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Council spends a long night

In a nearly three hour meeting, Maumelle’s City Council heard a report from the Bond Task Force and took action on several measures.

Bond Task Force chairman Craig Johnson presented basically the same presentation that he presented to the public and to most City Council members last week but this week council members asked a lot more questions.

Johnson told the council his task force’s job was to prioritize the recommendations for the council and then the council would make decisions on what to pass along to voters during a bond election.

Council members went through each of the proposals and in most cases asked for additional information on the costs associated with each plan.

Johnson said the task force was objective, not selective in ranking proposals. He said the rankings were based upon the cost, operation and maintenance, demographics of those served and the benefit to Maumelle.

He said the task force held eight meetings and heard presentations from staff and from the public. Time was set-aside at the end of every meeting and the group tried to be open and transparent, Johnson said.

The top project selected was a $1 million underpass and Johnson said this came from Mayor Mike Watson’s priorities.

He said the need for the underpass or overpass was clearly identified to make it easier for students to get to area schools and now for use by golf carts to avoid Maumelle Boulevard traffic.

He said no location had been decided.

Project number two involves a new Senior Wellness Center and it would only build the center out to what had originally been suggested in 2006 but was cut back, he said. The $4.4 million would be used to build a brand new structure not just remodel existing space. In fact, he noted a totally new location is planned and the current location was planned to be used as City Hall is remodeled.

Operation and maintenance costs for the new senior center was pegged at $31,000 and $12,000 on additional staff needed, Johnson said.

The third project includes expanding Maumelle Diamond Center ballpark to add at least two more t-Box fields that can double as T-ball fields and two more softball fields for adults. This has always been in the plans, Johnson said and he said it would include additional parking. Cost is $1 million. Since the city already owns the land, no costs associated with securing more space would be required.

Work on an expanded and revised City Center ranks number four, Johnson said and is budgeted at $ 2.6 million. The current roof leaks, Johnson said and city staff has grown and additional space is needed so the Senior Center space would be reclaimed and the City Council chambers would be combined with Municipal Court space. Basically it’s just a remodel, not an expansion of the existing building which is about 20 years old, he said.

The next facility on the priority list is an Aquatic Center which when originally planned cost around $10 million or 75 percent of the bond money available. Johnson said Watson went to work trimming the plans and reduced it to around $6.3 million but operation and maintenance costs annually would run $454,000, Johnson said. Several council members questioned that figure indicating they thought it was too high although the program would be self-sustaining from fees charged patrons.

Maumelle’s Dowell Naylor Aquatics Center is a seasonal operation, Johnson said. He also said he was surprised to learn that so many Maumelle parents drive their kids all around Central Arkansas to practice swimming wherever they can.

Last on the list discussed Monday was an Events Center. Johnson said the facilities at the Jess Odom Community Center are Spartan and can only handle around 300 people all without a kitchen. The new center would be built at the Park on the River and would highlight the beautiful River views.

It would be built in phases with phase one costing $3 to $3.7 million which consists of a 15,004 square foot convention center. A second phase 17,856 square foot theater would cost $4.8 - 6.3 million plus another $600,000 for landscaping, driveway extension, gazebo and amphitheater.

During public comments, Beth Seaton said an events center was needed. She said Maumelle could start a community band, bring in bands for band concerts,

Jack Barr, president of the Maumelle Softball Association said youngsters from across central Arkansas would participate in more events and teams at the ball park.

He said up to 240 youths would participate in a youth football program and 500 in an adult program. 91 teams were rejected who wanted to take part in Maumelle’s tournaments.

Jason Riddick said he brought his son from Bryant to Maumelle to be a part of Maumelle’s baseball program that he said could draw 600 in a spring baseball league.

Phil Bullington, a retired Maumelle resident who served on the Task Force told the task force questioned the outlined $454,000 annual maintenance and operations budget suggesting $200,000 is a more likely more valuable.

Alderman Preston Lewis said the council had its work cut out for it in reviewing and approving the bond proposals.

Maumelle’s resident producer, director and actor Victor Werner told the council that an events center was needed. He said it’s a shame Maumelle parents have to take their kids outside of Maumelle for their kids to experience the arts.

Alderman Ken Saunders also questioned the maintenance costs. He asked to see data that he said was lacking from the plans. He said the council needed actual numbers before it can adequately consider each proposal.

What we have are survey results, he said.

Alderman Burch Johnson said some of these ideas are great but he was concerned about paying for them. If the people of Maumelle want to fund it and pay for it with a 25-cent sales tax, that’s OK.

Johnson said he had a problem with the city having $5 million in reserve.

“We should have already done City Hall,” he said.

In other business the council approved resolutions for disposing of used city vehicles as trade-ins for new items already approved for purchase in this years budget.

The council unanimously approved a resolution in support of Academics Plus Charter School in its efforts to increase it cap on student enrollment by 200 students.

It also approved appropriating funds for Central Arkansas Transit to convert buses to using natural gas.

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