Currently, the department is displaced because of the Ash Flat Library renovations. The city will retain one bay of the current building and the small room currently being utilized for living quarters as well as a storage area. The city is also in the process of having a pole barn built to house the city's fire trucks.
The city previously obtained land from Fred and Charlotte Goodwin near Sonic in Ash Flat in exchange for the city moving a sewer lift station that was housed in the middle of the property. The land was then surveyed and an architect drew up plans for the facility.
It was not until nearly two years later that the project went out for bid, without financing in place. The city explored an option of a bond issuance through Crews and Associates, as well as financing through a local bank, but nothing was ever agreed upon. Both entities were present for a council meetings.
Clint Wiles with First National Banking Company presented a bid for a franchise revenue bond to the council in February.
Wiles' proposal was based on a $650,000 construction cost, with $10,000 to issue the bond. The $660,000 revenue bond had some stipulations, including that no tax revenues can be used toward repayment of the bond. At that time, it was determined, the city could not go with the bond option or the previous because the payments were too expensive for both options.
Council approved to put the department out for bids in August. Bids were finally opened for the fire department Aug. 26. All the bids were higher than the initial estimate for building the structure two years ago, with the price estimated to be around $650,000.
The low bidder was Allen Construction, Incorporated with a $720,655 bid, which was over $100,000 less than the next lowest bidder. Because council could not accept the bid at the initial opening, a special meeting was then set for Sept.1 to discuss the city's options for either accepting the bid or exploring one final option.
During the first meeting, Allen explained he could lower his bid because the facility was bid through a specifications book which had some options that he could negotiate out, amounting to just over $40,000. Traw told him he could not negotiate anything without rebidding the entire project.
According to Arkansas Code 22-9-203, relative to bid award procedures, the agency can negotiate with the lowest bidder if the low bid is within 25 percent of the amount appropriated.
At first special meeting, Traw also presented a second option to council, purchasing Dillard GMC, which is selling their franchise. Traw also said he had a "builder" estimate the cost to renovate the building at $100,000, and pointed out there is an additional seven acres, offering the city room for expansion at the Dillard location.
Nothing was resolved at the first meeting and many went away angry. Due to the uncertainty of the negotiations with Dillard and the desperate need for a solution to the fire department's future, council asked the mayor to bring a statement to a second special meeting Sept. 8.
The document from Terry Dillard of Dillard GMC was to state he would sell the building to the city after the first of the year for $350,000. Dillard appeared at the council meeting and provided the documentation, explaining to the group he was not going out of business but was simply selling his GMC franchise to Mark Martin.
Discussion then ensued about the options, with an portion of council staunchly opposed to the purchase of the Dillard location. Both pros and cons were weighed. The main issue seemed to be whether to purchase an old remodeled building or construct the new building as planned on the land the city acquired.
Before the Sept. 8 meeting began Traw passed around a small drawing to council and Fire Chief Stacy Horton. The rough drawing was based on estimates given by a Bill LaCount, a local builder with WSL Landscaping, Incorporated, who was present at the meeting. Ash Flat Fire Chief Stacy Horton was not asked to be present during the "walk through" of the building to assist Traw in determining the needs of the department for the estimate for remodeling, nor did Traw consult an architect, which will require for the bid process.
Questions of LaCount regarding the newly reduced price of the remodel by Allen disclosed, LaCount, although licensed, was not a licensed commercial builder, which is a requirement for a commercial remodeling project.
Council and audience members then discussed the pros and cons of each option.
Residents present for the meeting, including Brenda Baldridge were in favor of saving money and purchasing the Dillard GMC building. Most cited the room for expansion, cost and ease of access to the highway for the department as the main reasons this was the most viable options.
Council members Thomas Rigsby and Sue Ross discussed the cost of remodeling the old building versus building a new facility, explaining they should go forward with their original plan. Ross and Rigsby both said felt the city did not need seven acres of land.
Other considerations were the uncertainty of the cost of the remodeling. Alderman Annette Wolverton asked why nothing was brought to the meeting by Allen and Horton regarding the items that could be negotiated out of the building. Alderman Rigsby explained to Wolverton, until the bid was accepted, nothing could be negotiated.
Traw asked if Allen's bid could be reduced, why he didn't price it cheaper during the initial bid process. Allen explained to the mayor the bid process stating it has to be bid from a specification book and there were options that could be negotiated out after it was accepted.
After more heated discussion, Alderman Thomas Rigsby made a motion to vote to accept the bid submitted by Allen to allow him to further reduce the cost with deductions previously discussed. Ross also said, she was ready to vote.
Traw then said, "I can make it real simple." To which Rigsby said, "I can make it real simple too, I make a motion on the floor we vote for this fire station."
Traw then said, "You don't have the right, I determine who gets the bids. By the State of Arkansas I am the one who decides on the bids, you can look it up if you want to. At this time I am throwing all bids for the firehouse out."
When asked what he meant, Traw said, "I have the right to refuse all bids and you don't have a say so. We are not going to settle this until we get back with the right bids."
With this members of council were both shocked and disappointed with the mayor, openly voicing their opinions.
At the suggestion of Horton, the mayor appointed a committee to oversee the plans for the new department. They will bring their findings to the Sept. 19 regular monthly council meeting. At this time, the city is back to square one in regard to the station's future.