Maumelle had two City Council meetings in less than a week, and the contrast between the two meetings was stark.
On July 10, Mayor Mike Watson called an emergency council meeting with one day’s notice in the hope the council would give the green light to refer the city’s sunsetting 6.6 ad valorem tax to the voters along with a list of special projects the voters could accept or reject individually.
The proposal just to refer didn’t get a single yes vote. Every single alderman voted against it as the council chamber was packed with people lined up mostly against the measure.
Maumelle’s reputation for following the rules of decorum in the council chambers also went out the window as emotions got the best of some residents.
Talking back to council members individually is prohibited much less interrupting them as they spoke but not that night. Neither were public displays of support as the audience cheered and jeered speakers for and against the proposal.
Normally, Watson is quick to point out transgressors of the rules of decorum rules and to warn them future outbursts will result in their being escorted out of the building.
He was quiet at the Tuesday night meeting as person after person spoke against his proposal.
Watson said the quick action was necessary in order to keep from losing a year’s worth of the tax revenue set to expire at the end of the year. With all the notification requirements, he said getting the election on the Sept. 11 ballot was the only way to keep it in effect.
After the council vote, officials said the tax cannot be collected in 2013.
Almost all of the projects proposed have been a part of the city’s long-range plans for years. The council’s lack of support was a surprise to some, but there was almost universal opposition, even from council members.
Some council members after the meeting expressed dismay that Watson had even attempted to get this through. Many council members said they have been pushing Watson all year to line up the program, so that it wouldn’t expire, but he didn’t.
At the July 16 regular meeting, a few residents showed up to oppose the planned projects, but with very little discussion, the council unanimously voted to set aside July 23 for a committee meeting to discuss the projects.
Watson noted that one issue — the construction of a new fire substation on the south side of town is a crucial issue and needs to be addressed before the longer response times become a dangerous issue. He said response times to most Country Club of Arkansas addresses is running at least 8 minutes.
Alderman Doug Ladner, a board member of the Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services which provides ambulance service in Maumelle, said in any emergency, fire or medical, an extra 30 seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Ladner also noted that if the response times stay where they are or escalate, the city could be in danger of losing its fire ISO rating, which fire insurance companies use in setting homeowners insurance rates in a city.
The July 16 council meeting was poorly attended and was over in less than an hour.
Maumelle’s county quorum court justice of the peace Paul Elliott briefed the council on two hot-button county issues. First was the appraisal of personal property primarily home values by assessor Janet Troutman Ward, which will result in increased property taxes in the future, and second, the scheduled opening of 80 new beds at the county jail. He said the county is looking for cities who will pay a little more to house prisoners before they can afford to open the extra beds.
Unlike other cities, Maumelle sends very few prisoners to the county jail, Watson said.
During discussion on a committee to establish a set of proposed projects to refer to voters on a future bond election, several residents tried to tie the committee into in with the strategic planning discussion.
Watson and City Attorney JaNan Davis noted that bond projects must be completed within three years and that some projects in the past have even had to return money because the project wasn’t completed within that window.
He said most of the long range projects will take longer than three years to finish.
Watson said FourthFest was the largest to date and came off without any safety problems thanks to the hard work of city employees who did everything from watering down Tract D adjacent to Kroger to prevent fireworks sparks from igniting a fire to directing traffic after the fireworks show.
This year’s attendance at the fireworks show was the best ever, the mayor said. In spite of temperatures of 100 degrees and higher, attendance at the parade and at Lake Willastein also was up.
The county wide burn ban is still in effect, Watson said.