City council considers broadband options

Thursday, July 15, 2021
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The city of Eureka Springs is looking into ways to bring a better internet connection to residents.

On Monday night, planning commissioner Ferguson Stewart told the Eureka Springs City Council that there are grant opportunities to provide broadband access citywide. Stewart said the city of Berryville received a similar grant earlier this year. He asked the council to research the details behind the statewide grant program.

“Right now, the state of Arkansas has hired a company to go through certain areas in the region … to see where the shortfalls are, but one thing we’ve got to do is let the community know we’re involved in this,” Stewart said. “When the study comes out, we’ll know where we are … and we can move forward.”

Council member Terry McClung said broadband is coming to the city “whether we like it or not” and said he’s ignorant about how that type of internet connection works.

“I don’t know how it works but you do and others do and I think it’s important,” McClung said. “If there’s grant money for anything out there, we should be after it.”

Council member Bill Ott asked how the council could help and Stewart said it’s important for everyone to educate themselves on the matter.

“Once that survey comes back, we need to be ready to launch and basically apply,” Stewart said. “When your constituents call you, know about what’s going on and tell them what I just told you today.”

Council member Autumn Slane said she pays her internet provider “a lot of money” and doesn’t receive the speeds that are promised.

“I’m supposed to get 200 download and I don’t even get that,” Slane said. “It would be nice if we could have more coming into town so the services we’re actually paying for are going to be enhanced at the very least.”

Mayor Butch Berry said he’s already working on it. A local group is writing a grant, Berry said, and he hopes the survey is completed quickly.

“We’ll have that survey completed hopefully, I think, we’re looking at September or October,” Berry said.

Council member Harry Meyer said city-wide free wireless internet would “solve a ton of problems” and Stewart said he’d support that.

“That’s what you guys got to figure out,” Stewart said. “I’m here to help.”

Also at the meeting, the commission received a report on the City Advertising and Promotion Commission from Meyer and council member Melissa Greene, who sit on the commission as city council representatives. Meyer said the CAPC’s tax collections are up, as well as social media outreach. That’s largely because of Paradise Marketing, he said.

“This is what brings tourists to town,” Meyer said.

Greene said the first CAPC meeting of the year was a workshop where goals and immediate concerns were addressed. The commission budgeted $277,000 for salaries and $240,000 for expense accounts at the beginning of the year, Greene said. Today, Greene said, the commission has made changes to its staff to save more than $200,000 on both budget items. The commission will soon hire a tourism director, Greene said.

Greene said chairman Jeff Carter and former commissioner Patrick Burnett, who was appointed after the commission illegally removed commissioner Greg Moon in February, are major assets to the commission. Moon was reinstated on the commission last month by Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Scott Jackson, removing Burnett from the position.

“Losing Patrick was a huge loss,” Greene said.

Greene said she and Meyer experienced “immediate attacks” once they were appointed to the commission in January.

“This commission has been unfairly vilified and harangued, having to miss two months of meetings to conduct business,” Greene said.

McClung said he’s spoken with local business owners and was told they aren’t renting as many rooms as they did two years ago.

“But the revenue is up because they are charging more money,” McClung said. “The proof in the pudding is heads in beds. That’s what we need to know.”

Greene said that is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that this fall that the hotels are going to see an upswing,” Greene said.

Slane asked why the minutes haven’t been approved so the council can vote on the commission’s recommendation to reappoint Carter and Greene said the commission hasn’t met for two months. In fact, the commission has met twice since June 30. Ott asked if anyone else applied for Carter’s seat.

“Usually, Bill, when someone holds a seat and they agree to reapply, unless we don’t like them … we usually accept them first, and Jeff graciously agreed to reapply,” Greene said.

In other business, the council approved a proposed ordinance declaring Juneteenth a citywide holiday and deferred a proposed ordinance for Board of Zoning Adjustment appeals to be heard by the council before going to circuit court.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, July 26, at The Auditorium.

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