City creates department, will buy new cars

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In a special meeting Wednesday, the Blytheville City Council created a separate department for the city attorney's office and set up a $600 expense account for the new department.

The Council also agreed to seek a $200,000 loan from a local bank to purchase new police cars. The loan must be paid in full by Dec. 31, and the city is required to use money generated from the 1/4-cent tax, dedicated to the police and fire departments, to make the payments, according to the resolution.

The 1/4-cent money becomes available July 1.

Meanwhile, city attorney Mike Bearden said he has been paying clerks $300 a month out of his own pocket to prepare subpoenas for the city the last several years.

In requesting the $600 a month funding that is retroactive to March 1 and in addition to his salary, Bearden also noted he personally pays for items like postage, copies, stationary, etc. and estimated he spends about 25 percent of his office time doing city legal business.

"I just took some of my expenses and took 25 percent of that and arrived at the $600 figure, knowing that it exceeds that by a whole lot," Bearden said. "I'm willing to accept that at this point, knowing the budget restraints that we have."

Former City Council appointee Carol White, who was in attendance as a citizen, said Bearden needed to be reimbursed, but questioned why it is necessary to create a separate department.

She said the Council should study what it means to have a separate department.

Until the Council created a separate department for the city attorney by ordinance Wednesday, the office had come under the Municipal Court budget.

"You couldn't look at the Municipal Court budget and see exactly what the city government is allocating for the city attorney's office," Blytheville Mayor Barrett Harrison said. "So all he's asking for now is for his office to present a separate budget. It will no longer be a part of the Municipal Court."

The mayor noted the separate budget makes it easier for the public to see exactly how much the city attorney's office gets each year.

"I'm not a City Council person; I just need clarity," White said. "I hear two things. I hear structure and money."

She suggested taking more time to consider the structure aspect.

With 11 police patrol units that have over 100,000 miles and four high mileage vehicles that were damaged the day of the recent flood, the Blytheville Police Department will be getting five new cars and some used vehicles, after the Council passed the resolution to take out the $200,000 loan.

Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson noted new fully-equipped cars cost about $26,000 each, and the department is eying five new 2008 Ford Crown Victorias with no mileage.

"We're going to leave it up to Mr. (Capt. Tim) Bentley and the chief to determine how many are going to be new and how many are going to come from the state of Missouri," Harrison said.

The police department plans to purchase vehicles that need only striping, which will be done by Henson Signs, Thompson said.

The chief said though they have held up well, he would like to be less reliant on purchasing used cars from Missouri, and work towards inserting newer cars into the fleet.

Thompson said three units were damaged in the recent flood and another had its motor blow up that day.

Two of the units will return to service after getting new engines. The 2003 Crown Victoria (Unit 5), which has 102,000 miles, will get a used motor with 7,100 miles on it, while the 2004 Crown Victoria (Unit 12), which has 99,000 miles, will get a used motor with 7,400 miles, according to Thompson.

The cost of the engines is $1,000 each, the chief said.

Unit 6, a 2003 Crown Victoria with 152,000 miles, was the other car that sustained water damage and will be taken out of service once the new ones are purchased.

The fourth car damaged the day of the flood, a 1997 Crown Victoria, had mechanical issues, Thompson noted.

Meanwhile, Harrison noted the city learned Tuesday about money it will receive from the state's General Improvement Fund.

He said the fire department is getting $27,777 and $125,590; the Haven, $7,812; the Mississippi County Library, $4,800; Arkansas Northeastern College, $100,000; and both Boys and Girls clubs, $4,000 each.

Harrison said the city will receive 75 percent of the money in July and the rest after the first of the year.

He noted the money for the fire department will be used to fix the roof at the Main fire station and pay an architect for plans for the future fire station on West Main.

In other business, the Council:

-- Agreed to renew a contract with Mississippi County EMS to make the ambulance service its primary ambulance service provider. The contract expires July 1.

-- Heard a request from former Blytheville police officer Terry Winkles to reconsider the online anger management course he took. He asked the Council to go into executive session, but Council members adjourned instead. At the May 12 special Council meeting, the board said the online course was not satisfactory in fulfilling its requirements for Winkles to return to the police department.

-- Passed an ordinance authorizing the city to levy an additional $20 fine to help defray the cost of incarcerating city prisoners. The additional fine is an increase from $5 to $20 for defendants who plead guilty, nolo contendere or are found guilty of a misdemeanor or traffic violation. Act 209 of 2009 has increased the amount of the additional fine from $5 to $20. The ordinance becomes effective July 1, simultaneous with the effective date of Act 209 of 2009.