Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

TOP STORY >> City council butts heads over budget suggestions

Leader staff writer

Following a firestorm of words with Mayor Donald Ward Monday night, the Beebe City Council tabled a vote on the $2.7 million 2006 city budget until a full council is present.

Alderman Janet Rogers was absent.
Aldermen Janis Petray and Bobby Robinson suggested cuts for the budget including laying off the city’s economic development director, Marjorie Armstrong, and a yet to be determined street department position to supplement the street fund. Armstrong, one of the city’s highest-paid employees with a salary of around $48,000, was hired three years ago to help jumpstart Beebe’s economy.
“I think the council has failed. I think you need to go back and do your job right the second time,” Ward told the council.

“I don’t appreciate you getting belligerent with us,” Robinson said, adding that he could point out instances where the city administration has failed.

“I think you’re out of order,” Ward said banging his gavel. “I don’t care what you think,” Robinson said.
After a five-minute recess, the council voted to table the decision on the budget.

Armstrong attended the meeting but did not address the council regarding the budget.
“The existing citizens that are paying their taxes here is what’s important right now,” Petray said.
“When we cannot offer our own citizens infrastructure, I don’t see how we can attract new residents,” Petray said.
“So what we do now is pave the streets and forget about the future?” Ward asked.

Ward told council members he thought it was a good budget and attributed the city’s economic conditions to inheriting a $400,000 budget when he took office in 1999 followed by costly damage due to tornadoes that cut a swath through the city.

Ward first presented the budget which also includes a 5 percent raise for city employees, to the council Nov. 28. The council met Dec. 12 to review and discuss the budget.

“I believe I’ve been an asset to city government as well as the community and I hope I can continue,” Armstrong told The Leader.
“No one (on the city council) is going to touch the 5 percent pay increase because next year is an election year,” Ward said.
By state law, the budget must be passed by Feb. 1.

In other business, the mayor asked the council to consider changing the administration of the city cemetery. The price for an adult grave is $325 and the price for a child or cremation grave is $175.

“We need to either get out of the business or do something to defray the costs,” Ward said. Robertson agreed, citing the summer maintenance of mowing the graveyard.

The council is also considering a proposal to get streetlights installed along Pecan Street on both the north and south sides of the Hwy. 67/167 overpass.

The streetlights are expected to help light portions of the ballpark as well. Additionally, the council heard from John Sanderson of the Optimist Club of Searcy.

The Optimist Club of Searcy is offering to help establish a club in Beebe.
“The motto of Optimist Clubs is ‘Friend of Youth.’

“We would need an initial participation of about 30 people to get it started. The Beebe Optimists would elect their own officers, and raise their own funds. We just want to help get it started,” Sanderson said.

For those interested in starting an Optimist Club of Beebe, contact the mayor’s office at (501) 882-6295.