Batesville City Council meet: Police department HQ moving to new location, private club app approved, firefighters fund issue going to voters, and more

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The Batesville Police Department will be moving to a new location in a few months. That was just one of the items discussed during a busy Batesville City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Police Chief Alan Cockrill told the council that an offer had been made and accepted on the former Dowell Transport property in the industrial park.

The property at 51 Industrial Dr. includes five acres of land, 4,000 square feet of office space, a large shop, and approximately one acre of asphalt parking.

The transaction followed a special council meeting on Aug. 9 at which the property was discussed. The city offered $500,000 on the property. It was originally listed for $625,000. At the meeting last week, the council authorized Mayor Rick Elumbaugh and Chief Cockrill to negotiate the purchase.

Cockrill said he was getting quotes on remodeling the building and on the furnishings. He said he estimated the remodeling project would take four to six months.

He said he already has sponsorship commitments from First Community Bank and Bad Boy, Inc., to help with the cost.

At last week’s meeting, Cockrill said he knew there would be concerns about the new office being located at the north end of the city. The department is currently located at 300 S. Central Ave.

Cockrill assured the council that the move would not decrease police presence in town.

He gave the council a sample of shift assignments that showed how officers would be spaced across town on each shift.

In other action Tuesday, the city council approved an application for a private club permit. The council’s action is subject to the approval of the permit by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) division. The state legislature changed the law regarding private club permits in 2017. It requires a city or a county in which the private club is located to obtain approval of the local governing body before the ABC division.

Paragould attorney Harry Truman Moore told the council about the change in the law and said that he believes the law is flawed and will likely be amended when the state general assembly convenes at its next session. However, Moore said, it’s the law that those seeking private club permits must follow until it is amended or struck down by the courts.

Moore is representing Cecilio Jasso Pina on behalf of a private club to be known as “Pesto Dining Club d/b/a (doing business as) Mi Ranchito of Batesville.” The business is located at 5 Eagle Mountain Dr., and Moore said it has operated in Batesville as a restaurant for 17 years.

Moore told the council that its approval does not mean the council members are passing judgment on the merits of the application. Rather, it is allowing the applicant to go to the ABC division, which will perform the background checks, solicit public comment and advertise the permit application.

The council voted 8-0 to approve the ordinance and also an emergency clause so the establishment can proceed with the process.

In other council business, Batesville voters will have the chance to choose whether to increase the millage rate that funds a retired firefighters pension fund.

The city council also approved 8-0 an ordinance to place the question of increasing the millage from four-tenths of a mill (.4) to a full one mill on the November election ballot.

The ordinance states that the Batesville Firemen’s Pension and Relief Fund is no longer actuarially sound. There are currently 16 retired firemen and spouses of deceased firemen who depend on the pension for income.

It further states that, “per amendment 59 of the Arkansas Constitution the only way to increase the millage from .4 mills to one mill is to refer the issue to a popular election by the citizens …”

In the previous council meeting, it was established that 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 voters approve the millage increase in November, it would take two years before any revenue is generated from the millage increase. Taxes are assessed one year and collected the following year. Actuaries have said the pension fund will be insolvent in two years.

The council also approved an emergency clause so the issue can be referred to voters in the Nov. 6 election.

In other business, the city council authorized Mayor Elumbaugh to apply for a matching grant to improve recreational facilities.

The mayor will seek funding assistance from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Outdoor Recreation Grant Program. The 50/50 matching grant will help fund the development of a “splash pad” at the corner of North Hill Street and Carter Street near West Magnet Elementary School.

The council also welcomed a new member, Ronda Bryant, who was appointed to complete the term of Dr. Chris Beller, who resigned the Ward 3, Position 2 seat and moved outside the city.

The council also approved a request by Nick Sloan to have a water meter installed at 688 Bethesda Rd. The location is outside the city limits. Sloan said in his request that if and when this property becomes contiguous to the city limits, he will petition for annexation.

The mayor requested and the council agreed to move the next council meeting up a day to Monday, Aug. 27. The change was made so the mayor can attend the ribbon cutting ceremony Aug. 28 of the new UAMS building located adjacent to Hobby Lobby in Batesville. Also attending will be the new Chancellor for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Dr. Cam Patterson.

Reporting by Bob Qualls

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