Council decides against pursuing splash pad grant

Huntsville Mayor Darrell Trahan delivers his report to the city council.

The Huntsville City Council on Monday chose for the second time in as many months not to approve a possible grant application for a splash pad to be located behind the Basham building.

A resolution last month to apply for a grant for a splash pad failed when it did not get a second. Mayor Darrell Trahan was on vacation during the July vote.

Councilors Monday heard from Rusty Peoples of Heartland Park and Recreation in Fort Smith about the splash pad. He said the grant application would be due at the end of August.

The city was turned down a year ago for a similar $200,000 matching grant. If approved, the city would have to pay $100,000 in money or labor.

Councilor Leslie Evans said the council did not have enough information about maintenance costs, including water, to make a decision. Peoples estimated it would cost $1,000 a month in water to operate the splash pad.

“I’d rather have fire protection than a splash pad,” Evans said. Councilor Stephen Ford said, “me too.”

Trahan was asked if the pad could be put in Mitchusson Park, located off Highway 74 west of downtown.

“Because of this location, it would anchor the downtown and bring people into downtown,” he said. “The grant is for that location [behind the Basham building]. People can’t walk to Mitchusson. Most of the town can’t get to Mitchusson without walking on the highway.”

Ford said he had “a lot of concerns on the site and the money spent.”

“Spend $100,000? We can spend that on some better activity than that,” he said. “I don’t really care for the site.”

Trahan told the council that the Basham building is being leased by a group of geologists in Tulsa who have supported the push for a splash pad.

“The guys that are leasing the Basham building are leasing it because they know there’s a splash pad going in back there. They knew that that was the plan. That’s why they had interest in the building.”

Geologist Shane Matson, who was one of the geologists who is leasing the building, said the group “completely supports the space being configured for kids and families to enjoy.”

“If the community supports a splash pad, then we support the same,” he said. “I was involved in the building of a splash pad. They are expensive and can be a maintenance challenge. That said, kids enjoy them. A lot. It would be the space focused on community and opportunities for kids to run around. Polk Square is a bit of a challenge with kids.”

Matson added that the lack of a splash pad will not change his plans for the building.

Councilor Roger Eoff, as he did last month, made the motion to approve the resolution and submit the grant application. It failed to get a second.

After the meeting, Trahan said he was disappointed with the lack of action on the grant application.

“After interviewing literally hundreds of students and parents and talking with people in the community, the splash pad was something everybody wanted and so for the past three years I’ve worked to try to get a splash pad put in,” he said. “This will be my third run at this same grant and for some reason the council decided that it was not a worthy project and so the motion did not get a second. Our children suffer for it.”

The no vote about the splash pad grant came a short time after a contentious debate between Trahan and Ford over the location of a short-term animal kennel.

Trahan has proposed putting up a kennel in a metal building near the old wastewater treatment plant, just off Highway 23, south of the current facility. Trahan said it would cost about $2,000 to bring water to the facility. Police Chief Todd Thomas said it would cost at least $1,500 to route electricity to the building.

“This is a great facility. It is plenty big and it’s completely in the dry,” Trahan said.

Ford has pushed for a temporary shelter closer to downtown.

The Huntsville Animal Code Review Committee, of which Ford was chairman, said dogs picked up by the city would be housed for a minimum of 72 hours before being turned over to Paws and Claws Animal Shelter. Ideally, the dog’s owner would pick up the dog before the 72 hours.

The council earlier this year agreed to pay the shelter $180 per animal.

Ford has floated the idea of putting a structure in town rather than at the location on Highway 23. He also suggested the public works employees could be in charge of maintenance. He has suggested building a three-cage kennel behind the city’s storage garage across the street from City Hall.

Trahan on Monday said that the location on Highway 23 is “far enough out of town that you do not have to worry about everybody calling about our dogs barking at night or anybody reporting smells.”

Councilor Pat Grubbs also voiced opposition to the location. Trahan added, that “it’s not ideal.”

“I don’t like the building either, but I also don’t like dogs running loose and I don’t like spending a fortune for somebody that’s going to charge us $180 a dog. The building’s not that ugly,” he said.

Ford responded, “it’s an oven. I can live with it being something temporary until we get something bigger and better, but I think we need to step up and do something a little better.”

Trahan said the installation of fans would be included in the rehab of the building.

“We chose to pursue some other places,” Ford told Trahan. “I’d still like to have that opportunity to pursue other places.”

Trahan said he was “not going to put barking dogs close enough for people to call.”

“I just can’t do it,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of dog kennels on the square.”

Councilor Debra Shinn asked where a better location would be.

Trahan said he would spend a week in the metal building “right now.”

“Just give me a sleeping bag and a jug of water,” Trahan said, likening it to camping.

“I’ve been camping, but you didn’t lay in a sheet-metal building camping though,” Ford said.

Thomas said there have been times when the city has captured a dog, only to be told the local shelter is full.

“Where you put it is up to you, I just have to deal with the here and now,” he said. “And the here and now is if I have to pick an animal up that’s running inside of Walmart and chasing people, I’ve got to go somewhere with it, and if Paws and Claws won’t take them, where would you like to take them? That’s my question.”

The city’s Public Works Department has done preliminary work at the old building, including installing gates, Trahan said.

Ford said for the money to rehab the old city building, a smaller structure could be built closer to town.

Grubbs said any kennel or shelter needs to meet “minimum standards.”

City Attorney Howard “Rusty” Cain Jr. said he would research minimum standards before the September council meeting. Cain reminded the council that animals running wild is a problem not only in Huntsville, but in other cities as well.

“We can meet the minimum standards, whatever they are,” he said. “You all just need to decide where that’s going to be, at some point.”

The kennel plan was tabled until September.

In other business Monday:

• The council unanimously passed a resolution to amend the 2019 budget to include $3,000 for the Code Red program. The service is available to city residents and can send alerts via phone calls, social media, text messages or emails.

• The council approved a resolution to apply for a grant with Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The city is seeking more grant money toward a new water tank on Governor’s Hill.

• The council approved the final plat of Phase 1 at Highland Park. Three houses are to be constructed facing Pecan Street in Phase 1. Eventually, contractor Terry Presley plans to build 27 houses and two new city streets in the development.

• Trahan told the council that the city had its final exit conference regarding its annual audit. He called it “totally painless” and thanked City Clerk Janice Smith and department heads for their hard work.

• Trahan said he met with new Huntsville School Superintendent Dennis Fisher about the district’s planned Career and Technical Education (CTE) facilities. Part of their conversation concerned Oakridge Golf Course, which has been put up for sale.

“This is never going to happen, but I told him if he would offer a program in golf course management greens keeping, that at that point we would consider buying the golf course and keeping it open,” Trahan said. “That way they’re maintaining it as part of their curriculum and that cuts our expenses. But it’s never going to happen.”

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