Marked Tree short of funds to complete industry rail spur

Friday, March 16, 2012

The city of Marked Tree needs to come up with $300,000 to finish the Awesome Products rail spur, Mayor Wayne Nichols told the city council Monday night. Mayor Nichols said he had spoken to Gov. Mike Beebe Monday morning about acquiring additional funds, but said the governor told him he had put more money into the project than originally planned and there are no additional funds.

Nichols said the city originally had committed $200,000 to the project and Ritter Arnold another $100,000, though there was nothing in writing saying Arnold made that commitment. Nichols told the council Arnold says he did not commit the $100,000, and council members said they also are not sure as to whether or not they voted to commit $200,000.

City clerk Pam Wright said there is no record of an ordinance or resolution and there was no record found on taped recordings of the meetings, though Alderman Shane Glenn, who was not on the council at the time, said he was in the audience at the time and remembers the council voting on it. Glenn also claimed State Representative Buddy Lovell overheard the conversation in which Arnold committed $100,000 and suggested the council hear from Lovell at the next meeting.

Glenn asked if there had ever been a plan laid out detailing how the city would pay for the railroad spur, and alderman Jerry Jones responded, saying there had been a plan. The industrial fund had $119,000 at the time, he said, and the city was going to pay $100,000 and borrow $100,000 for the $200,000 commitment. Jones said he thought they had voted on it, but Wright said there was no record of an ordinance. Marked Tree's industrial fund currently has $74,952 as of the end of February.

Alderman Cleo Johnson said when the council originally discussed the rail spur, he tried to tell former mayor Dixon Chandler the city didn't have the money for the project.

"I knew we didn't have the money," Johnson said. Alderman Shirley Moore agreed, adding that she and Johnson had always voted "no" on the project.

"In all fairness," Nichols said, "the additional track and extra land we had to buy came to $150,000. That was not originally in the proposal, and that's part of the problem."

Asked for his recommendation, Nichols said, "I can call Van Spear (spokesman for Awesome Products) and say we've gone as far as we can go -- unless you want to borrow money. Those are our only two options."

The council voted to meet with Awesome Products and see how they are willing to proceed. Council members also considered an ordinance amending ordinance 201, which prohibits shooting firearms in the city limits. In addition to banning the firing of firearms operated by means of an explosive charger, the new ordinance also would ban the firing of weapons operated "by springs, air pressure or other means or impelled from a slingshot or any other device having force directed by the user thereof."

The ordinance came before the council after concerns were raised by the police over kids firing BB guns at people.

"They were walking around shooting people, windows and cars," Police Chief Chester Ford said. "That's why we want to ban BB guns. If you don't stop those kids, they'll shoot at everything. With an ordinance like this, we can seize the gun and charge the parent."

Chief Ford also said there is concern over how realistic some BB guns look. To demonstrate this to the council, an officer showed them a pistol and BB gun that looked nearly identical.

"The other night, an officer saw a man with a BB gun and thought it was real," Chief Ford said.

Several members on the council were concerned that such an ordinance would make it possible to charge someone for shooting pests, like snakes, with a BB gun.

"Those officers would have to use common sense," Chief Ford said. "They're not going to arrest people for shooting woodpeckers."

Alderman Glenn suggested the chief check on seeing if an age limit can be added to the ordinance so it would ban only people under a certain age from firing a BB gun within city limits. The matter was tabled until next month.

In other business, the council:

* passed a resolution authorizing and approving execution of an equipment lease-purchase agreement with BancorpSouth for the purchase of one Heil Rearloader with Freightliner Chassis sanitation truck for the total of $156,441.

* accepted the federal audit on the airport and parks. There were no violations.

* reviewed ordinance 306 regarding street vendors. Alderman Michael Scott wanted to make some changes to the ordinance, but wanted to make sure the changes were worded correctly. Mayor Nichols suggested changes be submitted before the next meeting.

* discussed, in executive session, hiring an employee for the street department. The council decided not to hire anyone until they are drug tested.

* discussed the dog ordinance. Alderman Glenn made a motion the council resolve the dog ordinance by the next meeting. Council members are to submit whatever changes they want before then.

* discussed burn permits. The mayor said the city will not issue any more burn permits until the council decides what it wants to do about the ordinance.

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