City & County

Directors settle on water rate increase

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

Water bills for Arkadelphia Water Utilities customers will be increasing by $9 beginning in October, followed by annual percentage increments until 2026.

The rate increase was decided in an Arkadelphia City Board meeting Tuesday. Directors voted unanimously for one of four rate increase scenarios developed from a rate study.

The increase, City Manager Gary Brinkley has explained, is the result of $21 million in improvements needed to the city’s water and wastewater systems over the next five years. Most of those projects, he said, will be bonded, with the bonds to be repaid from the rate increase.

The board will have the option in future years to revisit the rates and change them.

Brinkley told the board that the last increase, nine years ago, amounted to $1.14 for each customer over a five-year period.

Ward 5 Director Jason Jones later said board members “don’t take raising people’s water bills lightly. This is the second worse I’ve felt during a meeting, the [worst] being the addition of sanitation fees. But we’re elected to make tough decisions once in a while, and this is one of them.” He added the decision was “not done without a lot of hesitation to raise anybody’s water bill, because our poorest of the poor have a hard time making it anyway.”

Water supply line for new housing
The North Ridge Estates water supply is fed off the Gorman Loop Road distribution system. While the distribution system has an 8-inch main, the line that supplies Gorman Loop and would ultimately supply water to the new subdivision is 6 inches. That would cause a drop in water pressure for the hew homes. 

The city wants an 8-inch line in the northwest quadrant for future development in that area. The city had two options, Brinkley said; it could replace the Gorman Loop with an 8-inch line or upsize the proposed 6-inch line feeding North Ridge.

The total cost to the city to replace the 2,600 linear feet would be $35,000, as a memorandum of understanding the board voted for covers the price difference in pipe sizes. All other costs, Brinkley noted, would fall to the developer. The city, he added, has $100,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act for projects such as this. 

Those other funds will be used toward a drainage project in University Heights, on Haddock and Henderson streets.

‘Unfinished business’
Doug Nelson, friend of the late outspoken Henry Wilson, spoke to the board about the renaming of Pine Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Nelson was given 10 minutes to speak. “Some board members have heard the cry of Mr. Wilson,” said Nelson, 73. “There is unfinished business” about the renaming of the street.

Nelson gave a brief history of the “Pine Street issue”, crediting Wilson, who died last year, for much of the “journey” that began in 2004. Nelson turned the attention back to the city government’s role in the street naming, saying he “challenged” Brinkley to bring it up. “The challenge is still before us,” he said.

Nelson also voiced discontent with the board’s 2017 decision to “double-name” the street and add  honorary before King’s name. Nelson also scolded the board for not recognizing Wilson’s widow after she spoke to directors in December. “I have always seen the board respond to whoever addressed the board,” he said. “But this night they did not respond at all. The business is still unfinished.”

Nelson said he also gave a “not so good” report to a session he recently attended in Little Rock, and on May 2 intends to join others in praying for the renaming of the street.

The board did not respond to Nelson once he finished his speech.

Speaking of streets
The board set a public hearing at its next meeting for the closure of platted roads that were never developed. 

Brinkley said the streets date back to the early 1900s. One of them, named Cass Street, was to parallel North 10th Street. The streets that never came to fruition are “in somebody’s backyard right now,” Brinkley said, and those residents have claimed it as their property over the years. 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation will negotiate those property claims for the 10th Street extension to Highway 67.

Ward 3 Director Keith Crews asked for a map next time a situation like this one arises. Brinkley said he would supply board members with maps, “and you’ll be equally challenged” in making sense of the old streets, he said with a chuckle.

Airport terminal
Brinkley provided directors with an update to the airport terminal at Dexter Florence Memorial Field. 

The goal with that project is to raze the existing terminal and constructing a new one in its place. The Department of Aeronautics has pledged $400,000 for the project.

Bids were opened March 22, with the lowest bidder being Seale Construction Co., Inc., who offered nearly a $1.2 million bid. The other two bidders, CDI Contractors and Coker Building Co., both offered bids of more than $1.4 million.

Brinkley said he has asked Seale to meet with the project architect to talk “value engineering” the project to bring it closer to budget.

Brinkley said he knew the city would have to add “a couple hundred thousand” dollars to the federal grant funds.

Crews called the $1 million difference a “pretty big gap.” Brinkley said that was why the discussion was “only an update” rather than a request for funds.

Financial adjustments
With the city’s budget “getting bigger with so many moving parts,” Brinkley said it would behoove directors to hear a quarterly update on adjustments.

The airport, he said, is operating at 1 percent above budget. “A lot of that is because of the price of fuel,” he said. Also, the Street Department is operating a little less than 1 percent under budget.

Both of those budgets, Brinkley said, are being monitored.

Other business
• Brinkley said Deaton Construction recently completed its work at the airport to the satisfaction of the airport engineer.

• Fitz Hill is reportedly “very close to a major announcement” for funding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Pine and 15th streets.

• The city is joining forces with the Chamber of Commerce to host the Cinco de Mayo event on Thursday, May 5, from 5-9 p.m. at the Mural Parking Lot in downtown.

• Ward 4 Director asked for an explanation as to why an additional water tower is needed. A representative from Crist Engineers explained that increase storage and gravity flow are essential to a water system poised for growth.

• Mayor Scott Byrd asked anyone interested in a Pickleball League to notify the city. He also asked questions about downtown merchants, mostly on Main Street, who haul their trash to a Dumpster rather than having curbside pickup. Brinkley said those businesses lease the Dumpsters.