Conway’s 2014 budget will have to be balanced, and doing so may require some means to increase revenue.
The issue was discussed at Tuesday night’s Conway City Council committee meeting, held before the regular meeting. In November the city’s employee health insurance carrier announced premium increases and the city council approved changes to the insurance plan that add about $313,000 in unexpected personnel expenses.
One option being discussed to increase revenue is raising franchise fees on utilities. Currently, Conway residents pay a 2.5 percent fee on electrical utility costs and 4.25 percent on natural gas and telephone utility costs. There is currently no franchise fee for water and sewer service. The fee increase would have the effect of a new tax, and would be the first new tax in Conway since 2010’s tax on alcoholic beverages.
The budget was written with a projection of "flat" sales tax income, assuming neither an increase nor a decrease. Also, there are fewer capital expenditures in the city’s general fund, meaning less general fund money is budgeted for equipment, travel and education.
Jack Bell, city chief of staff, said on Wednesday that city departments can make unbudgeted purchases with council approval.
At the council meeting, it was decided that the city should absorb the cost of temporary fencing set up around the Dryer building on Front Street. The building was condemned in 2011 after city officials noticed that it was leaning. A structural engineer has since reported that the building wasn’t moving, and so was stable in his opinion. The fencing was taken down earlier this year when the condemnation order was lifted, and the building’s owners were sent a bill for about $2,600 to pay for the fencing.
Mayor Tab Townsell defended the decision to condemn the building, but said that it was up to the council to decide whether the fence should be paid for by the owners or absorbed by the city.
"I think it was a prudent series of decisions that the council made based on the information we had at the time," Townsell said, later echoing Alderman David Grimes’ statement "perhaps we were wrong."
"There’s no right or wrong answer," Townsell told the council before the vote. "We can have a heavy hand sometimes as government, and this is a case where maybe we did."
In other business, the council approved:
• An ordinance assessing the value of benefits to be received by the owners of each of the parcels of land within the Central Business Improvement District No. 1.
• An ordinance to permit only Conway Corporation to aggregate demand response of retail customers of Conway Corporation.
• A resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute a power supply agreement between the City of Conway and NRG Power Marketing, LLC.
• Nominations for the Oak Grove Cemetery, Planning Commission and Historic District Commission.
• A resolution ordering the condemnation and cleanup of property located at 626 Third Ave.
• A request from Kevin Watson to place an earth tone brick along the rock cut on the north side of Prince Street on the east side of Turnbery Subdivision located off Prince Street.
• An agreement with Enable Gas Transmission Co. for temporary and permanent easements for gas transmission lines on city property (Landfill) Tract 1 and water storage (Tract 5) locations.
• An ordinance appropriating funds for employee appreciation bonuses.
• Moving the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting (Dec. 24, 2013) to Dec. 17.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)