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Budget Talks Spark Heated Debate At Hardy Council Meeting

Council members Dale Maddox and Greg Bess asked for “actual” numbers in regards to the 2014 budget, touching off a debate at the Thursday, April 3 meeting of the Hardy City Council.

It began when Maddox asked County Treasurer Carolyn Groves when the council would be presented with a “budget vs. actual expenditures” format for the city budget. Groves replied, “We are getting very close.” Maddox said, “I challenge any of you to look at the finances and… tell what’s been spent in a department versus what was budgeted in that department.” Maddox added that, if the budget were in a budget vs. actual format, the recent fuel theft within the Hardy Police Department would have been more quickly noticed by council.

Mayor Nina Thornton asserted that she attempted to alert council members of rising fuel expenditures, to which councilman Bess said, “The issue is not that we want to be told there is an over expenditure. The issue is that we want to be told before we have the expenditure…Let’s get proactive.”

On Feb. 5, Hardy Officer Gary D. Henry was arrested and terminated after admitting to using the city’s credit card to fuel his own personal vehicle, causing a total loss to the city of $3,600.

Councilman Dale Maddox made a motion to move $36,000 in Advertising and Promotion tax revenue back to the Parks and Maintenance budget. According to Maddox, the money was transferred out of Parks and Maintenance to the city general fund on Aug. 7, 2013 with no discussion among the council at that time.

Mayor Thornton replied, “I am going to call that [motion] out of order because that $36,000 was a reimbursement to the general fund. The motion is out of order because it’s illegal…I am calling it out of order as the Mayor.”

Maddox asserted that closer regulation is needed for the use of A&P revenue and, while he withdrew his original motion, he motioned to “Freeze the $36,000 until we have some clarity on its uses. It’s [how the city has spent the money] been too lose in the past and I don’t think it’s the proper procedure.”

Hardy is one of 30 cities in Arkansas that has an Advertising and Promotions Commission to promote tourism and economic development through tourism. The A&P Commission was formed by an ordinance in September 2001, and is funded by a city wide tax on overnight lodging and prepared foods. Hardy’s A&P Commission currently brings in $90,000 yearly with one-third of that traditionally dedicated to the city parks.

Aside from discussion of improving the current budget format, council members were also concerned about upcoming expenditures. When Maddox and Bess asked about a recent expenditure for updating city hall computer servers, Mayor Nina Thornton replied they had been budgeted $2,500 and, if more money was needed, a request would be made to the council. When asked if bids were sought for the project,

Thornton replied, “No, I just said, ‘go ahead and do it,’ because it has to be done. It’s already been bought [the server] and it will be in here tomorrow.”

When asked by Maddox if she knew how much the server would cost, Thornton replied, “No, it had to be done.”

In other business, the camper park lease was discussed at length among the council. It was decided that a certain set of criteria for running the park would be developed, which would be made available to the public through an ad in local newspapers. Sealed proposals would then be accepted by those interested in leasing the park. It was decided that all proposals would be reviewed and council would vote on a lease during its April 15 meeting.

Jenna Pettus, of Cherokee Village Animal Control, asked permission to use Loberg Park to host a fundraiser. Pettus told the council that she would like to have a free event featuring live music, vendors and prizes to raise funds for the care and maintenance of animals housed in the Cherokee Village shelter. Besides raising money, Pettus said the shelter would possibly also hold an adoption drive at the event. She said that the shelter offers reasonable adoption prices and spays or neuters all animals prior to adoption. Pettus was told to come back at the April 15 meeting with a detailed plan for the event.

James Mack Street, Facility Administrator for the Cherokee Village White River Medical Center [WRMC] Complex, addressed the council on the progress of the 24/7 emergency room currently under construction. Street said that, once all doctors are signed under contract, WRMC “will have everything in our power, once construction is over, to open it [the ER.] What we don’t know is, CMS (the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) will have to come in and state will have to come in to do a post-construction inspection. Since this is the first [satellite ER] in Arkansas, we don’t know what to expect. As we talk to them, they don’t know what they’re looking for either. Barring we don’t have any complications from that process, we will be ready to go as soon as the construction is over.”

Street also announced that WRMC is currently developing a “wish list” of services for the Sharp County area. There are 27 specialties and services on the list so far, and additional input from the public is welcome. Street advised that they have added two neurologists and an interventional cardiologist to their team of physicians, and that those physicians would be traveling to the Cherokee Village Complex, “as their schedules allow.” He added that WRMC is evaluating the option of extending the clinic hours, “so there won’t be a gap between the cost of going to the emergency room and the cost of the clinic.”

Finally, Mayor Thornton made a proclamation declaring May 2014 as National Preservation Month. The proclamation stated that historic preservation is an effective tool for managing growth, maintaining community character and fostering pride in communities. The proclamation calls upon citizens of Hardy to join other cities around the nation in recognizing and participating in the special observance.

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