WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – Residents of Walnut Ridge will be able to get back a total of $240,000 if they choose, after a decision by the council Monday night.
Monday night at the Walnut Ridge City Council meeting, Mayor Charles Snapp made a request to the council to repeal the fire protection fee ordinance, Ordinance 507, which was passed in 1987. Snapp received a Freedom of Information Act request from Mark Rees, of Rees Law Firm in Jonesboro, which led to City Attorney Nancy Hall reviewing the ordinance in question.
Hall determined it was highly unlikely the ordinance would withstand legal challenge. Instead of fighting an unwinnable battle in court, Snapp opted to take the proactive approach and to do what he felt was right by his constituency.
Walnut Ridge residents will be able to request a refund of the money, although the city will not automatically refund the amount, according to Hall. She said many businesses and individuals are opting to leave their money unclaimed to support the fire department.
Because of the $80,000-per-year budget deficit this puts the Walnut Ridge Fire Department in, Snapp said the city will make it a priority to determine how to replace this lost-funding. It may result in a measure being submitted to the voters to approve which would, in essence, re-create the exact same fire protection fee which is currently levied.
However, Rees told NEA Report on Monday this is how it should have been done in 1987, when originally passed. He said the people, legally, must be given the option to vote on city-imposed taxes.
The council also voted to approve the first reading of a measure raising sewer rates in the city. Sewer rates are $3.50 per 1,000 gallons for each of the first 2,000 gallons, and afterward $4.40 for each $1,000. The proposal would raise the rate to an even $4.40 per 1,000 gallons across the board.
Rates per 4,000 gallons of monthly usage would be $17.60 after the increase, up from $15.80.
The measure will be up for two additional readings at September and Octobers’ council meetings.
Water rates are expected to increase as well but the Walnut Ridge City Water Board must make this determination. Snapp said the board would most likely wait to see the decision of the council before making the change.
The board has presented Snapp with a plan to increase water rates by $4.10 on the first 1,000 gallons. The rates would remain at their current rate, $5.90, for each 1,000 gallons afterward. This would make a 4,000 gallon water bill cost $27.70, up from $23.60, according to Snapp. You can read more details about the increase here, in an earlier story.
Discussion also took place about the impending need for repainting the water tower for the city. Just to paint over the current layer, it will cost $100,000 to $150,000, according to Jon Kopp with the City Water Works.
However, if the problem is left unattended and the tower needs sandblasting, it could cost $500,000.
It is not expected to need immediate attention but the city is preparing for the problem instead of reacting to the problem. The stripes which are currently on the tower are not expected to be repainted, as they would add a $1,200 per-stripe cost to the project.
An earlier version of this story said the city would refund $240,000. The city will refund UP TO $240,000, as long as a resident requests the refund. Residents must opt in to get the money. NEA Report regrets the error.