Cherokee Village Council hosts Town Hall meeting
Note: Due to the length of the meeting and the volume of information and comments presented, this story will be a two-part series with council member and city comments running this week and citizens’ comments running the next week. The full meeting can be viewed in its entirety on our Facebook page, Areawide Media.
Approximately 200 citizens were in attendance during the Town Hall meeting hosted by the City of Cherokee Village at the Omaha Center Oct. 2.
Mayor Russell Stokes explained the meeting would include introductions and brief speeches given by the council members, followed by citizen speakers who had signed a sign-up sheet to address the council.
Alderman Jerry Adams was the first to speak. He gave a brief overview of his 15 year history in Cherokee Village as well as the organizations he was an active participant in, outside of his duties as council.
Alderman Rob Smith, a resident of Cherokee Village since 2003, said he had been on the city council since 2015 but soon turned his focus to speak in regards to his fellow council members. He talked about the valuable hours many council members and the mayor have donated to helping Cherokee Village. He also addressed rumors which have been circulating across the area since the Suburban Improvement District’s [SID] decision to reassess and select a new levy rate based on the reassessment.
Alderman Steve Thompson, a resident of Cherokee Village since 1999 presented paperwork to the audience which showed two examples of properties in the Village and where tax dollars were going and changes had been taking place over the years.
“I brought in a hand out and there are some examples on that page. I went to Kathy Nix and these are actual properties within Cherokee Village,” Thompson said.
The examples were a home appraised in 1996 with a value of $61,875. At that time, the SID tax was $137.50 Assessed = 12,375 x 33.50 mills = $414.56 school/county tax. The same property in 2017, appraised value $135,650. Assessed = $27,130 x 40.85 mills = $1,108.26 school/county tax.,” Thompson read as he went through the handout. “I also received an assessment from a more expensive home also in Cherokee Village. In 1996, appraised value was $186,500. Assessed = 37,3000 x 33.50 mills = $1,249.50 with SID at $269. The same property in 2017 appraised value was $397,850. Assessed = 79,570 x 40.85 mills = $3,250.43 with SID at $269.”
Thompson went on to state the majority of taxes being paid by the citizens were to the county and school and the SID rates had, for all intents and purposes, not increased until recently for many years.
“I’m here tonight to help my fellow council members separate facts from fiction and to add the truth of what I’ve witnessed in Cherokee Village, specifically my last four years on city council. My effort has focused on the handout. While you may not agree with the change, it is in compliance with state statues. The new appraisal was comprised by a licensed and bonded firm and the SID exists by state statutes as do hundreds of others. The appraiser and fees in 1974 stayed that way from 1996 for the next 20 plus years,” Thompson said as he moved on to address the fee. “These fees are along with your school taxes with the school taxes making up the majority of your tax bill and are the source of the major increases in your tax bills. The examples you were provided were for homes appraised in 1996 and again in 2017 for your breakdown. You should go to the county tax office for Sharp or Fulton counties to obtain the facts. You should not rely on blogs or rumors. This evening I’m honored to be with the city council and mayor.”
Thompson reminded the audience the city council members were residents as well and would also be paying the new fees. It was also noted the council does not receive pay for serving in their positions as council members.
Alderman Les Covington was next to speak and chose to address the city budget and made note of how far the city had come under the current leadership.
“I’ve been a resident in the area since we moved here 15 years ago and made a home here and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been on council for six years now. I serve on the budget committee and I have for a number of years now. I used to sit at home and dread going to do the city budget, but under the current leadership and the department heads we have, it’s been a joy to do our budget,” Covington said. “We’re not where we want to be but we’re trying to get there and doing it with good fiscal responsibility. We have one of the finest staffs out there.
Alderman Chuck McMahon drew the audience’s attention to a pamphlet he had prepared titled Road and Streets; A Perspective.
“I’d like to lead you through it a little bit because a lot of people don’t realize what 186 miles of paved road is in the Village. For perspective, 186 miles of paved road is from here to Fort Smith or to the Kansas/Oklahoma border. From here to Little Rock isn’t even enough, you’d have to go another 50 miles passed Little Rock to get all of the paved road we have in Cherokee Village,” McMahon said.
He then began to move through the paperwork and addressed a lack of funding for paving materials.
“Grants have been mentioned and we are constantly working for grants. The last time we qualified for the state aid grant and they are coming back out they probably won’t pave us by the end of this year but we will get paved and that’ll pave Sequoia Ridge, Hiawatha and Pontiac Drive out to 62/412,” McMahon said. “We have a plan and the plan was based on the estimated money we were going to get from the SID reassessment. Three years ago I asked Jerry Hawbaker if he’d work on this plan. It was going to be a five year plan, but five years wasn’t going to work out but it’s turned into a nine-year plan. With the money coming in the next nine years, we can improve your roads. Not everybody will get hot-mix asphalt, we just don’t have the money for that.”
Newest Alderman and OEM coordinator for the city, David Woods also spoke. He gave a brief overview of new emergency related programs which had been added to the Village and were a benefit to the people.
“Before I make a vote that’s going to affect all of you, we all live here too so every vote we make don’t affect just you it affects us. We’re going to do due diligence and the legal way to do things,” Woods said. “Everyone has ideas. Is it legal? Check it out, is it in the best interest of the people but before I make a vote I may not be the most popular with this council on my vote because I’m not a ‘yes’ person. I may not be the most popular with the people on an issue but I promised when I took over this position that when I go to bed I can look myself in the mirror and sleep well at night because I know I have done what is best.”
Alderman Chuck Kristopeit, an active volunteer in the community, chose to share a report of the statistics from the Welcome Center located inside city hall. He also talked to the audience and encouraged them to attend meetings in order to be better informed.
Kristopeit also addressed the push for a class action lawsuit. He noted the money was the people’s money and if a suit were pursued, the people’s money which would be better spent improving the Village would instead be spent during the suit.
“One thing brought to my attention was talk about a class action lawsuit one things to consider regarding that is when something like that takes place there’s a possibility the money coming from SID and helps drive our city in fire and roads that money could be put in escrow until a court case is closed,” Kristopeit said.
Councilwoman Pamela Rowland was the final council member to address the audience. She began with an introduction of herself and moved onto give a brief summery of the list of community organizations and activities she is involved with in addition to her position on council.
“I want everyone to understand we’re not saying these things because we want you to think we’re great. We have come to the conclusion that we have somehow lost touch with the people we serve. We want all of you to know who we are, not only what we’re doing in the seats but what we do outside of those seats. How we serve you beyond that one meeting a month. I had this huge long thing I was going to read. I poured my heart on paper. I was going to talk about what I feel and what I feel you need to hear from me,” Rowland said.
She moved on to speak of the state of the city and how far it has come in the last six years. She recalled the struggles throughout the years but praised the current leadership in place in Cherokee Village.
Rowland presented a document to the audience titled About Our City. It contained information regarding the city, it’s officials, meeting dates and times for committees and council and more.
“This is basic info I think is so important for people to have. We’re a first class city. It tells about the role of city council and mayor. Your city council is your legislative. We make the ordinances and are the purse string. Mayor runs the day to day operations and is the ceremonial figure head for the city,” Rowland said.
She then spoke of the public safety committee and the need to resurrect it as over time, due to loss of participation through members deaths or relocation, it has faded away. Rowland made a plea for increased communication and a united community. Although she had prepared a lengthy letter to share with the audience, she chose to read a portion of the letter rather than its entirety.
“The only part of this I’d like to read is this right here. I hope after this meeting tonight is over, this room will have a much better understanding of what this administration does. I hope everyone here will now have the tools they need to get factual information. I hope when everyone leaves this room tonight there is a rekindled spirit of community. I hope we start seeing more faces at our meetings and participation in our community. I hope if any of you have any concerns, complaints, ideas or questions, you reach out to your council member. Utilize them and utilize us. I hope we can bring down the tone of the divisiveness in this community and remember we are all human beings and that we are all we have. Us as a community. No one is going to save us we have to save ourselves. I hope when you hear something around town you stop and say is it true, did I research, did I ask the proper people, should I spread this? I hope those who are here tonight who may want to cause more divisiveness and look are they for them or out for the betterment of this village,” Rowland said. “If you think you’ve found something that’s not right and have a passion this council will help but when you start mud slinging and put people in the ground, that’s wrong. I hope that after tonight we all realize how very blessed we are to live in Cherokee Village. Beautiful place and people from everywhere. I want positive here, progression here, everyone to look at their neighbor every day and see the good lord woke me up and I’m happy to see you what can we do today as a community to make the sun shine just a little brighter. I know you have concerns. We have concerns. I know you’re angry I hear you and you have a voice. Your voice could be heard best at our meetings. If you come to a meeting and want to speak I will make sure you can speak. I take this very seriously and I take it very seriously when I’m being called names and slandered but when you’re working your rear end off and hear that every day. I hope tonight you’re about to get a chance to speak and I’m looking forward to hearing that but after tonight can we please go out not the same people we cane in and go out as a community.”