Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Northwest Arkansas Times reports that Coody breaks tie to approve Southpass sewer cost share

Balanced budget : Aldermen pass budget that leaves reserves untouched
BY DUSTIN TRACY Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Wednesday, December 3, 2008
2009 budget balanced Coody votes for Southpass

In October, Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody presented the City Council with a proposed 2009 budget that involved dipping into the city’s reserve funds to the tune of $ 535, 000.
Two months and three budget meetings later, on Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to pass a budget that didn’t require reserve money to have a balanced general fund.
“This year it was a little tamer than last year, but I think then we did a little more venting, which paved the way for calmer discussions this year,” Ward 2 Alderman Kyle Cook said.
The council started hacking away at the original proposed budget by trimming $50, 000 marked for speed tables at its first budget meeting in November. Later on, staff found $59, 000 in unallocated capital-improvement budget funds, and the council saved $10, 000 by cutting proposed Dickson Street kiosks. The city also found out its workers' compensation bill was $ 100, 000 less than expected.
Finally, the council decided to cut its road-overlay program by about $300, 000 to make up the difference, which meant the city would be able to pave only about eight miles of street instead of 11 to 12 miles. But, on Monday, City Engineer Ron Petrie said that there was a $ 249, 000 surplus in the city’s bridge-construction fund, which was recently discovered after state bids came in lower than expected. Petrie proposed using that money to help balance the budget and taking only about $50, 000 out of the overlay program. The council agreed Tuesday night.
Paul Becker, director of finance for the city, said that the city would take all the cuts it made from the capital improvement budget and make a one-time transfer of $ 417, 900 to the city’s general fund budget, which would balance it.
The last thought for the 2009 budget came from Ward 4 Alderman Lioneld Jordan, who is also the mayor-elect. He asked Becker if the council could revisit the possibility of using any excess money in 2008, if the city finishes 2008 in the black, for a cost-of-living adjustment for city employees. Becker said he wouldn’t know the end results of the 2008 budget until April of 2009, after the city’s first financial quarter of 2009 ends.
The council decided to send a $2. 15 million cost share with developer Tracy Hoskins to reroute Arkansas 112 back to the street committee. The cost share would partner the city with Hoskins to reroute Arkansas 112 just south of Sam’s Club diagonally northwest and reconnect it at Howard Nickel Road. Hoskins would then build his proposed mixed-use development, Park West, in the area.
The $2. 15 million would pay for only a quarter of the whole road. Petrie said that, if the contract passed, the road would essentially end in the middle of Park West. The contract guarantees that Hoskins will give the city the right of way to finish the road. City Attorney Kit Williams said the contract will be void and the money will be refunded to the city if Hoskins has not begun construction of Park West by November of 2010. Jordan, chairman of the street committee, said he felt more comfortable taking the issue back to the committee because the committee was given the cost for the whole reroute and not the $2. 15 million cost for a quarter of the construction. “We agreed we liked the realignment but we wanted to know what the cost was going to be, but we were never presented that until the past couple of weeks,” he said. There were some protesters and supporters who spoke about the development.
Aubrey Shepherd asked the council to turn the agreement down to protect the wetland prairie area the road and development is proposed to be built over. “If there’s a road built across that wetland prairie it should be on stilts, and we shouldn’t be doing it to encourage development,” Shepherd said.
Steve Rust, director of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, asked aldermen to pass the agreement and encourage the development. He read part of a letter from an individual Rust said represented a prestigious hotel chain; Rust would not disclose which chain. The section of the letter Rust read stated that the hotel chain was interested in building a hotel in the area near Sam’s Club but it would not be interested if the road wasn’t redirected or the Park West development was not built.
Ward 4 Alderman Shirley Lucas expressed some concern about spending so much money to build half a road when there’s no guarantee more development will come to the city.
“What’s the phrase? ‘If we build it, they will come.’ We don’t even know if they’re going to come or not, and we’re spending a lot of money,” Lucas said.
The council also barely passed the tail end of the SouthPass development. Coody broke a 4-4 tie that entered the city into a $ 1. 4 million sewer infrastructure cost share for the 900-acre mixed-use development proposed for the south side of town.
“If this is for the contract, I don’t get a choice on how to vote because I don’t want to see the city get tied up in a lawsuit,” Coody said before he cast the final “yes” vote.
He was referring to the fact that the city (HE) had already signed a contract with developers John Nock and Richard Alexander for the SouthPass agreement and the council was advised at its Nov. 6 meeting by Williams that, if they failed to pass the development, the city could be subject to legal ramifications.
Jordan, Lucas, Ward 2 Alderman Nancy Allen and Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Ferrell voted against the cost share.
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