YEAR IN REVIEW: Wastewater woes top list of big 2012 issues for Berryville

Friday, December 28, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- The balance of power in Berryville government didn't tilt, lilt or waiver in 2012. Though city leaders stayed on and stayed the course, 2012 had its own challenges and changes.

Following is a recap of the major issues considered by council members in 2012:

Wastewater Woes

The city of Berryville sought solutions to cope with escalating sewer costs caused by new, more stringent environmental regulations and aggravated by waste coming from the Tyson processing plant.

Just last month, council members allocated $50,000 to Fayetteville-based firm CH2M Hill for a study of the city's treatment system -- to address high costs and environmental permit violations at the plant.

Mayor Tim McKinney has said he hopes the study -- to be completed in early 2013 -- will lead to a long-term management contract for the plant.

The city's wastewater woes originated with stricter limits on phosphorus output from the plant -- imposed by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality at the start of 2012. The city completed a $3 million overhaul of the plant in November, mostly in anticipation of the new standards.

However, city workers have struggled to meet those rules. Berryville Public Works Director Kirby Murray said at the end of August that the renovated plant had not been designed to remove the amount of phosphorus it was receiving from Tyson.

As a result, the plant has exceeded the phosphorus limits, and violated its environmental permit, twice this year.

For more on this issue, read our past news reports online:

Sales Tax Bears Fruit

City leaders put Berryville taxpayers' money to work in 2012. Revenue from the temporary half-cent sales tax approved by voters last June was used to purchase three new, fully equipped police cars; new radios and radio equipment for police and firemen; a new evidence storage building for the Police Department; two new fire trucks and various street improvement projects -- at a total cost of $577,600.

The two-year tax initiative, which was overwhelmingly approved during a special election, has been generating some $50,000 monthly for the city since collections began last fall.

McKinney said recently that city leaders were considering asking voters to extend the tax for another two years. He estimated the city would have finished paying for the Berryville Community Center by then, which would free up about $17,000 in revenue each month. Extending the tax would carry the city through the interim, the mayor said.

For more on this issue, refer to our past reports online:

Planning or Politics

Mayor Tim McKinney received some criticism in January 2012, when he declined to reappoint Commissioner Jason Williams to the Berryville Planning and Zoning Commission.

Williams, whose five-year term had expired on Dec. 31, 2011, had been McKinney's opponent in the last mayoral election. The mayor's former opponent contended his decision had less to do with planning than with Williams' stance on what he called an "unrelated" issue.

That issue was his position on the Berryville Chamber of Commerce and his efforts to secure funding for the chamber director's job that McKinney had slashed at the end of 2011.

Since 2000, the city had contributed a little more than half the salary for that position. However, McKinney said the funds would be better used to fund a full-time economic development director's position he planned to create.

He later agreed to continue the city's contribution for the first four months of 2012, until the chamber could find another source of revenue.

At the time, McKinney had said simply that he felt re-appointing Williams was not "in the best interest of the city."

Williams, for his part, said he was not terribly upset to be unseated, though he added, "I think it's a little hard to justify -- to get rid of the only active real estate broker on the commission."

Williams was replaced by Alan Hulse, a mail carrier and volunteer firefighter, in late January.

For more on this issue, read our past reports online:

Shooting Range

Council members voted in October to shutter the public shooting range at Luther Owens Park, until safety and liability concerns could be addressed.

The park had become a liability for the city in recent months.

McKinney told council members on Sept. 4 that a low berm on the east side of the range had allowed bullets to escape and endanger neighboring residents.

The city has not set a timeline for reopening the range -- though the mayor has said he hopes to reopen by spring. Crucially, it is still unclear how the needed improvements will be financed.

For more on this issue, read out past reports at

Safe Routes to School

City leaders took steps this year to safeguard school children. Council members voted in December 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.

McKinney had earlier written to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department requesting that the state install traffic signals along the section of highway. However, the state refused.

The city is now seeking funding through the federal Safe Routes to School program. That program, administered locally by the state highway department, supports projects that encourage school children to walk and bicycle to school, rather than be driven.

The School Board is applying 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.

For more on this issue, read our past reports online:

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