Tuesday, April 26, 2016

TOP STORY >> Austin adds to city hall

Leader staff writer

It was about 17 years ago that Bernie Chamberlain won the Austin mayoral race and back then, she remembers her office and the rest of the city offices were crammed into a small building on Hendrix Street.

The small building was an old medical facility that had been refitted for city business, and even after some of the city’s services moved next door to a building facing Hwy. 367, it continued to serve as an annex and a meeting place for the Austin City Council.

Times are changing.

At the city council meeting on Monday, Mayor Chamber-lain announced plans that will double Austin’s city hall from 2,792 square feet to 6,644 square feet.

“We’ve been saving for at least a decade,” she said about the 3,852 square-foot expansion that will cost about $455,924. The money will come from General Funds and the city will carry no debt on the building, she said.

It will include a 1,300- square-foot meeting room, space for the District Court and a number of city offices. The plans were designed by Clements and Associates of North Little Rock, and Warrior Enterprises of Van Buren is the project’s contractor.

Chamberlain said, “It’s been in the making forever, and I can’t wait because we really need the space.”

Officials expect to start meeting in the expanded city hall in October.

Chamberlain had blueprints of the expansion on display at the council meeting.

In other business:

After extensive research by Austin Fire Chief Steve Bettis, aldermen unanimously approved the purchase of two “newer” fire trucks by the department for a total of about $64,000.

The pumper trucks are a 1994 Pierce and a 1995 KME, and will replace the two 1970s-era trucks the department now uses.

The fire department has some cash available but will need a $40,000 loan from First Arkansas Bank & Trust.

Bettis was recognized by the city council members for his work and for saving the city about $14,500 through price negotiations.

Bettis said he expects delivery within a few days and hopes to have the trucks ready for the fire department’s May 21 fundraiser, AustinFest.

The city is considering using a centralized 911 system and while Bettis said it offered some advantages, he countered with, “There was a shortfall…The police would be on a whole different system. We need to have a lot of discussion.”

The council also approved a measure that would allow Chamberlain to enter into a Telecommunications Management Service Advisory Agreement with Local Government Services, LLC.

While the city will have to shell out about $3,000 initially, it will bring in about $400 a month through a Land Lease Agreement that will allow Verizon to construct a communications tower, said City Attorney Greg Crumpton.

Austin Police Chief John Staley reported that his officers responded to 146 calls last month.

City council members also approved the purchase of tires from Young’s Tires & Auto of Cabot for a police vehicle, and the public auction of old and out-of-commission police vehicles.

March’s Financial Report was corrected to include a voided Austin Fire Department check for $150, after which, the council unanimously approved the corrected report.

Members also unanimously approved funding for two street repairs, including to a collapsing culvert on West Main Street for an amount up to $4,500 to be paid to White’s Paving, Inc. at Cabot and gravel for the city’s sewer pond levee for up to $2,500 to be paid to CTI Gravel at Cabot.

The city also approved up to $5,400 for core-samples extractions at Shadow Creek and Orchard Estates.

The mayor said, “The roads are crumbling, and we need to know why.”