Council hears from Berry on economic recovery plans
By Samantha Jones
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly hurt businesses in Eureka Springs, but Mayor Butch Berry is confident that community cooperation will help the city survive the crisis.
On Monday night, in a meeting live-streamed on Youtube and Channel 21, Berry updated the Eureka Springs City Council on the city’s economic recovery task force. Berry said he’s received emails and calls from people in the community saying they are struggling.
“I hear you and I understand,” Berry said. “The health and safety of our city is our top priority.”
Berry said the task force includes representatives from restaurants, downtown businesses, parks, banks, the City Advertising and Promotion Commission (CAPC) and more. The goal of the task force, Berry said, is to develop standards for when the city reopens and to decide how to manage the situation in the interim.
“I’m really proud of how city hall and our frontline healthcare workers are handling this crisis,” Berry said. “So many people are working nonstop to make sure our community returns stronger than ever. Things are changing rapidly, almost on a day-to-day basis.”
When it comes to reopening the city, Berry said, he will continue to work with the task force and other community groups to ensure the city’s response is appropriate for the citizens. That includes COVID-19 updates on the city’s new Facebook page, Berry said, and on the city’s website. Berry said he’s waiting to hear from Gov. Asa Hutchinson on when businesses can reopen and thanked everyone for working together at this time.
“I appreciate the council. We have some hard work going ahead for us,” Berry said. “I have confidence we’re going to be OK when we come out of it.”
Also at the meeting, the council approved a proposal from Raymond James to refinance the Series 2012 Bonds. According to the proposal, the refinancing could result in savings totaling $82,130 or 3.94 percent of the refunded amount. Council member Susan Harman pointed out that the original payoff date for the bond was set for December 2027, saying the bond would be paid off in October 2027 once refinanced.
“So we’re shortening it by two months as far as the payout goes,” Harman said.
Harman moved to approve the proposal and the council agreed to do so.
Berry read the Arbor Day Proclamation and said the city has been forced to cancel its annual Arbor Day Celebration because of COVID-19.
“We are the oldest Tree City in the state of Arkansas,” Berry said. “We’ve been a Tree City since 1984.”
The council received a quarterly report from the CAPC, which states that total collections through March 31 were $228,161, up $36,752 (19.2 percent). Total income through March 31 was $236,132, up $12,053.35 (0.81 percent) from 2019, the report says, and the cash balance as of March 31 was $633,983,87.
At a budget workshop before the meeting, the council heard from Berry and finance director Lonnie Clark about the city’s finances in the wake of COVID-19.
“If you look at our sales tax for last month, we had a 20 percent increase over last year,” Berry said. “We were on our way to a record breaking year and then everything fell apart, so this month is probably not going to be typical.”
Council member Terry McClung asked for a projection on how the finances will look at the end of May and Harman said she’d like to see that too.
“I really expected to come to these meetings with suggestions as opposed to, ‘These are our numbers,’ ” Harman told Clark. “I’m not faulting you. I just expected this to be more of a plan for the next three or four months based on what we know.”
Having such a plan, Harman said, would mean that the city doesn’t run out of money before the COVID-19 crisis is over.
“We have to have that plan to stretch that budget as far as we can,” Harman said.
Council member Harry Meyer agreed.
“We need to calculate a timeframe,” Meyer said, “because right now we’re bleeding.”
The council agreed to meet for another budget workshop at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11, before its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. that night. Both the meeting and workshop will be live-streamed on Youtube and Channel 21.
For more information on the COVID-19 updates, visit www.Facebook.com/EurekaSpringsGovernment.