Leader Blues

Friday, August 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Cabot fire station spurs controversy

Leader staff writer

Last Saturday morning’s budget meeting of Cabot city officials where almost all the discussion centered on the accomplishments of the past year and plans for the next turned sour temporarily when council members could not find out where a new fire station might be built.

The four council members who attended the meeting were receptive to the police chief’s request for a sex crime unit and SWAT team. They seemed to like the mayor’s proposal for the city to collect its own garbage, especially if trash hauler IESI plans to increase rates from the current $16.45 a month per resident.

They didn’t disagree with the mayor that the city should be able to use the planned county jail to house misdemeanor prisoners. They asked a few questions about a machine for the street department that shreds asphalt into bits that can be used as a base for roads. And they appeared appreciative of City Clerk Marva Verkler’s plan to streamline the record keeping in her office before she retires at the end of her term.

But when it was time for Fire Chief Phil Robinson to make his presentation, the council members wanted to talk.

Alderman Eddie Cook was the first to speak, asking why the city paid $250,000 for land and a build ing on Hwy. 5 if it was not the intended site of the new station that is needed to keep insurance premiums down for city residents. And if the new station will not be built on Hwy. 5, then where will it be built?

The answer from the fire chief, City Attorney Jim Taylor and Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was that they couldn’t say.

“In your mind, right now, where would you put a station?” Alderman Lisa Brickell asked as Cook’s question went unanswered.

The mayor said there was a perfect location for the station that needs to be centrally located inside a growing part of the city.

But Taylor said anything the group discussed was subject to disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, and going public with that information would not be in the city’s interest.

Alderman Ed Long, who had said earlier in the meeting that he wasn’t convinced the city needs another station at this time because response times are good, said he feared “secrecy like in past administrations has become a problem.”

“I’ll admit the problem is a delicate one,” the mayor said. But none of those who apparently know where the station could be built shared that information with the others.

The mayor did say, however, that he thinks the building would cost $300,000 to $400,000 if the city acquires it through a 15-year lease purchase agreement.

Cook and Alderman Becky Lemaster said the full council should meet weekly until the matter is resolved.

“We need some facts in front of us,” Lemaster said. “We need to look at where the growth is.”