Green Forest Mayor Charles Reece apologizes for illegal transfer of road funds
GREEN FOREST -- Green Forest Mayor Charles Reece apologized to taxpayers Tuesday for illegally transferring $50,000 earmarked for road work to the city general fund. The mayor had advised council to make the transfer on Oct. 8, saying it was necessary to shore up a budget undercut by declining revenue.
The mayor later said he had known the move violated state accounting laws, though he did not share that information with council members on Oct. 8.
"It was an error, pure and simple," Reece said Tuesday. " ... We, city officials, corrected it as soon as we realized a mistake had been made. So, I apologize to the citizens for that error."
Council members voted later Tuesday night to return the money to the street fund and replace it with $50,000 from the city water fund -- which is not restricted by state law. The move was, apparently, symbolic -- because the money had actually been returned, and replaced with water funds, on Oct. 16.
One council member, Mike Miller, voted against transferring the money from the water fund. After the meeting, Miller said he felt the city could have gotten through the year without the additional funds.
After the meeting, Miller suggest one way the city could save money: awarding city contracts to the lowest bidder.
Miller was referring to the Phillips Street improvement project. The council voted Tuesday to award the contract for that project to Kirk Powell, for $78,082. A second contractor, Eric Greer had offered to do the same job for $76,501.
Despite the fact that Greer had the lower bid, Reece said he felt Powell should receive the contract because he had gone "above and beyond" in past dealings with the city.
Miller responded, "I know Kirk [Powell] does go above and beyond for us, but sometimes I think its because Eric [Greer] isn't asked."
"If it was me," he continued, "Eric's the low bid and that's what we ought to go with. We ain't got all the money in the world to spend on this."
Despite Miller's objections, Alderman Tim Hatman moved to award the contract to Powell. The motion stalled initially, 2-2, with Miller and Alderwoman Pam Norton voting no. However, Reece broke the tie, voting to award the contract to Powell.
After the vote had been taken, Alderwoman Willa Kirby asked that the city give Greer more opportunity in the future. Reece said he would not object.
Also Tuesday, Reece announced that a budget session would be held at 5 p.m. Dec. 13. He said the city was looking to cut the budget by 5 to 10 percent for 2013.
Public Works Director Buddy Fry updated the council on several ongoing projects at Tuesday's meeting. He told them some work remained to be done on a newly installed water pump at the city's northwest lift station, because the pump was not seating properly.
In the Road Department, Fry said the South Arch Street project had been completed, with the new crosswalks being finished about one and a half weeks ago.
Fry said the city was now soliciting bids for a project to install a landscaped median on Phillips Street.
The Safe Routes to School project, which would install new sidewalks along a one-mile section of Highway 62 was still in the engineering phase, he said.
Fry said he was still awaiting approval of permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the Sixth Street ditch project. He had received a $735,000 grant to complete that project some two years ago. However, work has been stalled ever since.
On Tuesday, Fry said the Corps had told him the permit would likely be approved only on the condition that the city rehabilitate the stream in the Sixth Street Park. That project -- which would mean re-contouring the creek and adding a sand bottom, rocks, and vegetation -- would likely cost the city about $13,000, he said.
In the Parks Department, Fry said the city had received a grant to install a new scoreboard in the girls' softball field. The grant, for a little more than $3,600, was received through the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.