Eureka Springs council waits to vote on permanent venue

Friday, October 13, 2017

It’ll be a little longer before the Eureka Springs City Council chooses a permanent meeting space.

On Monday night, Mayor Butch Berry told the council about some new developments in the proposed meeting spaces. Those meeting spaces are Dr. Charles Beard’s office at 25 Norris St., the downtown fire station and the Eureka Springs Community Center. Beard had said he would be vacating his office, which the city owns, in 2018 at the beginning of the year. Berry said Monday that has changed.

“He is still planning on maintaining that practice,” Berry said.

Berry has been working with city attorney Tim Weaver, he said, to draw up a lease for Beard after Beard failed to find the lease drawn up more than 20 years ago.

“He said he had one at one point but he couldn’t find it,” Berry said. “The Eureka Springs Hospital does not have a copy of it. The hospital commission doesn’t have a copy of it, and we can’t find a copy of the lease at City Hall.”

The proposed one-year lease says Beard would pay $2,000 per month, as well as provide insurance and liability insurance on the property. Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick asked if Beard has been paying rent on the property, and Berry said no.

“He was told at one point he was needing the roof fixed and the city refused to pay,” Berry said. “He was advised by an attorney to quit paying rent and fix the roof.”

“Did your tenant not understand he should pay rent?” alderman Bob Thomas asked.

“It was a failure to communicate a long time ago, and it just continued on,” Berry said.

In the meantime, Berry said, Beard put a new roof on the building, added a new heating and cooling system and repaired the plumbing.

“He’s been occupying the building for several years,” Berry said.

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider said it’s important to note the updates Beard has made to the property over the years.

“Those kind of things are not cheap. While he may not have been paying the city or the hospital a monthly stipend for the rent, he has been doing something we haven’t had to do,” Schneider said. “That’s a plus.”

Alderman David Mitchell asked how the lease would affect the council’s decision on a permanent meeting space, saying he believes the Norris Street location is a good prospect. Weaver said the city would still have ownership over the property.

“This is not a permanent transfer, but it is a temporary transfer,” Weaver said. “You should have some say in whether you want to use it, particularly in this instance.”

Weaver suggested that the council approve a resolution saying the lease agreement would be presented to Beard, and Berry agreed.

“This gives us a starting point,” Berry said.

Kendrick disagreed with that.

“I think we are jumping the gun. First of all, I don’t know if we want to lease this property. We haven’t discussed where we want to move our meeting space,” Kendrick said. “I think we need to discuss that first. I think we ought to defer action on this until we discuss our permanent meeting space.”

Berry said Beard’s change of heart should affect the council’s decision on a meeting space.

“He isn’t planning on vacating it as we had anticipated,” Berry said. “That kind of puts a new slant on things in my mind.”

Mitchell moved to table the resolution for the lease agreement until the next council meeting, and the council agreed to do so. Berry moved on to present some developments at the community center location, saying the community center foundation has offered to allow the council to meet there rent-free so long as the city updates the sidewalk outside. Those improvements would cost around $5,000, Berry said.

“We’re talking about where we looked originally. It’s the old EAST Lab,” Berry said.

That’s not the only option at that location, he said. Berry explained that the Eureka Springs school board has expressed interest in giving the old high school property to the city, saying the city would work with the community center foundation if that were to happen. He’s waiting to hear from the attorney general on whether or not that would be possible, Berry said.

“If this did happen … we’d be able to move the entire city hall up there,” Berry said.

Mitchell said he could get behind the idea if the city’s finances were in better shape.

“I’m worried about the burden and the foundation closing down and the city being the one that’s stuck,” Mitchell said. “It’s just not sounding like such a solid deal in my mind.”

The other option, Berry said, would be relocating to the community center rent-free and working on some small improvements there. After Kendrick moved to permanently relocate meetings to the Norris Street property, alderman Bob Thomas asked if the council could wait on making that decision. The council could, Weaver said, if that was the general consensus.

Mitchell said the council has already temporarily moved to an ADA-compliant meeting space at the Auditorium, saying he supports waiting a while before choosing a permanent location.

“It might be worthwhile to let a little more time go until that school board thing gels a little bit,” Mitchell said. “I am still at this point leaning strongly toward Norris Street personally. I just … I would like some more time.”

Mitchell moved to defer a decision on the permanent meeting space until the city gets more information on the sites, and the council agreed to do so.

“I think that’s wise,” Berry said, “because we have had some issues that have come up.”

In other business, the council approved a resolution supporting tax collection for online sales, gave its OK to an update to the code regarding the Lake Leatherwood sales tax on all three readings and approved a resolution allowing Berry to sign a countywide agreement to share the cost of the district judge’s salary.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at the Auditorium.

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