Tuesday night’s Batesville City Council had a busy agenda as the retired firefighters pension fund issue and a new ordinance limiting the hours of bars, nightclubs, and private clubs were addressed. And Independence County Judge Robert Griffin spoke to the council regarding the county’s current suspension of curbside recycling pick-up.
Judge Griffin told the council the county’s suspension of curbside residential recycling for 60 days was because of a lack of community service (CS) workers. The CS workers are used to pick up recyclables and to sort them at the county recycling center.
The judge said he has no control over the release of community service workers from the jail.
“Our only option,” Griffin said, “other than an increase in fees, was to move the route drivers into the plant to sort and bale materials collected from commercial collections and drop-off materials.”
He said that Oil Trough, Newark, Magness and Sulphur Rock would use trailers provided by the county to continue curbside pickup of recycled material. Southside, Pleasant Plains, and Cushman will have trailers set up at locations for the convenience of local residents.
Griffin said he has offered a trailer to Batesville for continued curbside residential pickup. “The law is clear,” he said, “a responsibility exists for each city to provide for recycling.”
It was incorrectly reported previously that the halt of curbside pickup only affected rural households, but it turns out that it affects Batesville households as well because it was a county driver and trailer, along with CS workers, who picked up recyclables in the city.
Mayor Rick Elumbaugh said one trailer would not be enough for Batesville residents to take recycled materials to. He asked Griffin if the city could get more. Griffin said that might be possible. He said five more trailers are being built.
Elumbaugh said he, the council and city employees would consider the best locations for the collection trailers.
Griffin had said in his presentation that recycling has never been a profit-making operation. Historically, the county loses about $250,000 a year on recycling.
He said the county would continue to pick up cardboard and recyclables from commercial businesses. He said revenue from those sources exceeded $74,000 for the first half of the year.
Alderman Chris Poole asked if the city would get a portion of the revenue from recycling if it collects the materials itself. Griffin said he’d have to look at the numbers to see if that was possible. He also said curbside pickup in Batesville collects more recycled material than the rest of the county combined.
Alderman David Shetron said the recycling system is flawed and unfair. He said the use of community service workers is like using “indentured servants.” Those found guilty of misdemeanors in district court are often sentenced to community service to work off their fines.
When discussing the possibility of using city workers to perform curbside recycling pickup, Mayor Elumbaugh mentioned that the city is having difficulty filling open positions in the street and sanitation departments because the unemployment rate is so low.
Ordinance passes limiting operating hours of bars, nightclubs, and private clubs
The city council passed an ordinance Tuesday limiting the operating hours for bars, nightclubs, and private clubs.
The ordinance makes it unlawful for an owner, operator or an employee of a bar, nightclub or private club to serve alcoholic beverages or permit the consumption of any alcoholic beverages on the premises of the business between the hours of 1 a.m. and 9 a.m.
These businesses must close at 1 a.m. on any day. The law also states that patrons, members and guests of these clubs must vacate the premises, including the parking lots, within 30 minutes of closing.
Violation of the law shall be deemed a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine of $100 to $500.
The ordinance says there are approximately 10 private clubs with a license from the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board within the city limits. One of them – the Duck Blind at Ramada Inn – has operated as late as 5 a.m. The others were allowed by ABC to stay open until 2 a.m. although many of them do not stay open that late.
Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill said that his department has had problems with clubs that stay open late and asked for the ordinance.
The council waived the second and third reading of the ordinance and approved it on a 6-0 vote. An emergency clause was also passed, making it effective immediately.
Retired firefighters fund facing insolvency
Members of a retired firefighters pension fund pleaded with the city council at Tuesday’s meeting to help them save the fund from insolvency.
Larry Guenzel, one of the retirees, asked the mayor and council members to agree to a meeting with the pension fund board members to seek a solution. This was not the first time that such a meeting has been requested.
Guenzel also said members of the pension fund board planned to meet with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge later this month. He said the attorney general already has issued an opinion that the city council could increase the millage rate that produces revenue that goes into the pension fund from .4 mills to a full mill.
Guenzel said the meeting with the attorney general was aimed at getting more clarity about the issue. There are two ways to increase millage rates: by a ballot initiative or by council action. City Attorney Tim Meitzen has said he believes the council can increase the millage by a vote of the council. Other attorneys have advised the mayor and council not to do it that way.
If it is placed on the ballot in November, it would take two years before any revenue is generated from the millage increase. Taxes are assessed on the year and collected the following year. Actuaries have said the pension fund will be insolvent in two years.
Guenzel also stressed to the council that the fund’s problems are not the result of bad investments. Rather, he said the fund lost value during national economic downturns.
Reporting by Bob Qualls
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