By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – In addition to accepting a demolition bid for the Wesch-Oak building (see story page A1), the Hot Springs City Council also covered a wide range of other topics at their March 16 meeting, including the First Reading of a revised Ordinance 1226, which repeals a tax rebate that was passed in 2018. The discretionary tax rebate Ordinance 1187 of 2018 allowed those who were undertaking new construction or remodeling projects of at least $5,000 to not pay taxes on the city’s portion of those improvements for the first five years after completion.
As noted during the Feb. 16 meeting to explain why the repeal was being considered, Mayor Bob Nelson and others on the council said that while the rebate had good intentions, it did not end up having the desired result to encourage building or remodeling. It was stated by multiple councilmembers that they felt that those who have built new or remodeled since then, and were eligible for the rebate, would have likely performed the work anyway without the possibility of a rebate. As a result, one of the city’s few sources of revenue – property taxes – has been negatively impacted.
The original First Reading of the rebate’s repeal was passed unanimously by the council on Feb. 16, but the Second Reading was tabled on March 1 after the council was confronted by a community member who learned of the rebate only recently, despite having building a new home in Hot Springs after the rebate ordinance as passed. Hearing his concerns, and knowing that there were likely others in the community who may have similar concerns, the council decided to table the repeal Ordinance 1226 and instead look at revising the language of the original rebate Ordinance 1187 instead.
What then came before the city council to consider at last week’s March 16 meeting was a new repeal Ordinance 1226, which still did away with the discretionary tax rebate, but now also included a grandfather clause allowing those who were eligible for the tax rebate while it was in effect from 2018 to present, to have a means to now come to the city and be considered for the rebate after the fact, provided they do so by Oct. 15, 2021.
Prior to hearing discussion on the motion to approve the First Reading of the new repeal ordinance, Mayor Nelson assured the council that he and the City Administrator and City Finance Officer were diligently working on a brand new rebate ordinance that was better suited for the city and its residents.
Discussion then ensued amongst the council, led off by a question by Councilwoman Caitlin Turner who asked City Attorney Garland Goff whether or not the city was obligated to give the rebate retroactively to anyone who came forward showing their eligibility, despite not meeting the original requirement of pre-approval.
“Under this grandfather clause, we are,” answered Goff.
However, to clarify his response, City Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton said, “We still get to decide whether or not if they didn’t meet the qualifications of the original ordinance, if we’re going to allow them. We still have that ability and we will have to determine that as a group.”
After some other council members weighed in and restated that it would still be up to the council’s discretion to approve the rebate for those who would have qualified but didn’t apply previously, Turner commented, “To qualify, they would have had to be pre-approved, so right away, they’re not eligible, would be my interpretation.”
“For me, to the heart of Caitlin’s questions, did the people know that they qualified and chose to not apply for it?” asked Mayor Nelson. “I’m still of the opinion you can’t deny something you don’t know about. So it’s up to them, to demonstrate to you as a council, that had they known, they would have applied. And where is the city’s obligation in making sure they knew.”
When a roll call vote was taken, the motion to pass the First Reading of the repeal Ordinance 1226 passed by a margin of 5 to 3, with Turner, Wes Grimes and Craig Romey voting against. Voting in favor of the repeal ordinance was Larry Pratt, Bill Lukens, Dave Burris, Debra Johnston and J.R. Huddleston.
Following that split vote, the council unanimously approved:
• The First Reading of Ordinance 1229 which adds a number of requirements for Day Care facilities to open up within the city. The new requirements, which include passing a background check, are based on those required by the state for larger facilities, but for which some smaller operations are not required to adhere to, according to Councilman Lukens.
• Resolution 2021-6 which creates a new full-time position of Head Lifeguard at Evans Plunge Mineral Springs. Facility manager Kris Hanson spoke to the council about the need for upgrading the current part-time position of Head Lifeguard so that it would also now include benefits as a way to attract better applicants and also retain them for a longer period of time.
• A motion to publish RFP 2021-4 for the Fall River Channel Restoration Landscape Phase 1 Project, which is in regards to an area that extends 240-feet north of the pedestrian bridge to approximately 50-feet north of the new Jennings Avenue Bridge. The overall length of the landscape improvements area is 600-feet with a varying stream bank width of 20-feet to 30-feet. The intent of the RFP is to obtain both a planting design, as well as, complete planting/installation of grasses and other suitable native vegetation; and geo-grid grassed paver sidewalk installation. Sealed bids will be received and opened by Public Works committee April 13 with recommendation for responsive bidder selection to City Council on April 19.