Tonight, the Hot Springs Board of Directors approved a $113.5 million FY 2018 budget for the City of Hot Springs, providing quality services to residents and visitors and aligning with the board’s vision and priorities.
The budget includes a 3% cost of living increase for all employees; 3% increase in employee health insurance premiums; one new position to handle increased activity at the city’s compost facility; and two new positions to mitigate wastewater pump station overflows. The revenue side includes a projected 2% increase in sales tax collections; 3% increases in water and wastewater rates; stormwater rate increases; and a 2% commercial rate increase in solid waste. The water, wastewater, solid waste and stormwater rate increases were previously approved by the Board of Directors.
A general government capital budget of $521,560, financed with a five-year loan, represents a decrease of $345,440 from the 2017 budget, due to large purchases made in 2017 of facility power generators and an IT server. Also, fewer replacement vehicles will be needed in 2018.
Majestic Hotel redevelopment
2018 redevelopment planning activities for the former Majestic Hotel site include the removal of an inactive, buried fuel oil tank; reallocation of funds to develop and facilitate community input sessions, with help from the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Kansas State University’s Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) program; and enactment of resulting redevelopment scenario testing.
Radio communications system
Construction of the city’s new $4.9 million, AWIN-compliant radio communications system will begin next January, with a projected fall completion date. Hot Springs will be the first city in Arkansas with a P25 Phase II system, providing two talk paths on one channel. The system also includes a new seismic-compliant, state-of-the-art 9-1-1 dispatch center. Once completed, it will also be used by LifeNet. Project funding sources include a temporary, two-year 2.6 mill levy as well as fund transfers from the Municipal Utilities and Solid Waste departments.
Future water supply
In 2018, the city will take further steps towards ensuring the community’s water supply for the next 50 years. The budget includes $227,260 in interest payments on water rights for 23 MGD of water from Lake Ouachita, based on a May 2017 agreement with the Mid-Arkansas Water Alliance, and $32,775 in operations and maintenance, overhead and trustee expenses. Additionally, $20 million in bonds will be issued in 2018, with subsequent bond issues planned in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Wastewater system improvements
To enhance wastewater plant operations, capacity and efficiency, a $9 million improvement project, begun in 2017, will continue next year, including a new bar screen and grit chambers. A new tertiary filter, digester equipment and related items totaling $1.3 million is also included in the budget. The city is working towards system-wide elimination of chlorine gas in the wastewater disinfection process, converting towards safer, more environmentally friendly ultraviolet light.
Enhancing neighborhood services
To address this board priority, the 2018 demolition budget is increased by $5,000 to a total of $45,000 to continue combating the “broken window theory” and encouraging neighborhood revitalization. An additional $30,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for demolition is recommended by the Community Development Advisory Committee. Funding for overgrown lot abatement remains at 2017 levels.
Streamlined court process
Neighborhood Services citations now provide the option of appearing at circuit court on Friday at 3 p.m. the next week to plead or pay fines, thus shortening the wait time for a court appearance and reducing staff impact.
Lien to be collected as tax
AR Statute provides for a “clean up lien” securing the city’s cost to remove, abate or eliminate code violations. The clean up lien has priority against other lienholders and will be collected through the tax collector in order to establish some cash flow back to the general fund.
Implement downtown plan/parking authority
The proposed budget includes matching city funds for a federal grant to implement standard wayfinding signage for the downtown business district through a $700,000 federal grant program with the West Central Arkansas Planning & Development District (WCAPDD) and A&P Commission as partners. The Fire Department will initiate the next phase of fire suppression inspections in the Thermal Basin Fire District, protecting legacy structures in this historic area.
Improve rights-of-way management practices
Following meetings held with most right-of-way users, a ROW management enabling ordinance, including franchise fee adjustments, has been drafted and is planned for consideration at mid-year. Other policies and improvements benefiting downtown are also underway.
Northwoods trail development
No budget funds are earmarked in 2018 for Phase I of Northwoods mountain bike trail development, now underway with equal funding from Visit Hot Springs and the Walton Family Foundation. City staff will continue oversight, particularly in the area of natural resource conservation.