Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sherwood passes tight budget, delays vote on North Belt route

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Aside from a 4 percent salary increase for its employees, the city of Sherwood is trimming its sails as it prepares to head into uncertain economic waters in 2009. On Monday, night, the city council unanimously approved a $19.22 million general fund budget, which reflected a modest 1.9 percent increase over 2008. In contrast, the 2008 budget is 5.7 percent more than that for 2007.

Separate budgets were also passed for the street department, wastewater and advertising and promotion commission. North Belt route was also discussed.

What may save the city from a decline in general fund revenues are the annexation of Gravel Ridge and the opening of a Walmart Supercenter within city limits. Revenues from sales taxes and franchise utilities taxes are projected to increase by $970,000 over 2008. Other revenue sources are expected to remain flat or in decline compared with 2008. Largest revenue sources will be the county-wide sales tax at $4.8 million, the city sales tax at $4.6 million, sanitation fees at $1.3 million, and the franchise utilities tax at $1.25 million.

Personnel expenditures will take the biggest chunk of revenues. Salaries and payroll taxes for all departments will total just under $10 million, and the retirement program, an additional $860,000.

The general fund budget includes $4.87 million for administration (including $1.17 million for fire protection), $5.8 million for the police, $490,990 for the hot check court, $798,088 for the municipal court, $544,530 for engineering and planning, $152,353 for human resources, $358,125 for computer services, $1.82 million for sanitation, $3.12 million for parks and recreation, $259,228 for the senior programs, $328,891 for animal services and $684,439 for public works.

The streets budget totaled $1.79 million, the wastewater budget totaled $1.53 million, and the Advertising and Promotion Commission’s budget totaled $566,000.

NORTH BELT FREEWAY

The council amended the zoning map for the city to broaden commercial zoning options to permit commercial strip development along Hwy. 107 from Gravel Ridge north to General Samuels Road.

The council voted down an appeal by state highway department planner Steve Mitchell to amend the city’s street plan to so that it accurately reflects the location of the North Belt freeway to the north of the Highway 107-Brockington Road intersection, as decided a few months ago by the state highway department. Mitchell told the council that not doing so would “send the wrong message to the (highway) commission and could very well kill the project.”

The council did not buy the argument and instead obliged pleas of developers to wait until their differences are settled with the highway department about appraised values of their land at the intersection.

Rick Ashley and Byron Mc-Kimmey were among those asking council members to hold off until the findings of a third appraisal, which is intended to settle the dispute over widely varying appraisals, one conducted by the highway department and another by a private appraiser hired by the developers.

“We can have a special council meeting 30 minutes after you get your appraisal,” Alderman Becki Vassar told Mitchell.

Mitchell assured the council that the highway department “would take action” within 30 days of completion of the third appraisal, which is expected within a couple of weeks. If a purchase price for freeway right-of-way at the critical intersection cannot be settled by negotiations between the developers and the highway department, it will up to the courts to decide.

Federal funds of up to $4 million have been reserved for purchase of the right-of-way. No funding is yet available for construction of the North Belt, which has been on and off the drawing table for 20 years. The route for the project was at last finalized in September.

FIRE PROTECTION

The council voted to raise the cap on assessed home values against which protection fees are levied.

The change affects Pulaski Fire Protection District No. 5 and would raise the home assessment cap from $220,000 to $350,000. The allowed maximum fire protection fee will be $300 per resident, up from $196. This increase will bring about $13,000 more for District No. 5.

The district had hoped for more from the city and had asked the city budget committee last week for a $100,000 supplement, mainly to increase entry level pay for firefighters, which is about $1.50 per hour below the state average.

The committee nixed that request, noting the across-the-board pay raise for all city employees as well as the increased revenue if the council raised the cap on assessments.

ANOTHER ANNEXATION

The council approved an ordinance accepting annexation of 1,951 acres, which will extend its borders to the north and west of Gravel Ridge. The owners of the property more than two years ago petitioned to have their land annexed to Sherwood.

Their request was granted by the Pulaski County Court, a decision then challenged by the city of Jacksonville, which contended that the property more appropriately belonged in Jacksonville.

In November the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a ruling affirming the annexation of the land into Sherwood.

OTHER BUSINESS

The council approved adoption of the 2007 state fire prevention code affecting residential construction and hazardous materials storage.

It also adopted the 2006 state codes for plumbing and installation of fuel gas systems and the 2008 edition of the national electric code.

The council presented a plaque to David Henry, who is retiring from the council at the end of this year.

The council approved the ap-pointment of Rodney Freeman to the Planning Commission, to fill a seat vacated by Ray Harrison.