hear anything is when I go to a planning commission meeting, or here.”

Mitchell said he wants to support the planning commission.

“Planning has tried hard for a long time to listen to the public,” Mitchell said. “The bottom line for me with the moratorium is I think it just supports planning, and I believe they deserve our support.”

Thomas disagreed with that.

“I support the planning commission, but I don’t support this resolution,” Thomas said.

The council didn’t vote on the moratorium, so it died on the table.

In other business, the council heard from Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation chairwoman Diane Murphy about the foundation’s finances. Murphy said the foundation was responding to an ongoing request from the council to present its financial information to the city, saying the foundation didn’t have to do that.

“I want to make it clear we’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We receive no federal funds, no tax dollars and have no obligation or accountability to the city,” Murphy said. “The request from the city to present our financials is entirely unprecedented, as you know, and far outside your purview as council.”

She added, “We are here solely as a courtesy to the community. Over 400 local residents and businesses believe in this project so much they have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to help make it happen. Those donors are the ones we’re accountable to.”

Rusty Windle presented the foundation’s audit, saying the foundation has done everything under the law. Murphy said she wanted to focus on unity instead of the financials.

“We are so used to organizations operating independently and separately that somehow when we make an effort to find common ground and work together, it fosters suspicion and lack of trust,” Murphy said. “We can do better than this. Opportunities for cooperation should be embraced and celebrated. When we work together, we are stronger for it.”

Mitchell recalled when he moved Jan. 8 for the city to suspend all engagement with the foundation until the city received a report on its finances, articles of incorporation and lease with the school district.

“It was clearly to make a distinction that we understand the 501(c)3 and their obligation and the debt they took on,” Mitchell said. “I made a motion that we were separating the city business … and everything that goes along with that and the 501(c)3.”

He continued, “It was never a negative against … oh well, David Mitchell, whoever, is against the community center. It’s not against the community center. It’s the distinction of keeping the separation between the city and a 501(c)3.”

Mitchell recalled a denied grant Huss applied for to help build a trail around the community center, saying the parks commission then repurposed a grant for a trail at Dairy Hollow to that same project. If the city had received a grant for the trail, Murphy said, the council would have sought an easement from the school district before doing anything else. McClung said that’s how it happened.

“When we met with parks for the first time, it was understood nothing would be done without the property being in the hands of the city,” McClung said.

Mitchell asked why the foundation didn’t go through with the grant, and Murphy said it’s because of his motion to suspend all engagement with the foundation.

“It’s not on the table now,” Murphy said.

“It’s not on the table now, but we want the correct information when discussing stuff,” Mitchell said.

Berry said Murphy was giving the correct information.

“It’s in the past,” Berry said. “Let’s proceed on in a positive manner.”

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, July 9, at The Auditorium.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: