Hot Springs Village Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) met on Friday, November 4, 2022, at 9:00 A.M. Chairman Bob Pettey assigned the task of arranging for visitor speakers to GAC Committee Member Paul Bridges.
Paul Bridges said we did have two speakers scheduled, but only Richard Green, Garland County Veterans’ Service Officer, attended as the other scheduled speaker Nathan Looper, Saline County Veterans Service Officer, had a family emergency. “Richard comes to us with 50 years of public service, 38 years in the military,” stated Bridges. Green is a retired Chief Master Sergeant with impeccable credentials with 9,000 hours of flying time in the Air Force, and he has been honored with many awards.
Reports from GAC
Chair Pettey said the GAC has a new charter. “I don’t know that it really changes what we are doing or have done,” said Pettey.
Pettey talked to the HSV Rotary Club and gave them copies of the Economic Impact Summary for Current Residents. “We need to work out ways to more widely distribute summaries of The Economic Impact Report,” said Pettey.
General Manager Kelly Hale said, “we have applied for matching grants in the two counties.” Keith Keck has helped with this and Kelly thanks Saline County for being professional and supportive of the Village and filing the grants, which, if received, will be used for water and wastewater plant upgrades. “I want to thank Saline County for recognizing the impact we do make to the State of Arkansas,” said Hale.
“We are looking at big numbers that impact what our bottom line is for budget planning. We have gone through the Seven-Year O&M Tables and restructured with new information and where I feel the Village needs to be in the next five years,” explained the GM.
“Some of the numbers are big. We’re going to be doing, as I have been doing all along, a reality check with math…That is where the American Rescue money will come in to help. It is very fortunate that the Saline County group did listen to us and [they] were very cooperative.”
“We talk quite a bit about what we give. But we don’t talk about what we need. Some people say, ‘you are a little angry.’ I am not angry. I am very focused in my communications. People don’t get it. It has gone on too long. Right now we are out to communicate as a Board, as a POA, as a GAC, every committee, Public Services, you name it, all the way down. Everybody has a seat at the table on understanding, ‘if you don’t start getting it, and getting it loud and clear, we’re going to get into a bigger hole. I’ve seen the math on Arkansas, what this place is going to look like if we don’t stay in front of some of these big issues. I am going to be upfront and be honest. I am going to tell people exactly what it is going to cost us, but we have a lot to get done. Unfortunately, the can has been kicked down the road for too long. So we have to make strategic decisions – real smart ones that are going to get us the most bang for our buck…People think we have a lot of money. We don’t. We need close to $70 Million in infrastructure over the next ten years. I can assure you, the math does not add up as we look to the assessments coming in. More to come on that….”HSVPOA General Manager, Kelly Hale
Saline County, JP Keith Keck said this will be a good opportunity for the GAC to lobby the state reps. This is the next step.
GAC Member Karen Crowson said, “Wednesday this week marks the 135th Anniversary of Saline County…” The name ‘Saline’ is derived from early salt works in the county.
The Benton Area Chamber and Saline Health Foundation had a major fundraiser.
The burn ban was lifted in Saline County on October 31.
Concerning real estate in the Village, at the time of the GAC meeting on November 4, 2022, there were 106 active listings. Sixty new listings came on board, and 54 listings sold. Properties are selling at 96.61% of the list price. The average number of days on the real estate market is 13. Inventory is still low in some price ranges. “We still have a healthy market right now,” shared Crowson.
GAC Member Ron Davis on Healthcare – There are”many varied health care providers. Many people don’t realize how many services we have.”
“My project is to let everyone know how many services [are available],” enthused Davis. Davis said he was asked to serve on The Patient and Family Advisory Council for St. Vincent. His first meeting on the Council was Tuesday, and “they are very diligent in looking at areas that can improve patient and family care.”
Hale said they are trying to get doctors and nurses to Village. Keck said a few years ago, this was attempted, but at that time, the facilities available in the Village were not suitable for operating a medical practice.
Garland County Justice of the Peace Larry Raney is still ‘out.’ He has good and bad days. Keck said he has been out for a month and trying to get back to work.
Saline County Justice of the Peace Keith Keck said that some Villagers were concerned about voter integrity. Keck sat down with officials and went through the whole voting process. It is a very secure process. People are challenging whether people can get into the voting system and change the votes. “We need to go back to paper ballots [everywhere].” Saline and Garland County do have paper ballots, and if there is a problem, the ballots are stored.
There were three quorum court issues on the upcoming agenda. (Monday, November 7, 2022)
- Ordinance for barking canines in unincorporated areas – There is a problem with barking dogs. If this goes into effect, it will affect the Saline County portion of the Village.
- The resolution was proposed for the Quorum Court to support the County Judge and County Sheriff in building more jails and prison facilities. Keck said, “we are 2000 beds short in the state.” The sheriffs and the County Judge need our help.
- A resolution was scheduled to be discussed regarding the intersection of Highway 5 and DeSoto for improved safety. Saline County is willing to put up the dollars if this project comes forth from the State. This is only the first step. “It is going to be a long process,” said Keck. If this goes forward, it will be funded with 80% state dollars and 20% county dollars. Keck explained, “we are making some progress, but it will be slow.”
Fountain Lake School District Superintendent Doctor Michael Murphy thanked everyone who attended the school site visit and meeting.
Superintendent Murphy said they are working on building a database of health-related services to be used in the phone app designed by Fountain Lake School students. Murphy said this could be an asset to Villagers.
The Superintendent said they attended a presentation by both Garland and Saline County Assessors’ Offices, regarding property taxes. Board equalization is almost completed, and he has received some preliminary information. They should know in about a week whether the increased property tax rates will trigger a millage rate decrease.
Parents’ number one concern and priority is the safety of their children. The topic of safety will be on the agenda at the next legislative session, particularly funds for public schools for safety purposes.
Fountain Lake School District is looking for school bus drivers. Fountain Lake will pay for training. They can use help with field trips, but there is also a regular route open. You can choose to do the morning route, afternoon route, or both.
The School District is also lacking in officials for sporting events.
The GAC Legislative Sub-Committee comprises Sam Sacco, Stephanie Heffer, and Paul Bridges.
The purpose is to educate elected officials on the Village and to nurture those relationships, to facilitate a working relationship. Some folks think we are just a little resort town that doesn’t mean much. Sacco said we want to educate legislators on what type of asset we are.
Committee Member Paul Bridges said, “we are not out asking for anything. We want to look for ways to educate people that could help.”
Committee Member Stephanie Heffer shared that they would be trying to reach those elected officials that we are working with already, those who are already closely aligned with the Village. We need their thoughts and ideas. That is our first step.
Sacco said, “we are not out asking for anything because we would be interfering with other people. What we want to do is look for ways to educate people that could help when it comes to voting.”
Bridges said, “the key here is to turn the GAC…into an action-oriented committee.”
Chair Pettey said that they “need to ensure we are on the same page in the handbook. Make sure we are coordinated with the POA and make sure that everybody is going in the same direction.”
Report by Cheryl Dowden