Marked Tree Council talks raise, dilapidated houses, and more

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Marked Tree City Council covered several items on the agenda Monday from parks and council raises to industrial development and dilapidated houses.

First up, Alderman Jason Gilbert brought up the possibility of the city paying for conditioning needed for the ball fields at the sports complex. He said volunteers have done fundraisers for the past three years to pay for the conditioner, which costs $2,500 for one year, but he felt the city could help out since there was enough money in the Parks and Recreation fund. "The bottom line is, the money's there," Gilbert said. "That is our diamond, and we need to shine it." The council approved paying for this year's conditioner 7-1 with Gail Nichols voting against.

The council increased their pay from $40 per month to $100 per month. Mayor Arnold started discussion with a proposal of a raise to $50 a month, and Alderman Cleo Johnson Jr. made a motion for $100 a month. Last month, Johnson had asked City Clerk Pam Wright to look back at what the council has been paid since she has been with the city. Wright had those numbers this month and said council pay was $40 a month in 1997, raised to $45 in 2007, raised to $50 in 2009, and dropped back to $40 in 2013. The vote was 5-3 with Steve Craig, Gail Nichols, and Soozi Williams voting against.

Tom Rhoads spoke to the council again this month about citizens' concerns. She showed pictures of dilapidated property in need of cleanup. One was a house on Lewis Street, one was the property at 24 Frisco that had burned down--according to Wright, the city owns one of the three lots that make up the property--and the last was the burned out trailer on Brigance Avenue near the entrance to the sports complex. Rhoads also brought up a drainage problem on 12th Street which a citizen has come before the council several times to discuss. Rhoads also questioned why the city does not use a tape recorder to record meetings and suggested putting cameras at the sports complex for security.

Regarding the burned out properties, Police Chief Michael Matlock talked about the process and difficulties of getting them taken care of. Regarding the Brigance Avenue property, he said the owner was deceased and the grandson, who had been named in the will as the next person in charge, was currently indisposed as he was in jail for the next few months. "The problem is that a city worker cannot work on private property. If they were injured, they would not be eligible for worker's compensation," Matlock said. "That's what ties the hands of the city."

Matlock said there are things they could do to force a solution like condemnation, but that takes time. Matlock suggested volunteers could get it cleaned up though. "I propose the men of Marked Tree get some trailers and clean it up ourselves," Matlock said, adding that he would be the first to volunteer. When Rhoads asked about cleaning up the property on Lewis Street, Matlock said suggested the same thing there.

On that note, Alderman Mack Rhoads said if they got a tractor with a loader on the front, it could be done in a day. He said the city has one, but Mayor Arnold said she was not going to get the city in trouble. Tom Rhoads asked Matlock if he would authorize her to get something done regarding the property, but Matlock said he could not give that authority. Regarding the Main Street lot, Tom Rhoads offered to buy it for $10, saying, "That's all it's worth," but no motion was made.

The council also looked at the wording on the one cent sales tax currently on the books. The wording breaks down where the tax goes to and says that 12 percent of the tax can fund "industrial development projects to stimulate the local economy." City Clerk Pam Wright brought it to the council's attention at Mack Rhoads' request and had suggested last month the possibility of using the money for tearing down dilapidated houses in the hope that it would stimulate the community. Since then, Wright said she had checked with the Municipal League, who said they could see that interpretation but could also see where someone could challenge that and take the city to court. Wright said if they decided to pursue it, they should make it an ordinance and keep track of every penny spent, with the council approving every expenditure. After some discussion, Wright agreed to bring an ordinance to the next council meeting.

The council looked at a proposed ordinance for a property maintenance code, based on one Trumann uses, which many agreed needed to be condensed. Mayor Mary Ann Arnold asked for suggestions so they could condense it. No action was taken on the ordinance that night. The council also passed a resolution amending the 2016 budget. The revised budget lists total receipts at $2,472,495 and total expenditures at $2,264,835.

The council also approved the hiring of a new dispatcher and to have the city start picking up junk put out on the curb again.

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