Animal Control issues, annexation of Cherokee Acres, issues with a water franchise fee and a one percent sales tax were the main topics at the June 23 meeting of the Cherokee Village City Council.
Animal Control issues brought on a lengthy discussion among council members. Alderwoman Verna Mae Newman asked Cherokee Village Police Chief Rick Crook to review his monthly report with council as numerous members had questions regarding expenses related to the shelter.
Crook outlined how keeping animals at the shelter was more cost effective than euthanization. When the shelter was established, it was designed to be a shelter and, due to rising numbers, members say it has become a Humane Society. Crook said the facility had 40 take-in's and 38 outgoing for the month. He conducted research showing dog food cost is $5.95 per bag, which averages a cost of 26 cents a day to feed a dog, while euthanization medication costs $10.00 plus the additional disposal fee of $7..50. Currently the shelter has 60 dogs and 49 cats. The cost to feed cats is only 7 cents per day. Animals must be kept for at least 5 days.
The shelter has recently paired with a non-profit called Animal Help and Humane Association (AHHA) and they are working on ways to keep costs down by securing cost-effective food suppliers, which would donate animal food. Business owner Bob Matselboba and AHAA have set up locations for dog food donations and have received 60-70 pounds in the barrels at various business locations in Sharp County. An auction will be held in Town Center in front of City Hall on Sunday, July 10 at 6 p.m. which Matselboba hopes will raise $1,000 to help with shelter costs. Over 300 items have been donated, and Matselboba hopes more will come in before the event. AHHA is also looking for foster families to take in some of the dogs from the shelter.
Alderman Tom Thone said the Batesville shelter facility, which serves a city three times larger than Cherokee Village, has a maximum of 45 dogs. Thone suggested when they reach a maximum, not to take in any more animals. He suggested posting a sign indicating when the shelter was not taking animals and any dropped off would not be cared for. The sign would attempt to prevent unwanted drop offs at the facility.
Crook said, "There are also speed limit signs, does that mean people don't speed?"
Crook said the city also has to deal with dogs that are picked up through animal control that may be vicious, and the department cannot just leave these dogs on the streets of the city.
Alderman Jerry Adams said, "We are trying to solve a county animal problem with our shelter when all the other cities have a sales tax and we don't." Crook agreed with Adams.
Mayor Llyod Hefley replied saying, "We must use the most humane way to deal with it. It don't matter if we have 40 or 100." Thone then brought up figures indicating the city has already spent $5,428 for food this year.
The mayor said, "They need to start providing food or the council is going to make them start euthanizing."
Alderman Ray Torbit told council a member of the non-profit AHHA group told him the organization has not been able to secure donated dog food because of the flooded and tornado ravished areas in the Mid South. Those locations are getting priority in receiving the pet food that is so vitally needed in Cherokee Village. AHHA is also asking the community to donate chain link fence and picnic tables for the proposed dog park, which will serve dog owners throughout the Spring River area.
When the shelter was initially established, there was no indication it would be a self supporting operation.
It was understood that city assistance would be needed. Costs associated with the shelter include food, bedding, medical supplies, as well as labor costs, although volunteers are heavily utilized. The current animal control officer is on the city's payroll.
Many of the animals at the shelter, who are adoptable, have been successfully placed in rescue, where they are transported to homes in other locations, many outside the county and even the state.
There are currently 14 being rescued by agencies. At the time they are taken into rescue, Matselboba said the rescue agency provides food. In addition to rescue efforts, the shelter also hosts adoption drives. Matselboba said, "We are not having a lot of luck with these." He has plans that will make the shelter cost effective and told the council, "I hope you guys don't cut me off at the knees before I get started."
Council then proceeded to the second and final reading of the ordinance that would annex Cherokee Acres into Cherokee Village.
The ordinance passed and that area of the Village will formally become part of the city in 90 days. There are 10 residents who live in the are,a which is completely surrounded by Cherokee Village, but was not a part of the city until the annexation.
That has been a sore subject for many land owners who did not wish to be included in the city.
The city recently passed a franchise fee to be charged on water in the city. The water department has not outlined its plans to collect the fee, which becomes effective after July 31. City attorney Jon Abele said the water department has passed its allocated time limit to appeal the fee to the Public Service Commission or in Circuit Court. He said if it does not collect the monies, the city can sue the water company. Alderman Tom Thone said, "The water company is owned by the residents of the city. If we sue, isn't it essentially the same thing as the city sueing the city? I feel the proper thing to do is to visit with them and see if they plan on paying."
The Cherokee Village Water Department had a Little Rock attorney send a letter indicating they do not owe the fees. Newman then commented that the water department feels they are not a public utility, which is what the franchise fee is based upon, collecting taxes from public utilities, such as electric companies in many cities.
Adams suggested the mayor request a member of the water board to appear at council to explain their intentions.
The mayor agreed to do so, but Alderman Kent Viers said that he heard a member of the board, named "Rick," say they were not planning to pay the fees. This matter will be revisited at a future council meeting.
City council read the ordinance calling for a special election to levy a one percent sales and use tax within the city. After the second and third readings, council voted to hold the election on September 13. Tom Thone was the only member of the council who voted against the tax.
Thone has said, at previous meetings, he feels the city should work on ways of cutting spending before passing the tax. The special election is estimated to cost the city between $2,100 and $2,800. Adams suggested the city visit with Sharp County Clerk Tommy Estes about possibly sharing the cost of the election with the Highland School District, as it is having a school board election on the same day. Hefley said he would visit with Estes about the matter.
Alderman Russ Stokes also asked the mayor to discuss who is responsible for setting the cost of the election.
Prior to adjournment, Alderman Lynn Maxedon passed out information for the council to consider prior to the July 7 Financial Task Force meeting, which will discuss budget shortfalls and attempt to come up with a balanced budget.
The handout indicated that by the end of the year, the city's reserves will be reduced by $247,031. This includes $84,256 of reserves spent from January through May. The mayor projects the city to have a $162,775 deficit from June through the end of the year. In addition, the city was notified its LOPFI cost was higher than expected, at $189,311, and the city's SITT credit is less than expected, Cherokee Village will be billed $81,243, which is $24,290 over what was initially budgeted for the expense.
Maxedon also suggested deleting $95,000 from the budget for special street projects and reducing labor costs by giving a $500 incentive for early retirement, as well as a $500 incentive for anyone agreeing to drop their hours to half time, toalso reduce benefit cost.
The alderman noted these voluntary labor cutting ideas should be subject to manager approval.
The financial task force will meet July 7 at 5:30 p.m., prior to the regular Cherokee Village City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend both meetings.