The Highland City Council met in regular monthly session, Nov. 9, with a busy agenda. Besides normal reports, there was quite a bit of new business, along with a session with the city's new fire chief. Highland Mayor Jerome Norwood also addressed council regarding a letter sent to registered voters in the city from mayoral candidate Clyde Fisher, that contained numerous items the mayor said were untrue.
Following roll call and approval of minutes from the city's Oct. 12 meeting, department reports were considered. Fire Chief Johnny Rickman addressed council with some concerns regarding the fire department and asked for its consideration when planning the 2011 budget. He asked for funding for items that could, possibly, improve the city's ISO rating. This is the rating on which insurance pricing for fire coverage is based. Rickman told council, due to the tornado and having handed down equipment, the department is lacking vital equipment to adequately equip trucks to meet ISO standards. He also said, to reduce the rating, the city will need this equipment as well as an additional pumper truck. The chief also addressed foam needed for fires that contain gas or other hazardous materials. He said the department ordered 10 gallons of the alcohol resistant foam.
Next on the agenda, Police Chief Jeremy Stevens spoke to council regarding the possibility of purchasing computers to equip the city's patrol cars. Stevens said there was money left in the budget for 2010, that wasn't used, to buy the systems. These in car computers will allow officers more time to patrol, with less time in the office and make creating and submitting reports much easier. Eventually, the computers will also allow officers to link with Vinelink for background checks and driver's license checks, freeing up valuable dispatch time for emergency concerns. Council voted unanimously to purchase the computers for the city's patrol cars.
City council members reviewed a memo from the municipal health benefit insurance that informed them the cost of the insurance would remain the same for the upcoming 2011 year.
Recorder/Treasurer Mary Wiles reviewed the month's expenditures with council before moving on to the unfinished business section of the agenda.
City council decided to table the vote on whether or not to allow Shackleford Media to build the city a new Web site. Mayor Jerome Norwood announced the city could not hire Shackleford to do the site, without first allowing others to bid on the service. After some discussion, members of council decided to table the decision on the site until a future meeting and after 2011 budgeting was complete.
Under new business, the 2011 proposed budget was presented to council to review before the Dec. 14 budget meeting, to be held at city hall at 6 p.m.
Also under new business was the reappointment of planning commission members. Lawrence Allen, Russell Truitt, Jeff Kamps and Mike York were reappointed. Dec. 31, 2010, Mayor Elect Richard Smith, current chairman of the planning commission, will be required to resign his position due to becoming mayor. This will create a vacancy on the commission. Smith recommended Michael Burton as a replacement. council agreed to revisit this issue after Smith's resignation.
In the last order of new business, Council passed resolution 10-08. The resolution was created to authorize the mayor to apply for a $14,900 grant with the Arkansas Rural Development Commission to help the city pay for 20 sets of turnout gear for the fire department. The grant is a 50/50 match, in which the city must match the additional funding for the turnouts. Council agreed to put the additional funds in the proposed budget for 2011.
In the final order of business, Mayor Norwood addressed a letter that was mailed to registered voters within the city prior to the election. The letter was from mayoral candidate Clyde Fisher. Norwood said, although it was addressed to registered voters, none of Highland's elected officials received copies. He went on to note, that these were the people who had the answers to concerns Fisher addressed within his letter.
Within the letter were "facts" as stated by the candidate and, as mayor, Norwood felt it was his duty to address each of them and back them up with facts.
Fisher first claimed the city of Highland agreed to connect three churches, the elementary and the now closed hospital to Highland's new sewer system for the city of Cherokee Village. In Norwood's response to this allegation, he said, "Allegany system was turned over to us. Property and system were deeded to the city to provide us with an approved permit location. We continued to serve the churches and all three schools that were on the original system. The change required the hospital and Dr. Jackson to provide a special pump, approximately $20,000 to receive service. All original customers were placed on billing for service."
Fisher also stating the Highland sewer system is incomplete. Norwood addressed this, stating the orignal estimate for the complete sewer system would require a loan that the city could not cover with sewer payments. The USDA agreed the city should separate the system into two phases. Phase One is completed and Phase Two is currently ready for bids.
Fisher also alleged past mayor David Shackleford, sewer chairman David Harris, Danny Taylor and Norwood made arrangements to hook up 20 plus businesses at no cost to the businesses or to the city of Cherokee Village and would maintain their sewer, with water being used as the only cost. Fisher said all of this was "unbeknownst to the past and present city council." Norwood addressed, he confronted the issue stating, "At the July 13, 2004 council meeting, there was a delegation from Cherokee Village in attendance to work out an agreement on operating a wastewater treatment plant from Highland in Cherokee Village. The city council was presented with a proposed agreement between the two cities that stated that Highland agreed to provide sewer services to those businesses in Cherokee along the highway. Service was to be provided at the same rate as Highland residences. All of these were agreed, subject to the usage being in the normal range. Alderman Clyde Fisher was at this meeting when the resolution (No. 04-30) was passed, agreeing to this." Norwood further stated, businesses are billed for sewer use the same as Highland residents and Cherokee Village Water supplies the monthly water usage.
Other concerns addressed by Fisher that were countered by Norwood included Fisher stating the city's sewer plant is reaching its capacity. Norwood told council the rated capacity for the wastewater treatment plant is 150,000 gallons daily. The mayor said the city's current day usage is only 60,000 to 70,000 gallons per day. He said the plant was designed for 20 year growth.
Fisher also stated in his letter to taxpayers that the city must borrow money along with the grant to complete Phase Two of the sewer system. Again, Norwood took time to address this concern for council and to insure taxpayers had a clear understanding of this allegation. The only portion of the project required to be covered by a loan is $128,000 of the total $903,500, for the second phase of the project. Norwood said this will be paid for by new sewer user fees with no increase in fees.
Another false allegation Norwood addressed included Fisher alleging the city was not publishing its city financial reports in the newspaper twice yearly. Norwood stated the reports are, in fact, published as required in the Areawide Record, which has a larger distribution and lower cost to the city than the Villager Journal and The News. The reports are also available for review in the recorder/treasurers office.
Norwood addressed each concern listed in the campaign letter. He welcomes anyone with questions to visit with him about any concerns they may have that were in the letter.
Highland City Council meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Highland City Hall. The public is always invited to attend these meetings.