Green Forest council OKs hike in rates for utilities; new budget also assumes passage of sales tax increase
GREEN FOREST -- Council members approved the 2013 budget, increased utility rates for city residents and amended the city code to allow alcohol sales on Super Bowl Sunday, among other things, at Monday's meeting of the Green Forest City Council.
The $7.6 million budget included $145,000 expected to be generated by the approved rate increases. It also incorporated $75,000 in new revenue expected from a not-yet-decided increase to the city sales tax.
The mayor had said last week he expected council members to consider the tax proposal at Monday's meeting. However, the vote was postponed. Even if council members do vote to move ahead with the proposal, it will still have to be approved by voters.
The mayor has said the tax and rate increases are necessary to fund improvements to the city infrastructure and purchase new vehicles.
In addition to the revenue increases, the budget anticipates some $85,000 of increases to the city payroll, including raises for the police force and Public Works employees, as well as funds for several new positions.
Another ordinance passed Monday will allow alcohol sales on Super Bowl Sunday between noon and midnight. The city code had previously prohibited Sunday alcohol sales.
That ordinance -- as well as the ordinance raising utility rates and several others -- was passed using the emergency clause, which allows council members to forego the three readings normally required before an ordinance can become law.
The provision of state law requiring three readings is meant to give time for public comment. However, using the emergency clause was necessary in the case of the alcohol measure, according to the text of the ordinance, "to prevent a loss of business revenue in the City (sic.) as the Super Bowl is rapidly approaching."
Sunday alcohol sales have been a contentious issue in the past six months. The ordinance effected Monday amended an earlier law, enacted in 2009 in response to the repeal of a state-wide abolition on Sunday sales. The 2009 ordinance reaffirmed the city's Sunday prohibition.
Reece angered some in the community this summer, when he told several businesses they could sell alcohol on Sundays, despite the existing law to the contrary.
He later retracted that permission, saying he had misunderstood the existing ordinance. City officials then proposed changing the ordinance to allow Sunday sales, but backed down after continued dissent.
The ordinance passed Monday appears to be a compromise.
In other business, council members:
* Passed a resolution urging the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which is responsible for collecting local sales taxes, to provide more information to city officials. The city was forced to refund tens of thousands of dollars in sales tax collections to the state last year.
However, city officials were handicapped in their attempts to learn more, because the state would not reveal the identity of the business that received the refund.
* Passed an ordinance mandating that money paid to the District Court by criminal defendants first be distributed to victim restitution and, then, divided equally between court costs and fines, also utilizing the emergency clause.
* Adopted several new building codes, also utilizing the emergency clause.
* Voted to vacate several alleys and streets, not currently in use, which cross the property of Donetta Andrews. The ordinance said the move was necessary "to insure (sic.) that the land may be freely developed." It was also passed using the emergency clause.
City Council will meet again at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in City Hall, located just south of the intersection of South Springfield Avenue and Main Street, in Green Forest. For more information, call 870-438-5568.