It was both the good news and the bad news at the county Intergovernmental Meeting at the Van Buren County Library, Friday, Nov. 3. The meeting, chaired by County Judge Roger Hooper, was a chance for Hooper and county mayors to meet and review needs as they prepared for 2018 and beyond.
In attendance, along with Hooper, was Paul Wellenberger, Mayor of Fairfield Bay, L.B. Pavatt, Mayor of Damasus, and Richard McCormac, Mayor of Clinton. Shirley Mayor Lisa Hackett was not able to attend due to business commitments, Hooper said, but she was expected to attend future meetings. Sheriff Randy Gurley also attended, his presentation at the end of the meeting.
Hooper asked all to open with good news about their respective cities, beginning with his own positive news that the county continues to maintain and improve roads, with over 959 tons of gravel hauled since 2011, on track for one million tons by next year.
Jobs, Hooper continued, were good news, with county unemployment down to 4.9 percent in September, down from 13 percent in 2011
All gathered nodded in agreement as Hooper pointed out an increased emphasis on tourism as a way to grow revenue and opportunity in the county.
Fairfield Bay’s Wellenberger most closely matched this, with his announcing to the group that the city was “very close” to closing on the 63 room hotel being built there, to facilitate its conference center. This announcement was met with applause. ATV trails as a tourist attraction were another up move, Wellenberger said.
McCormac, with Clinton, pointed out how the city council’s decision to go forward, which he called “taking the bull by the horns,” on water and sewer improvements has led to overall improvements in utility service. Pavatt, with Damascus, also said his city’s water service was one of the bright spots he had to report.
Other positive reports were given, mayors and judge pointing to the willingness of people in the community to step up and pitch in.
Funding issues, however, brought more serious conversation.
Wellenberger presented to the group the cost of operating the 911 center located in his town, and what it did for the community - such as providing round-the-clock service such as after-hours service for Clinton Police. The problem, Wellenberger said, was that Clinton was not paying anything directly toward the center’s operation. He asked for the city for $24,932 in 2018 to help fund the center’s operations.
“Clinton has been getting a free ride in this,” Wellenberger said.
Revenue for 911 was $427,409 in 2016, Wellenberger said, including county funds and phone service funds. He broke down the expenses, then showed, after Shirley and Damascus’s relatively small burden was factored out, Clinton was 12 percent of the yearly cost of operations for the center, this against it having 15 percent of the population for the county. With projections, this call load would be $24,932 in expenses to 911 in 2018, he said.
McCormac acknowledged this was something to be put before the city council.
Part of the problem, Wellenberger said, was that revenues from phone lines were down. The turnback from phone service to help fund 911 is $1.25 for landlines versus 65 cents for cell lines, he said, and the legislature has been hesitant to bring cell turnback up to landline number, seeing it as a tax. Due to this, as more people are doing away with landlines and moving to cell service, the overall funding for 911 is dropping Wellenberger said. He presented that in 2010 the turnback from phone service was $123,000, and in 2016 it was down to $98,000, increasing budget pressure, he said.
The need to increase the countywide jail fees was at the center of Gurley’s presentation. This is currently budgeted at $12,000 a year and has been since 2002, he said. The fee, to cover the cost of housing prisoners, was no longer matching the actual cost of housing prisoners for the various city police departments. Additional pressure here came from having to house juvenile prisoners in Faulkner County, he said, which is a $90 per day cost.
“We’re going to have to do something,” Gurley said. He renewed several times that the funding has been static since 2002.
All will be presenting these needs to budget committees in preparation for the 2018 budgeting cycle.