Council provides for virtual meetings, adjusts sewer rates

HIGHFILL -- City Council members adopted ordinances on April 14 allowing for online attendance at meetings, raising sewer rates, changing a street name, and allowing for false-alarm penalties to be imposed against those with repeat false alarms.

The council voted to allow online attendance by telephone or video conferencing at the city's meetings under emergency situations declared by the governor, county judge or mayor, provided all participants, including the public, can hear them and they can hear other attendees at the meetings.

The council also raised city sewer rates to a base rate of $18.18 per month, per customer, and a charge of $5.75 per thousand gallons or any part thereof per customer, per month.

Mayor Michelle Rieff reported in discussions with the Arkansas Municipal League, XNA's CEO, and city staff, she's projecting a city revenue loss of $350,000 to $410,000 for the year, due to the covid-19 pandemic.

"This amounts to nearly one-quarter of our yearly budget," she said. "During this time of financial uncertainty, city department heads and teams are taking steps to reduce spending to offset a portion of the revenue loss.

Fire Chief Gene Holland offered to suspend his pay until further notice. Chris Holland and Toby Lester offered to give up their council pay. The mayor said she would check with the Arkansas Municipal League to see if the fire chief could suspend his salary.

The mayor also reported the Arkansas Health Department approved the extension of the force main and lift station. The city is waiting for two easements and Cassie Elliott is working on obtaining the easements.

This month, the city was notified the June 2019 bond issue payments weren't made to Farmers and Merchants. This will increase the city's yearly payment by $9,000. The city will not be required to pay the full $50,000 this year.

The council voted to allow the Police Department to issue citations to any person or business for more than two false alarms in any three-month period. The fines are a maximum of $100 per violation. The ordinance doesn't apply to hospitals, nursing homes, schools or government agencies.

A portion of Hutchens Road was also renamed to NW Hutchens Road during the April 14 meeting. The change is, in part, the result of 911 addressing which makes North Holland the center street and dividing line in the city between east and west numbering.

Councilwoman Jayme Thompson asked when new street signs would be put up. Jeffrey Brenaman, Public Works and Utilities supervisor, said with a limited budget, he'll only be able to order 10 signs and 36 signs are needed.

Councilman Chris Holland said most roads aren't being renamed and didn't think it would be a problem. Councilman Wesley Evans asked Brenaman about adding a decal to the signs for temporary purposes if needed. Brenaman said he would get back to the council about the decals.

The council approved charging a $35 per day rental fee to use the Highfill Community Building and the City Building to $35 per day, with a $50 refundable cleaning deposit.

In other business, the council appointed Anna Myers and Megan Meier to the Parks Commission, adopted an emergency policy for the nonpayment or late payment of city utilities, authorized Rieff to continue transferring money from the city's savings account to the checking account during 2020 to pay city bills, and authorizing the mayor to transfer savings from a second General Fund savings account to the primary General Fund savings account and close the second account.

NW News on 05/03/2020