Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TOP STORY >> Ward raises meter fees to pay for water project

Leader staff writer

Ward City Council on Monday approved a $5 monthly water meter fee to begin paying off loans that will fund the almost two-decade-old Lonoke-White Water Project to bring water to Central Arkansas from Greers Ferry Lake.

That comes out to $2,100 from each customer over the 35-year-loan period, Mayor Art Brooke said. He added that no one could build a well and draw water for less than that. The fee is not tied to water usage.

In September, it was announced that the project would finally be constructed using borrowed money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The USDA will loan $24.5 million at 4.25 percent interest or lower and ANRC will loan $25.7 million at 4.5 percent interest or lower, Woody Bryant, the project manager who has seen several financing plans fall through, told The Leader.

The cities and water associations that are part of the project include Jacksonville, Ward, North Pulaski Water, Beebe, Austin, Furlow, Grand Prairie Bayou Two and Vilonia.

Attempts to fund the project in the past have failed because the money was to have come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but EPA money can’t be used for projects where the need is not immediate.

The water associations and cities that will benefit from the Lonoke-White Project have enough water for their immediate needs. The project is to take care of growth and to conserve ground water.

The $25 million or so that will be ARNC’s part of the funding will come from bonds backed by the state.

If both the USDA and ARNC agree that the project can move forward without the design and right-of-way acquisitions for the newest members—Beebe, Jacksonville, Vilonia and Furlow—then the parts of the project, such as the intake and main pipeline that have been ready for construction for almost a decade, can be bid.

If agencies supplying the financing want the entire project ready to go before any of it is started, then it will be ready to bid in about six months, Bryant said last month.

The council agreed to table a controversial parking ordinance and hold more committee meetings to come up with a workable solution to residents parking on the street and causing problems with others’ access to the roads and their driveways.

Brooke said the ordinance wouldn’t work because the language is confusing and it cites state laws that can change frequently.

Alderman Jeff Shaver said, “Cities aren’t forthcoming with parking ordinances. You’re (Brooke) right, it’s a headache.”

Alderman John Staley told the council that it wasn’t enough to just ask people nicely not to park on the street because they are not polite back and tell policemen they will do what they want to do.

Brooke said after the vote, “I want to thank you guys for the work you’ve put into this. I can see where this has turned into a monster.”

The council also voted on two candidates to fill a vacancy and then welcomed Lee Schoonover to the council.

Schoonover retired from the Army Corp of Engineers. He has lived in Ward for about 35 years.

Schoonover told the council that he was on the city’s first planning commission, has worked with numerous cities and mayors, has collaborated with City Engineer Tim Lemons on projects, he knows budgeting, coached baseball and took Ward’s children to Cabot to play football.

He said he was a mentor to children, recently arranged for speakers to go to local schools to discuss the importance of democracy and wants to continue serving the city and its children on the council.

The council urged his opponent, firefighter Bobby Tarno, to seek a position on the council when one becomes available.

Members also voted to accept the lowest bid for improvements to the Peyton Street Fire Station driveway. The bid was $56,497 from Dawson Asphalt and Sealing and the council’s approval is contingent on references for the company being checked because the city has not worked with Dawson. The project can now be started before wet weather arrives and it will be constructed in 45 days.

Lemons told the council he was meeting with the Arkansas Highway Department right-of-way director Tuesday and hoped to receive authorization to putt the safe routes to schools project out for bids.

He said additional information requested for a grant application to fund Hwy. 367/319 intersection improvements have been submitted. The city is waiting to see if a grant will be awarded.

The contractor for the new Stagecoach water tank should begin foundation work between Oct. 15 and Nov. 7 and the city also may have the opportunity to lease antenna space to cell service providers, Lemons continued.