School, housing, highway top Monette Council agenda
Buffalo Island Central Superintendent Gaylon Taylor spoke to the Monette City Council at its regular meeting Monday, April 21, about the school district's plans to construct a new pre-K through 12th grade campus at the Mississippi/Craighead County line on Highway 18.
Taylor was at the council meeting to clear up rumors, clarify information and ask for the city's support of the project. He said he felt the new four lane highway and the bypassing of Monette will have more of an impact on the city than the school district having a unified campus just outside the city.
"When a four lane is built around a town there is no longer exposure to the school facilities or the cities," Taylor said. "So it is critical for the school district and the cities of both Monette and Leachville to work together to come up with a plan that will support growth for us all."
Taylor went on to explain a new unified campus would bring students together for the first time. He said with campuses in two towns the schools act as their own separate entities instead of one school district. Taylor said besides saving money on utilities, travel for teachers, and making new technology available to students, a new pre-K - 12th grade facility will provide course offerings and educational opportunities the district cannot currently provide. The BIC district would like to ask voters in September for a millage increase to support the project. If a 9 mill increase is passed the district's millage would be brought up to 42 mills, which is comparable to surrounding districts. The proposed project would be built on 40 acres of land along the expanded Highway 18 on the Craighead county side of the county line.
Several council members voiced concern about the school moving outside the city.
"We all agree this is a good thing for the school," Alderman Shawn Nance said. "My concern is that history has shown us that if a school moves out of a community the community suffers."
"There is not a town where we are proposing to build the new campus," Taylor said. "The people that live in Monette will still live here and shop here. The same with Leachville. I understand your concerns. Your position as a city council is different from mine. You have to consider the city and I have to consider the 800 students we serve. We are not wanting to make the cities of Monette and Leachville mad. We just want to do the best for our kids by providing them the best education possible in the best facilities possible."
Taylor also discussed the district's need for a self contained room for children with disabilities, vocational training to high school students and fine arts programs. He said the superintendent's office, bus shop and gymnasium will stay where they are currently located. The new proposed pre-K - 12th grade campus would be for educational facilities. Taylor shared with the council the age of the facilities and the need for new technology. Alderman Bob Hurst, who is a past BIC school board member, said he was in full support of the project. Taylor took a few more questions before thanking the council for their time.
Also at the council meeting was Arkansas Representative Homer Lenderman, who was present to hear concerns of the Monette Housing Authority and the city. Barbara Suber of the Monette Housing Authority explained to Mayor Chub Qualls and the council that the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act passed on Jan. 17 of this year and taking affect on June 1 would raise housing authority flat rate rents to 80 percent of the fair market value for the county. This Act not only affects Monette but all Housing Authorities. Suber explained that Monette Housing Authority flat rates would be increased to the Craighead County fair market value, which would bring the rates up to be comparable to Jonesboro.
"When a person moves into the Housing Authority they have the option for income based rent or flat rent," Suber said. "We have 31 residents that do the flat rent, of those 21 are elderly or disabled. Our flat rent for a one bedroom apartment is $200, a two bedroom is $275 and three bedroom $325. Under this new Act a one bedroom would be $398, a two bedroom, $491, and a three bedroom $690. I think it is unfair for the federal government to want us to all be one size fits all. Rural communities cannot afford to pay those rates. If our residents could afford to pay those rates they would not be living in one of our apartments."
Suber is trying to work with AARP, state legislatures and the legislatures for the seven surrounding states to get the Act repealed or at least changed. She said housing authority residents have signed a petition, each housing authority council member has written letters and she was asking the Monette City Council to support the housing authority's efforts on this matter. The council told Suber she had their support.
Rep. Lenderman then heard from the council concerning the Arkansas Highway Department's proposal that the city of Monette take over the maintenance of Highway 18 and a portion of Highway 139 that run through the city once the Monette bypass is built. Council members told Lenderman there has been three different representatives from the Highway Department visit the city and every time those representatives refuse to address the city's concerns. Aldermen went on to say in every written proposal the city's concern's have not been addressed.
"No one has addressed how we can maintain these roads and how we can get funds to do that," Alderman Hurst said. "They told us the money has already been allocated for the bypass. So we are not holding them up on the bypass. We can't afford to take care of a bridge and that much highway."
Rep. Lenderman said he did not blame the council for not taking the Highway Department's proposal and suggested each council member write letters stating the city's concerns, which the council agreed to do.
In other business the council voted not to allow Tommy Smith to rent out his mobile home based on precedent that had already been set and the guidelines in the city's ordinance. The council also agreed to table roof bids for the old city hall, accepted the 2012 financial compliance audit, and voted to reimburse RGL for moving a fire hydrant. Monette Clean Sweep will be May 5-9 and the city wide yard sale May 3.
Before adjourning the council voted to appoint Larry Bibb to fill Philip Duffel's position on the council and discussed replacements for Alderman Shawn Nance, who recently moved outside his ward. The meeting was the last for Nance, who Mayor Qualls and the council thanked for his service.
"It has been a pleasure," Nance said. "I have really enjoyed it and I have learned a tremendous amount from you all."