The Crossett City Council heard July 18 a proposal for a hotel tax to fund tourism-related activities in the city.
Crossett City Councilman Chris Gill discussed his proposal to levee a 3 percent Advertising and Promotion Tax, or “hotel tax,” on any structure or business that provides short term lodging within Crossett city limits.
Gill said the tax was brought up during the winter conference, at which time he began speaking to other municipalities about its potential benefits.
“Basically, I’m proposing that we as a council levee a 3 percent tax for lodging only. It would be considered a municipal tax, and would apply to local hotels, short-term rentals, and any property where people meet; it would not apply to long-term rentals,” Gill said.
Gill said that Monticello has seen an impact, and that El Dorado has generated a tremendous amount of activity over the years.
“I want to do things that are going to benefit our residents. Places like city parks became critical during COVID,” Gill told the council, adding that “Crossett is one of the few municipalities that is not taking advantage of this tax.”
The money the tax would generate would not be able to be used in general funds or for other tax expenditures; the funds must be used for tourism related items.
After describing the benefits the tax has done for surrounding communities that collect it, the council decided to move forward on drawing up documents outlining the proposed tax as well as set up a seven-member commission to be comprised of four local business owners, one member-at-large, with the remaining two spots to be filled by a council member, the mayor, or both, if one of them is to be designated as the member-at-large.
Marshall said that the proposal was attractive to her personally because it isn’t levied on the citizens of Crossett.
“I think we need to move forward on it, myself,” Councilman James Knight said.
Gill followed that up with a motion to have Hamilton draw up a document. Knight seconded the motion, and the council voted to approve the motion.
The Crossett Police Department has received a grant to upgrade their officers’ body cameras.
Crossett Mayor Crystal Marshall told the city council Monday that the department had received $3,000 to update their officers’ bodycams.
Intern Assistant to the Mayor Xavier Brown said that the recently passed $5,000 police stipend was something legislators wanted to use to strengthen local law enforcement.
Crossett Police Chief J.W. Cruce then provided some background information on the purpose of Act 224, while the Arkansas General Assembly passed this year to address problems some areas of the state had concerning recruitment and retention of certified law enforcement officers.
“There is a national shortage—by the thousands—of police officers,” Cruce said.
He explained the shortage has created competition for qualified law enforcement officers between city police departments and other various law enforcement agencies such as the Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department.
“There are agencies that actively recruit from other agencies,” he explained.
Cruce recounted an incident where an officer had accepted his offer of employment on a Friday, and by Monday had taken a better offer from one such agency.
That was not surprising to Cruce. The other agency, according to the system that is set in place, is responsible for buying out the officer’s contract from whichever agency they recruited the officer from.
“They have to buy them out. They did, for $21,000, without batting an eye to get a certified officer,” said Cruce.
He further explained why this stiff competition could become a problem for the city and its residents.
“As inflation goes up, the crime rate goes up,” he said.
“The problem is, local agencies such as ours are not going to be able to compete with the $53,000 a year the Sheriff’s Department starts out at.”
Cruce pointed out that there are five law enforcement agencies in operation in Ashley County alone, all competing for the same candidates.
“We need to get our heads together collectively to get ahead of all this,” he said.
Marshall said the city has been working on a compensation package to recruit and retain officers for Crossett, adding later that the city is “really grateful to the state,” and that she hopes the stipend moves the city in the right direction.
The council then took up Resolution No 2022-5 for the purpose of amending the 2022 adopted budget to account for receiving the stipend due to Act 224.
Knight made a motion to adopt the amended budget, which will be applied for the remainder of the calendar year 2022.
The motion was seconded and all members of the council voted to adopt the resolution.
Following the budget vote, Marshall told everyone in attendance about a planned public hearing about a grant that is scheduled for July 21 at the Economic Development Building on Main Street.
“At this point, we are looking at getting new tennis courts,” Marshall said.
Marshall said the city would prefer to have four courts instead of six, which would allow for more parking space.
She said she had already spoken with coaches over the matter to make sure practices would not be affected due to there being fewer courts to play on at one time.
Marshall said the city cannot repair the existing courts because they are too sunken in, and area actually lower than the grass level right now.
She said that the city had completed a preliminary application for a USDA grant, which may or may not be able to be combined with other grants.
If the combination of the grants is permitted, Marshall said that the city might be able to add bleachers or lights to the area around the courts as well.
In order to complete the application for the grants being sought for the proposed improvements, Resolution 2022-5 needed to be passed.
Mondragon made a motion for the resolution to be read.
The resolution specified that the facility or structure that is built using the grant money “must remain an outdoor facility in perpetuity, and must remain open and accessible to the public all times of the year. Other stipulations include the ability for the public to rent the facility, and that the facility must be kept clean and in good working order.
The resolution also provided authorization for the mayor to complete and submit the application for the grant.
Crossett City Council member Cary Carter made a motion to adopt the resolution with a second from Mondragon; the council voted unanimously to adopt it.
Marshall said that Ideal Construction Company has been chosen for work on the project because they are familiar with the various issues that may occur during the process of completing the proposed project.
She emphasized that anyone who may have questions, ideas or comments on the grant should attend the meeting so they can give or receive any information they feel should be included or addressed on the topic.
The council then discussed the nomination of Kurt Price to the Sewer Committee. Knight made a motion to approve Price’s nomination, and Crossett City Council member Sheila Phillips seconded the motion, with the rest of the council approving it unanimously.
The Crossett Municipal Airport Commission gained three new members as well, when the council unanimously approved the appointment of nominees Ryan Abney, Jerry Ozment, and James Roberts to serve on the commission for a five-year term.
In other news:
4Marshall made an announcement reminding the community about the ribbon cutting to be held on Main Street by Centennial Park, to celebrate the people whose hard work resulted in the paving of Main Street.
4Marshall told the council that the new school crossing lights are up, but because of requirements of the Department of Transportation, the lights are not exactly the same.
The lights found at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Ninth Avenue and near Atwoods are the beacon type, and will be flashing during school hours.
Marshall praised Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Harrison for his hard work in accomplishing the task of setting them up.
4Marshall informed the council of the insufficient amount of the new trash cans the city purchased. Marshall said that the system they used did not give them an accurate total of the cans they would need, and that the city would have to purchase more.
Gill made a motion to make the purchase out of the city’s COVID funds. It passed unanimously
4Marshall thanked Brown for his service to the community during his time as her assistant, and wished him well. The summer has nearly ended and Brown is heading back to school to attend classes once again at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.