Friday, July 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Mayor: Library in Ward needed

Leader staff writer

Mayor Art Brooke spoke about the possible Dec. 31 closing of the Ward Public Library on Hickory Street during the city council meeting held Monday.

He reported that the library system’s board held a meeting July 10 with staff members only.

Although he was not invited, Brooke said he thinks some relevant things were discussed there and he hoped to get a full rundown of the meeting later.

The mayor continued, “The library is a very important issue to our city, and I will continue to be very aggressive in trying to retain our library by any means that are available to me.”

Brooke also said he had talked with the city’s attorney about the possible closing. “There are some options out there. The city simply does not have the money to underwrite the library” and is not in the position to subsidize a salary as system director Deborah Moore has suggested, he emphasized.

Brooke also noted that the city already maintains the building, covers insurance premiums for it and pays the utility bills.

The mayor told aldermen he had talked with Moore and she told him she would speak to the board about their decision to close the Ward Public Library based on its low circulation and computer usage.

The system lost $35,000 this year when legislators balanced the state budget by cutting $1 million in aid to Arkansas libraries.

The regional system has also operated on the same $1 million budget for 20 years, even as costs have increased.

The director, according to Brooke, has also agreed to set up a meeting so that the mayor can speak directly to board members about the closing.

Other options for keeping the library open include having two part-time people working there and reducing its hours of operation.

“I know they had budget cuts,” Brooke said of the library system. “Our city is no different than anybody else when it comes to money. We’ve been pretty flat for the last three years because of the economy.

“It has affected our operation, but I have not announced to this city council that we’re going to close down or shut down the fire department. I have not said we’re going to shut down the police department. I have not said we’re going to close our code enforcement, our animal control or another entity within our organization,” the mayor said.

He joked that the system should close Cabot’s library, then a Ward Public Library staffer announced that applications for cards had recently picked up.

Brooke also explained that, even though voters passed a sales-tax increase last year, the city has no extra money because Ward began receiving funds from that in June.

The city is still operating and will continue under a budget set before the measure was approved, Brooke noted.

In other business:

• Tommy Sutton, who lives in Mayflower, and his brother, Greg, inherited their grandmother Norene Phillips’ mobile home park between Hwys. 319 and 367.

Tommy Sutton sent a letter to the council last month and addressed aldermen at Monday’s meeting about cleaning up the area that has attracted thieves and become a dumping ground.

He said he would have the trailers on one end gone within two or three months and agreed to keep the mayor informed about his progress.

“I’m not going to say everything will be done in two or three months, because that’d just be a lie. I’m not going to stand here and lie. I won’t do it.

“But I will say that, when I come back here in two or three months, everybody’s going to be saying ‘yeah, we’re seeing things; we know you’re doing the best you can.’ It’s going to be a lot better.”

At first, the council wanted Sutton to give a report at each of its meetings, but the city’s attorney advised that a private citizen shouldn’t be required to do that. He explained that the mayor or code enforcement should instead include it in reports because officials would be inundated with landowners’ requests in the future if they negotiate one-on-one with Sutton.

Sutton also apologized for the dumping and thefts occurring on his property, adding that he wished someone had called to inform him of the problems so that he could have been cooperative earlier.

Sutton said, after sending the letter, he contracted with a company to tear down one trailer, cut some vegetation and secured the homes. It takes about two weeks to get rid of trailer, he noted.

Alderman Charles Gastineau said he would like to see things done faster than two or three months, but Sutton responded, “That’s not going to happen, sir.”

Aldermen Lee Schoonover pointed out that the burden would be on Sutton to hire people to get rid of the trailers, and that may take time.

Sutton also said his brother would like to see a few trailers on the end that would be cleaned up next converted into personal storage buildings.

Another option that he hasn’t pursued yet, Sutton continued, is posting the trailers as free to haul off in local classified ads.

Only family members and one 85-year-old renter live in the mobile home park, and the council has agreed on allowing the elderly woman to stay.

The mayor told Sutton he could ask for an extension if something comes up, but said that something must be “real-world stuff” for the council to accept it.

Brooke added that the city has no interest in taking over the property.

Sutton concluded, “Cleaning it up, that’s a small thing to ask. Ya’ll aren’t asking anything out of the way.”

• The mayor announced that Old Austin and Moon roads have been resurfaced. Wilson Loop will be resurfaced, too, and is due for drainage improvements, Brooke added.