Council puts permanent entertainment district vote on November ballot
By Samantha Jones
Eureka Springs voters will decide the fate of the city's proposed permanent entertainment district in November.
On Monday night, the Eureka Springs City Council agreed to put the permanent entertainment district proposal on the November ballot. Mayor Butch Berry said a proposal for a permanent district was already on the ballot but referred to an ordinance with a sunset date. According to that ordinance, Berry said, the permanent entertainment district would have a sunset clause ending in September — two months before the public would vote on the issue.
Berry proposed an ordinance that would put the permanent entertainment district to vote without a sunset clause. According to the proposed ordinance, the vote will take place at the next general election on the issue of allowing the creation of a permanent entertainment district within the corporate city limits of Eureka Springs.
"This gives the voters an opportunity to decide once and for all whether or not they want to have an entertainment or arts and outdoor dining district," Berry said. "A lot of cities are doing that."
Council member Melissa Greene called the ordinance a great idea.
"Our citizens have a right to decide this," Greene said.
Council member Susan Harman asked city attorney Tim Weaver why the ordinance refers to the area as a permanent entertainment district when people in town are "calling it something different." Weaver said he was using the verbiage that was used inAct 812 to enable the establishment of both temporary and permanent entertainment districts.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance on a first reading, then on second and third readings by title only. Council member Harry Meyer asked if the council needed to approve the emergency clause to get the issue on the ballot by November and Berry said that was correct. The council then unanimously approved the emergency clause.
Earlier in the meeting, the council heard from John Coleman, Entegrity's Northwest Arkansas regional director, on the status of the city's energy efficiency project. The council agreed to work with Entegrity to find solar and water conservation solutions in September 2019, when Coleman said Entegrity would begin an "investment-grade audit" on 14 facilities in Eureka Springs.
On Monday night, Coleman said the audit was complete. It took a while to make that happen, Coleman said, because the council requested that Entegrity add Eureka Springs Hospital to the audit in February 2020.
"We did a thorough review of the hospital. It was still in flux, so we decided we didn't want to include any energy improvements at the hospital," Coleman said. "We were concerned we couldn't recoup the investment at the hospital."
He added, "We ended up setting that to the side, but it did kind of prolong the audit phase, so that's why we're here in July."
Coleman said he presented the audit to city officials a month ago, saying Weaver looked over the documents. Approved in February, Coleman said, the solar project is almost 500 kilowatts and will provide more than $17,000 a year in savings. That savings will contribute to the savings of the project, Coleman said, which includes completing an LED lighting retrofit on more than 600 fixtures, installing more than 100 water conservation fixtures and replacing 10 HVAC units "that are well past their useful life."
"That's exciting. I know it's something the city of Eureka Springs has been looking at for a long time," Coleman said. "For decades, solar was an investment you made if you really cared about greenhouse gas emission and getting clean energy, but the great thing about the economics of it now is you can achieve those marks and save a pretty fair amount of money at the same time because of some really favorable laws in Arkansas."
Altogether, Coleman said, the project should generate more than $42,000 annually in energy savings.
"That savings is used to pay for the project itself," Coleman said. "The solar project generates significant savings every year. The LED lighting … has really quick payback."
Meyer said he didn't think the city would be buying anything except electricity from the solar panel and Coleman said the solar project is under the solar services agreement, which is only one part of the full project.
"The energy efficiency and water conservation piece will be a financed purchase … and the savings from LED lighting and HVAC is greater than what the loan note will be," Coleman said.
Council member Mickey Schneider moved to authorize Berry to sign a contract to move forward with the project and the council voted 5-1 to do so, with Meyer voting no. The next step, Coleman said, involves construction.
"Thank you, Mr. Coleman," Berry said. "We'll get back with you and get this started."
Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution establishing a code of conduct for council members and approved a proposed ordinance on a first reading that establishes a fee on all Level III work that comes before the Historic District Commission.
During council comments, Schneider announced that she will be resigning from the council at the end of her term.
"It's been 12 long years," Schneider said. "Just right now, I'm too emotionally out of it in regards to friends who've had some problems, so I will be here for the rest of the term and then I am going to take a break."
The council's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, at The Auditorium.