Council approves ordinance establishing permanent entertainment district
By Samantha Jones
Eureka Springs will open its permanent entertainment district downtown in a month.
On Monday night, the Eureka Springs City Council approved an ordinance establishing a permanent entertainment district with a sunset clause on its third and final reading. According to the ordinance, the district will go into effect 30 days after the ordinance is approved. The sunset date is Sept. 30.
Business owner John Rankine spoke during public comments about a permanent district, reminding the council of alderman Harry Meyer's comments at the council's Jan. 27 meeting. At that meeting, Meyer said Rankine didn't want to be part of the district. Rankine remembered that conversation differently.
"I, like so many bar owners in town, had a lot of concerns and still do have a lot of concerns about how this is all going to work," Rankine said, "but I also told Harry that we would be for it. We would certainly give it a try. We didn't want to just pooh-pooh the whole idea, but we wanted to address some concerns."
Despite concerns that his business might be liable for drunken behavior, Rankine said, he isn't against the permanent district.
"We want to be part of it if this goes through," Rankine said.
Meyer apologized to Rankine, saying he got his conversation with Rankine mixed up with a conversation he had with someone else. Meyer said he's still not sure about creating a permanent district.
"This whole thing has been very controversial. Many citizens have called me and talked to me about it," Meyer said. "There really doesn't seem to be a lot of reason to be doing this."
Alderman Bob Thomas moved to suspend the rules and read the ordinance for a third time by title only, and alderwoman Mickey Schneider asked Mayor Butch Berry if he has a list of expenses the district would incur. Schneider previously asked about expenses associated with the district at the council's Jan. 13 and Jan. 27 meetings. Berry said there was no extra expense, and Schneider said she's concerned about expenses increasing with the sunset date being extended to Sept. 30. The council agreed to extend the sunset date at its Jan. 27 meeting.
"I still have not heard from the departments that there would be extra expense," Berry said.
"Did you let them know how much it expanded from three months to six months?" Schneider asked.
"Yes," Berry said. "As far as I know, there's no extra expense."
"I would like for them to be before us to answer us," Schneider said, "because it doesn't make sense. It's not logical."
Berry reminded the council that there was a motion on the table to approve the ordinance by title only and Thomas said his motion was to read the ordinance by title only, not to approve it.
"You know damn well they're going to go ahead and approve it," Schneider said. "That's not the point. Like I asked last time, what is everybody afraid of in regards to being honest, open and forward with the public?"
City clerk Ann Armstrong read the ordinance by title only and alderman Terry McClung moved to approve it. Thomas asked if the start date should be amended to start after St. Patrick's Day, saying the district would start during that holiday. McClung said he didn't think that was necessary.
"I think we're OK with the way it is," McClung said. "If the establishments … are concerned about starting on that holiday weekend like that, they don't have to sell. Just because we have an ordinance enacted doesn't mean they have to participate."
Thomas said businesses that don't participate must notify ABC and city attorney Tim Weaver said the businesses wouldn't have to start selling the day the district begins.
"They can let the ABC know, 'We're going to participate but we may not be ready for five extra days or three extra days,' if they’re worried about opening,” Weaver said. “I would suspect some businesses probably want to open, because it is St. Patrick's Day week and the amount of consumption is usually high during that time period."
The council voted 4-2 to approve the motion, with McClung, Thomas, Susan Harman and Melissa Greene voting yes and Schneider and Meyer voting no.
In other business, the council approved a proposed ordinance to increase the water rate by 30 cents per thousand gallons. Berry handed out information describing how the proposed increase would affect residents, saying a resident who uses 10,000 gallons per month would pay $2 more with a 20-cent increase and $3 more with a 30-cent increase. If the city doesn't pass the increase on to the residents, Berry said, it would cost between $45,000 and $50,000 per year.
Harman said she'd prefer to increase the rate by 20 cents per thousand gallons, which would cover the increase required by Carroll Boone Water District.
"I'd like to make a motion that we only increase what we feel we need," Harman said.
Schneider said she'd like to increase it by 30 cents.
"That'll cover our butts for incidents that happen," Schneider said, "and maybe the next time they raise it, we won't have to do anything."
"We're starting guys at the water and sewer department at 10 bucks an hour. That's minimum wage," Meyer said. "We need to start working on getting the fees up. Thirty cents is justifiable."
The council voted to approved the proposed ordinance 5-1, with Harman voting no.
Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution to continue the street tax and approved a proposed ordinance to vacate an alley east of Angle Street on a first reading.
The council's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, at The Auditorium.