Beaver alderman targets code violations

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Kathryn Lucariello

BEAVER -- One Beaver alderman is pursuing enforcement of municipal codes and scrutinizing what she says is the town violating tax laws by subsidizing water use of four private properties.

At the monthly council meeting July 14, Alderman Penny Sullivan said she had obtained the names and addresses of the owners of four properties in town that are unsightly and pose a health hazard to residents. These are the old post office building across the street from her, a house that sits on the parkway road and whose back property line abuts hers, a trailer owned by a resident who passed away and a trailer owned by the pet boarding business.

Sullivan said she found out that if she can't obtain addresses for these properties, the town can post notices in three places, giving owners 10 days to respond. If they don't, the town can clean up the properties and put a lien on them for reimbursement.

"They really need attention because they're right in the middle of town, and people drive by and see it," she said. "Rats are coming from the old post office and the [house on the park road]."

"We're simply dealing with the fact that these properties are out of code," said Mayor Annie Shoffit. "If we ignore them, then what happens?"

Alderman Debbie Lester said her only concern is that the town has other codes, too, that are not being enforced, and the town may have to start enforcing all of them if it enforces one.

"Yes, but these are buildings that are falling down and are health hazards," Sullivan replied.

Chris Lester said the town had tried to enforce codes in the past, in the 1950s and 1960s, "to enforce on one sector and not another, and it didn't work then, and it won't work now. We have to enforce them all."

Shoffit asked where the money comes from to enforce everything, and Sullivan advised not to "go there." She said if she is the one mowing and weed-eating, she is going to invoice for it.

Sullivan said the mayor's dogs running loose violates the leash law, "but I love them, so it's not a problem."

Council then noted there are two houses at the end of Feather Creek Lane, owned by the same person, that appear to be abandoned, with windows broken out and no one taking care of them, that could fall under the property upkeep code.

On a first motion to send letters to owners of the four properties initially discussed, with only three out of four members of council present, two aldermen, Jay Baldridge and Sullivan, voted aye, but Lester abstained, so motion failed. A revised motion, to send letters on the four properties and to research the other two for a similar motion at the next council meeting, passed with all three votes. Sullivan will prepare the letters and research the other two properties.

Sullivan brought up the issue of four properties that use the town well, which was donated to the town by former resident Flo Fitzsimmons. Three families and the post office use the well, and Shoffit noted if the town is going to be in the business of providing water to some residents, it should provide it to all.

In 2000, Beaver looked at constructing a municipal water system and paid for an engineering study. At that time the project was estimated to cost around $300,000, and bond money was available.

But after three years of fact-finding and public hearings, the proposal for 49 households to become "charter users" failed when a required minimum of 40 failed to sign on. Charter users would have had to pay $38.94 per month for three years for 5,000 gallons and no additional cost to run the water to their homes.

The Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission was expressing doubts about the viability of the project because of the community's small size. It would not agree to calculate a real project cost figure until 40 users had signed on, but residents did not want to sign on until they knew the real cost, creating a "Catch-22" situation. In June 2003 the council passed a resolution to abandon the project.

Sullivan said last year the town took in only $960 in water fees from the four users, "and that's absurd. Half of that goes to electricity. The well is not being paid for by the people using it; it's being paid for by the city, and that's wrong."

She said the city cannot subsidize private citizens.

Suggestions were made to put meters on the lines of the four users or to simply "get out of the well business," said Alderman Debbie Lester, and sell the well to the residents.

Aldermen agreed more research is needed, and the mayor said it will be taken up at the next council meeting.

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