Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TOP STORY >> Mother nature cuts off tax talk

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood mayor and most of the city council were escorted to jail Monday night, not because of anything they did, but because of severe weather hitting the city.

The mayor and most of the aldermen, department heads, residents and reporters attending the council meeting -— which was to consider a temporary sales tax for a library and animal shelter — spent more than an hour deep inside the police department until there was a break in the storm.

Alderman Steve Fender, who lives almost across from the police department, chose to head home instead of jail.

Once there was a break, the council reconvened in the hallway, about 8:50 p.m., next to the squad room and voted to adjourn the meeting, and then everyone quickly left.

Because of the weather disruption, the council will now hold a special meeting within the next two weeks to discuss and vote on sending the tax idea to the voters. The council, itself, cannot pass the tax.

Everyone in the council chambers was asked to follow the police about 7:15 p.m. just as the aldermen were beginning to discuss a temporary two-year one-cent sales tax to build a new library and animal shelter.

The council was hoping to approve the idea of the tax Monday night and then set a date for a special election, giving residents the final say.

The proposed tax would be used, according to the ordinance, “to acquire land and construct a new library, for the construction and equipping of an animal services facility, either in its current or in a new location, and to allocate any surplus funds to street repair or improvement.”

Bobby Roberts, the director of the Central Arkansas Library Systems was at the meeting to speak in favor of the proposed tax as was Robin Breaux, head of the city’s animal shelter. But there were also a number of residents wanting to speak against the idea.

All will have the opportunity again at the next meeting which will be announced in the newspaper and on the city’s website, www.ci.sherwood.ar.us.

While the mayor and other were sheltered in the catacombs of the police department, the mayor was receiving updates of damage from the police chief.

While the council and others were sequestered, trees were toppled near Brockington, hail was hitting parts of the city along with flying debris and there were reports of high winds and possible damage near the Nazarene church on Brockington.

Before the meeting was interrupted by the weather, the council discussed new ward boundaries that are needed because of the census numbers and the annexation of Gravel Ridge.

“Right now Gravel Ridge is split into two wards,” said Alderman Marina Brooks, “And it would be good if it says together.”

Alderman Steve Fender was concerned with one option the council was looking at.

“Ninety percent of my neighbors and friends for the past 25 years will no longer be able to vote for me. They won’t be in my ward. That’s not fair,” he complained, unhappy with the drop in the residents he would represent.

Brook said right now the wards go from 5,200 to 9,900 residents.

Alderman Tim McMinn suggested that the council take some time to look at all the options and even suggested some workshops to give residents a voice in the design of the new wards.

The council also wants to see what ideas Metroplan may have for the ward boundaries. “We’re not taking any action tonight,” Mayor Virginia Hillman said. “It’s just on the agenda for discussion.”

But the council hopes to agree on new boundaries within 90 days.

Jacksonville Meeting halted

In Jacksonville, Warren Street’s first Neighborhood Watch meeting was stopped Monday night midway through as a tornado ripped through nearby North Pulaski High School on Harris Road in Jacksonville near Little Rock Air Force Base.

A dozen concerned residents living along Warren Street, Dupree Drive and Bailey Street were inside Westside Baptist Church downtown. Also in attendance were Alderman Bill Howard and this Leader reporter.

The meeting at 7 p.m. was held in the sanctuary. It was led by Jacksonville auxiliary police Capt. Charles Jenkins with officer Don Bredenberg helping with the PowerPoint presentation.

Soon the tornado sirens wailed. A variety of musical ring tones filled the room as cell phones started going off with warnings from the Code- Red severe weather-alert system and from family members about the tornado warning.

Lightning could be seen flashing though the stained glass windows.

The power went out for a few seconds. It was decided to the stop the meeting and seek shelter.

The group rounded the kitchen for snacks and drinks and headed for the lowest part of the church, an empty baptism tank for safety.

During the height of the storm, a mother with three children saw people were inside the church and sought refuge inside.

Leader staff writer Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.