Berryville police chief to council: We are protecting our schools
BERRYVILLE -- In a City Council meeting dominated by discussion of sound budgets and safe routes to school, Police Chief Dave Muniz took a moment Tuesday night to address this week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
During his monthly report, Muniz said he knew the subject was weighing on people's hearts and wanted the public to know his officers were well-equipped to cope with similar crises.
"Six years ago, we got together and agreed that we were going to commit manpower and equipment," he said. " ... We wanted to lead from the front and not from behind."
Since then, Muniz said, his officers have trained for various crisis scenarios involving schools -- including hostage situations, active shooters, and bus-related incidents.
"People are still on edge, and I wanted the public to know that we've been active," he said.
He added that he had assigned a second officer to Berryville schools since the shooting.
Also Tuesday night, council members adopted the 2013 budget as presented by Mayor Tim McKinney.
The $8.5 million budget anticipates revenue increases of $93,500 from 2012 levels, due in large measure to the 0.5 percent dedicated sales tax approved by voters throughout the state in November.
The city anticipates collecting $300,000 in revenue from that tax in its first year, and will use the infusion to finance street improvements.
The departments of streets, sewers, and police will see the largest budget increases next year. In sewers, the increases have been necessitated by higher chemical and waste costs resulting from new, more stringent phosphorus limits imposed by the state.
In the Berryville Police Department, the budget will increase by $107,100 -- or 13.5 percent -- in 2013.
About half of this increase will go toward personnel -- where, in addition to a 3 percent raise for all employees, two new officers, currently reserves, will be hired part-time. Another $55,000 has been slated for a computer operating system upgrade and a new patrol car.
While these departments saw the largest increases to their bottom lines, budgets in nearly every city department have been increased -- with the departments of parks, cemetery, and water being notable exceptions.
In addition, the budget includes a roughly 3 percent raise for all city employees and a $4,000 pay raise -- from $20,000 -- for McKinney. The mayor's raise, approved by council members earlier this month, is mitigated by a $3,300 reduction of his travel allowance.
Safe Routes to School and other business
In addition to the 2013 budget, council members approved two other measures Tuesday night. The first of these was an ordinance incorporating updates to the statewide energy code.
The new building standards, meant to improve energy efficiency, had been adopted by the Legislature earlier this year. Council members invoked the emergency clause Tuesday night and approved the ordinance in one sitting.
Also, council members voted to apply for a grant for a pedestrian-activated stop light on Highway 62. The project is intended to alleviate the hazard of children crossing the busy highway on their way from school to the Berryville Community Center.
Funding is being sought through the federal Safe Routes to School program. That program, administered locally by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, supports projects that encourage school children to walk and bicycle to school, rather than be driven.
The School Board voted Monday to apply for a second, related Safe Routes to School grant, which would fund the construction of new sidewalks throughout the city and flashing school zone beacons on Freeman, Campbell and School streets.
The city has agreed to be a "sustaining partner" for that grant, which means city staff would maintain the improvements once the grant funding runs out.
High schoolers in Kelly Swofford's EAST Lab class have been helping with both grant applications. Swofford and students Jordan Parker, a junior, and Dylan Samac, a sophomore, attended Tuesday's meeting.
The students presented council members with the fruits of their effort: a large map showing the location of existing sidewalks within a two-mile radius of the school. The map, which was created using GIS technology, took the students about a month to complete, Swofford said.
City leaders told the men they were impressed with their work, and the students gave the city a copy of the map before leaving.
In other business, council members:
* Heard from McKinney that several suspects had been identified in the recent defacement of the bluffs at Johnson Spring. The vandals, who the mayor said were adults, had sprayed the bluffs with graffiti, leading the city to offer a $500 reward for information leading to their arrest. McKinney said he expected the suspects to be in custody within the week.
* Heard from McKinney about the possibility of increasing city water rates. The mayor told council members the rates would likely have to be increased slightly in the next year to build up reserves depleted by recent highway projects.
* Canceled their Jan. 1 meeting.
City Council will next meet at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 in City Hall, located at 305 E. Madison St. For more information, call 870-423-4414.