Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TOP STORY >> Alderman chosen, sewer debated

Sherwood Municipal Judge Milas Hale III (left) swears in Rev. Timothy McMinn as the city’s newest alderman, filling the vacancy of Keith Rankin who resigned.

By NANCY DOCKTER

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council unanimously elected Rev. Timothy McMinn as alderman at its regular meeting Monday after meeting in closed session for 35 minutes to discuss the eight candidates.

Judge Butch Hale then swore in McMinn, who will serve out the 10 months remaining in the term of Keith Rankin, who resigned in January after it came to light that he no longer lived in Sherwood.

Fearing a lawsuit, the council decided to get a second legal opinion on making major repairs with a sewer tax.

After the meeting, McMinn said that he had “no agenda or issues” that prompted him to run, but a desire to take 25 years of volunteer service to the city “to a new level.” He said that he plans to seek the position in the general election in November.

“I am honored to serve the citizens of Sherwood and the citizens of Ward 4,” McMinn said. “And I definitely am going to run for this position.”

McMinn has lived in Sherwood since 1976. He has been a church pastor for more than 30 years and is a pastor at Sylvan Hills Community Church in Sherwood. He is an electrician, an Air Force veteran and the senior chaplain for the Sherwood police.

The council returned to the murky issue of the 2010 sewer sales tax budget, which members agreed in January to table over worries that if they went through with it, the city would be sued.

Engineer Ellen Norvell has proposed spending $2.68 million for improvements to the city wastewater system and wants to use revenues collected from a 1 percent, 60-month sewer sales tax that Sherwood voters enacted 10 years ago.

Some Sherwood residents contend that the intent of the original ordinance passed in 2000 was not for repairs to the system, but only new construction and acquisition of the independent sewer districts that exist in city limits.

Tom Carpenter, attorney for the Sherwood sewer committee, says that state statute and case law are on the side of the council if they approve spending the tax revenue for repairs.

Alderman Charlie Harmon, who is also an attorney, advised fellow council members in January to table the budget ordinance to give time for further study. This time around, it was Harmon who again warned the council against approving any money for anything other than new construction until after a second legal opinion is obtained.

“I’d like a second opinion just like getting a second opinion for surgery, and this is expensive surgery,” Harmon said. “I would like another law firm’s opinion, or look at alternate funding.”

Alderman Sheila Sulcer added, “I agree with Charlie. After reading the ballot (of the 2000 measure), I am fearful of using these funds for some of these things and jeopardizing the city by leaving it open for a lawsuit. I want to hear someone say this is new construction.”

“This is not repairs,” Norvell said. “We are building new levees for the sludge lagoon basin and equalization basin.”

Harmon proposed cutting the budget down to $1.64 million, deleting funds proposed for wastewater collection-line repairs, manhole replacements and a sewer study.

He recommended paring engineering fees from $350,000 to $288,217 and leaving intact $1.25 million for treatment plant improvements and $103,000 for a sewer bond payment.

That would enable the city to go forward with the “most urgent of these expenses necessary to keep us on track with the consent decree,” Harmon said, alluding to an Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality order that the city of Sherwood complete wastewater system improvements this year or face heavy fines.

“This will be enough to see us through, but everyone needs to understand that we’ll need to find funds for the collection lines,” Norvell told the council.

Even with Norvell’s assurances, Sulcer voted against the amended budget. McMinn abstained, as he did on all matters before the council that night because, he explained afterward, he did not have enough information ahead of time to participate. Becki Vassar was absent.

It will be up to the sewer committee to recommend a law firm to the council for a second opinion on sewer sales tax revenue expenditures.

In other business, the council:

Passed an ordinance creating a position for full-time wastewater operations supervisor and one full-time wastewater equipment operator. Salaries, taxes and benefits for the two positions total $86,082.

Passed an ordinance approving issuance of bonds totaling nearly $7 million to pay off $5.3 million in short-term debt remaining from the city’s purchase of North Hills Country Club in 2008 and to provide $1.5 million for improvements to the property, which will include expansion of the parking lot and installation of a new sprinkler system.

The interest on the bonds over 30 years will range from 2 percent to 5 percent, with monthly payments averaging $36,000.

Alderman Lex “Butch” Davis, who is the chairman of the street committee, asked for Sherwood residents’ patience with pothole repair. He said that the icy weather caused patches with cold mix to come out of repaired potholes.

The more durable hot mix must await warmer weather, Davis said. He vowed that work crews will be taking care of the many potholes caused by adverse weather as soon as possible.