Cherokee Village discusses sales tax increases: Citizens’ input welcome

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Cherokee Village (CV) City Council met on Thursday, Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. Mayor Russell Stokes brought the meeting to order. The mayor added to the current agenda confirmation of an appointment to the planning and zoning commission (P&Z), and Councilman Peter Martin added an item on monthly working meetings. The amended agenda was approved, as well as the minutes from the Nov. 18 council meeting and the Dec. 2 budget meeting.

City Clerk Penny Trumpy then read recent correspondence, including a letter of retirement from Fire Chief Johnny Pendarvis, effective Dec. 31, 2021. Trumpy continued to read other letters of early retirement from Firemen Richard Stowers, Kelly Ford and Lt. Donald Sellers. Each letter expressed their honor in serving the citizens of CV over the years, and their regret in leaving their positions as fire fighters under the recent financial burdens the city is facing. In addition, the men respectfully acknowledged the brotherhood they had developed with the other men of the fire department whom they have served alongside over the years and will deeply miss.

After the letters were read, the mayor, council and audience gave all of the retiring firemen an emotional standing ovation. Mayor Stokes then added, “It’s been a pleasure to get to know these fire fighters…As indicated by their letters of retirement, they had a strong dedication as fire fighters and their service to the community will be missed. We appreciate what they have done to make this city move forward.”

In the mayor’s report, he had recently spoken with a representative from an engineering firm hired by the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) regarding the proposed bridge construction. The conversation concerned the location and size of a concrete berm to be built on the Iroquois Drive side of the bridge across from CV Town Center. “Its purpose will be to keep that pool of water there so we’ll have a nice area for people to enjoy,” said Stokes. It will be constructed from Azar stone so it will look more natural. No definite start date for construction has been set, but will likely be in late spring or summer.

Stokes also addressed concerns about dump trucks loaded with rock coming through CV as a short-cut to a county bridge project, causing damage to some side streets. He has contacted the state police department about checking the weight of these trucks on Iroquois Drive, the only street the state has jurisdiction over.

The mayor recognized a CV citizen, Joseph Hunter, who had come to the aid of a law enforcement officer while traveling through Jackson County. The officer was trying to subdue a person who was armed with a knife, and Hunter and another individual helped to quell the situation so the individual could be taken into custody. The Jackson County Quorum Court judge had contacted Stokes to commend Hunter for his actions. “If any of you know this gentleman, you might mention to him that we are proud to have citizens like him living here in Cherokee Village,” said Stokes.

Stokes also mentioned broad band improvements are being considered statewide, and currently CV ranks 48th out of 50 in the state as far as internet speed. There is a survey available, and citizens can participate by bringing a smart phone to city hall to take a picture of the QSR code to activate the survey. There will be meetings held throughout the state by different internet providers, and input from citizens may help determine where funds for broad band availability will be distributed.

The mayor continued by displaying reports from each department for the audience to view. Of note, Police Chief Monte Lane is recovering from a heart attack he had earlier in December, and he will be back to work sometime after the start of 2022, according to Stokes. “He’s progressing well,” said the mayor. Two new vehicles for the police department are expected to arrive soon as well, and the equipment necessary to get them ready for the street is already on hand.

Councilman Rob Smith reported for the advertising and promotions commission (A&P), who are working hard planning for the 2024 solar eclipse event. “It seems like it’s a long way off, but it’s not going to be [given the anticipated influx of visitors the event will bring],” said Smith. The A&P will also be sending two representatives to Chicago on Jan. 27 through Jan. 31 for a retirement living conference. In 2019, they had met with more than 125 individuals who were interested in CV. “Out of those, approximately five actually came to Cherokee Village to visit to see if they really wanted to live here. So this year, we’ve really got to beef up our efforts,” said Smith.

Mayor Stokes commented the Sharp County airport is looking to extend its runway to accommodate heavier private jets. This is in anticipation of more air traffic as Emerson and other companies bring more employment and business to the area.

Sharp, Fulton and Izard counties have submitted grants to implement funding for recycling by Tri-County Solid Waste. All grants have been approved, as was revealed recently by the White River Planning and Development District. The City of CV also contributes to recycling by approximately $1 per citizen.

Under new business, residents Karen Page, Roy Echols and new resident Jim Gilley, representatives of the trails committee, approached council about their report to ARDOT, to which final engineer drawings of trail plans in CV were submitted on Nov. 24. The plans were currently under review. Echols said they would need to submit right-of-way and environmental clearances to get things moving. They have cleared the land in the trail area and by February will have the rock hauled away, with March being a back-up month in case the weather does not cooperate. The plan is to open the trail in April. They will be meeting with Fulton County officials as well in hopes they can provide equipment and manpower necessary to carve out the trails. “Once we begin clearing,” said Echols, “we’re going to need brush pulled out of the way, that’s feet on the ground, and maybe some tractors and things like that.”

Echols introduced Gilley who has had experience with trail planning and construction. As an avid biker who has lived in several cities, Gilley spoke about the importance of trails to the city. “People have really started to make migrations to communities that are moving to walking, hiking, biking and triking…triking is another big activity of a lot of folks that are a little bit older and don’t like sitting up to ride on a bike…I’m hoping we can all find our path to get behind those activities. I really see something great happening here,” said Gilley. Echols summarized stating they needed support from the city in applying for grants for trail expansion, as well as community support. They will approach city council again in January.

Next on the agenda was a request for sick pay appropriations, which involves pay to the recently retired firemen, unexpected pay that was not accounted for at the time of budget planning for 2021. Mayor Stokes asked council to approve $60,748.80 to cover the cost of sick days for the fire fighters. Motions were made and the allocation was approved.

A sales tax proposal was on the table, presented via two 2022 ordinances in their first reading. The first provided for a levy of a one percent increase in sales and use tax in CV, as read by City Clerk Trumpy. Councilman Martin had a concern about where the increased revenue would go, and Councilman Steve Thompson said it would go into the general fund to be later appropriated by the city council. The legal language had been approved by City Attorney Jon Abele, who was not present.

The final approval of the tax increase will be voted on by the citizens of Cherokee Village in May 2022, as was explained in the second ordinance read by Trumpy. Thompson asked about specifics of the language of the second ordinance, whether it included an additional one percent in sales tax or just the original one percent. The mayor agreed to ask Attorney Abele about it. Much discussion followed among council members about the exact amount of sales tax increase as far as what to ask of the citizens and balancing the management of the city, on both a short-term and long-term basis. No vote by council to adopt either ordinance will be needed until February 2022 before the issue can go before the election board to be placed on the ballot for May.

Mayor Stokes then moved to a new appointment for P&Z, and recommended Tom Trumpy from Ward 2 to be appointed. Motions were made and passed to add Trumpy to the commission.

Councilman Martin then made the proposal to hold a working meeting every month on Monday prior to the regular Thursday council meeting. It would be a discussion of the upcoming agenda, and not a legislative meeting, but an opportunity for council members to meet outside the regular meeting. “This meeting will only last 10 to 15 minutes,” assured Martin, to several chuckles from other council members.

Councilman Chuck Kristopeit commented, “I think it’s important right now, given the fact that we’re looking to increase the sales tax, and it’s going to go before the public in an election, I think it’s an important thing to have a lot of this ironed out and we can do that during those working meetings.”

Thompson suggested putting such working meetings on hold until the city can hold a town hall meeting with a focus on an increase in sales tax and involve the mayor and as many citizens and council members as possible. “There is one issue that is so critical to this city’s financial health and that is the additional sales tax,” said Thompson. “January, February and March really need to be a time when the citizens of the community can come together, ask questions about what we’re contemplating on sales tax because it’s such a major issue,” he added. Thompson was not discounting the need for the kind of meetings Martin was proposing, he was just prioritizing a more immediate need to get input from citizens prior to decisions being made on the proposed sales tax ordinances.

It was agreed that informal public working meetings will begin in February on the Monday before the council meeting at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. The mayor will make sure there are no conflicts with the municipal league. Motions were made and passed to begin working meetings in February.

The Cherokee Village City Council meets the third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. A public working meeting will be held monthly on the Monday the week of the council meeting at 6:30 p.m., beginning Feb. 14, 2022.

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