Ash Flat Library to propose a new “Story Walk” program to city council

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Ash Flat City Council met on July 13 at 6 p.m. at Ash Flat City Hall, with Mayor Larry Fowler presiding. After the approval of the minutes from the June meeting, as well as the current meeting’s agenda, department reports followed.

The new Ash Flat Fire Chief, Adam Bates, gave the monthly report for June for his department. He had attended the fire conference in Hot Springs July 2 through 5, where fire chiefs and fire fighters from all over Arkansas convened. He has also met with representatives from Emerson and Tractor Supply, who are in compliance with fire codes in their new buildings. “They are doing the right thing,” Bates offered. There was a celebration for retired Chief Stacy Horton on June 15 who had served the Ash Flat Fire Department for more than 33 years. Bates has now filled in Horton’s position as chief, and fire fighter Chuck Crow has stepped into Bates’ position. Bates recognized another member of the Ash Flat Fire Department, Steven Rose, who has served the fire department for 17 years. Rose worked with the Ash Flat Water and Sewer Department while on a hiatus from the fire department, but is now working in both departments.

The police department report was given by Training Officer Allen Wallis for the month of June. When questioned by Fowler regarding the new police vehicles, Wallis answered that they were working out well and getting great gas mileage.

Regan Nicholson of the parks department spoke with regard to mosquito traps they had put out in all of the parks and city hall. “They work fantastic,” Nicholson said. They trimmed tree limbs in different locations, as well as repaired leaks at pump stations. Fowler made a special note to thank the City of Highland. “They sent their water and sewer superintendent over today to help fix another pump station…that was down, [which] the boys didn’t understand how to fix. Mayor Truitt let his man come over and help us out, and we appreciate that. We got that one going,” Fowler said.

The street department report from June 7 to July 8 was given by Cody Weaver. They made repairs on equipment and did some road grading as well as fixed potholes and street signs. The department also installed some street lights along Nix Ridge Road, and Weaver gave a special thank you to North Arkansas Electric Co-op for their help on that. Mayor Fowler brought up that the city was short on help and there were currently just two men, Nicholson and Weaver, covering all of the parks and street needs. There was an uproar of laughter when Nicholson announced he had “vacation time coming up next week.” With a chuckle, Fowler added, “They’re doing the best they can…They’re doing a good job trying to keep things going.”

Librarian Susan Funnell gave an update on the summer activities going on at the library. The reading program is going well with 64 children signed up. “They only have to read one book a week in order to receive a prize.” She specifically thanked the Highland Dollar General Store for their generous donations of prizes. “We really appreciate them,” Funnell added. The story time reading program is also doing well; they get between 10 to 17 children. They read to the kids, sing songs, and do crafts. Funnell continued, “We’ve had some live animals visit. They have just loved that.” The library is very thankful to the adults who are bringing their children to participate in the summer activities. The book signing with Mark Grisham, brother of John Grisham, went well and they will be having him back every June. George Jared, local journalist who has written a book “Witches in West Memphis,” will be at the library for a book signing on August 7 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Funnell also shared their statistics that show increases in book check-outs, which were up to 1,143 check-outs in the month of June, the highest they have seen since the library opened.

The library has also received a grant for $1,088, part of the American Rescue Plan specifically designed to help libraries during the COVID pandemic. Funnell wants to use this money for a new program called “Story Walk,” which is “an innovative and delightful way for children and adults to enjoy reading in the outdoors at the same time. Laminated pages from a children’s book are attached to wooden stakes which are installed along an outdoor path.” Participants would stroll along the trail and read a new part of the story. Funnell will be asking council’s approval to use the funds for that purpose in the near future.

Council members Fred Goodwin and Sean Himschoot gave a brief report on the progress of the planning and zoning commission. They are still at the stage of comparing layouts of other cities and will be picking and choosing what may work best for Ash Flat before presenting their ideas to the city attorney and city council. Mayor Fowler then swore in Steve McNulty as a new planning and zoning commissioner for Ash Flat.

Under new business, one Ash Flat resident had a concern over his water bill. Since both Water Superintendent Tracy Breckenridge and Billing Clerk Mackie Tompkins were not present, Fowler suggested postponing the discussion until another meeting. The resident preferred to go ahead and at least inform the council of his concerns. “I had been paying $130 to $150 water bills for the last several months. They put in another new meter and miraculously our water bill dropped by almost $50 as soon as they put the new meter in without us changing anything about what we do.”

His new meter was installed March 23, at which time there had been 1,915 gallons of water used. According to Fowler’s notes, from March 23 to 31 there was an additional 3,332 gallons used within that eight-day period. “I don’t understand how that’s possible when our total water bill usage was showing right at 4,000 gallons,” the resident said. Looking at his March water bill, Fowler said the amount he was charged was $52.47 which did not match what the resident’s bill showed. Fowler apologized because they did not have all of the details in front of them given Breckenridge and Tompkins were not present. “I can’t really correct it without sitting down with [them and you] and looking at this together…I can’t make a decision today without seeing both sides of what’s going on.” There was a question from council on how many times the meter had been changed, and it was uncertain based on the current notes available. Fowler offered, “Sir, I can assure you we will be as fair and honest as we can once we get it figured out. You’ve got your point across to the council.” The mayor then said he would plan a meeting with Breckenridge and Tompkins that could fit with the resident’s schedule to work out everything within the next few days. The motions were made and passed by council to table the issue until the next meeting.

The next order of business was a resolution in regard to U.S. Hwy 412, which does not meet present standards for a priority commercial, agricultural and recreational corridor for traffic. A motion was made and passed by council to accept the resolution for U.S. Hwy 412 improvements.

Ash Flat has received two propane bids and Mayor Fowler explained why the city should go with the lowest one. “Izard County has been doing our business for the last several years, and they have the lowest price…of $1.399 per gallon.” Motions were passed and council voted to accept that bid.

Mayor Fowler then expressed his concerns over the current increases in COVID cases across the state and country. “I will be keeping a close eye on what’s going on in Sharp County and in our area, and possibly we may have to start meeting back at the fire station.”

A question arose about a new dog park that might become available in Ash Flat, and Fowler said there is a meeting planned with the new engineer for Wednesday, July 21 at 11 a.m. at the park.

Atlas, the company supplying the asphalt on Industrial Drive for the Emerson plant, is planning to start work in August.

The city council then met in an executive session. After reconvening in open session, Councilman Kevin Grissom disclosed they had decided to give Dana Wiest, accounts receivable/payable clerk, an additional one-time bonus for the extra work she has recently done. Motions were made to approve the decision and passed by council.

The Ash Flat City Council meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at city hall until further notice.

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