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GENTRY -- The city council on Oct. 5 heard updates on city projects and voted to work toward setting a special election date for Sunday alcohol sales in Gentry on Dec. 8.

The Sunday alcohol sales initiative which missed the Aug. 25 deadline to make it on the Nov. 3 ballot is now headed for a later special election date -- Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The council, at its regular October meeting, approved the special election since sufficient signatures were obtained and the city failed to obtain council approval and notify the county clerk by the Aug. 25 deadline.

City attorney Joel Kurtz told the council that the city could potentially face litigation if it failed to put the measure before the voters.

The city council, by resolution on Sept. 8, voted to add the measure to the Nov. 3 ballot following a petition by Charles and Jerah Jech, including the necessary signatures, to have the initiative added to the November ballot.

According to Mayor Kevin Johnston, City Clerk Jenny Trout verified the signatures and he also reviewed and verified them. To be placed on the ballot by initiative, the signatures of at least 15% of the electors within the city who voted for governor in the last general election must be obtained. He said the council action was only to add the item to the ballot since sufficient verified signatures had been obtained.

Johnston told the Jechs on Sept. 10 the city failed to properly and timely turn in the petition to the Benton County Clerk and the issue wouldn't be on the ballot, according to court documents. Johnston offered to pay for a special election to be held after the general election in November.

Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell said the county's deadline was Aug. 25 and the office started mailing absentee ballots to voters.

Benton County Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz, on Sept. 18, denied a request to delay mailing ballots for the election.

Charles Jech and Jerah Jech filed a petition against county officials for an injunction to prevent ballots from being mailed to voters. The petition requested the Benton County Election Commission and Benton County Clerk be ordered to include the alcohol sales petition on the November ballot in Gentry.

Schrantz denied the injunction and ruled the alcohol measure hadn't been submitted by the deadline and couldn't be placed on the ballot. The judge also denied the request to add the item to the ballot.

If voters now pass the initiative in an upcoming special election, the measure will allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption between 10 a.m. and midnight on Sundays.

Park Projects

A discussion was held regarding the sports complex being planned for the north side of the city, along Browning Road. Since the city won't have funding to complete the full project -- including six ball fields, bleachers and lighting -- the suggestion was made to see what could be done with $3.5 million and build the complex in stages as money become available.

Johnston reported that 60-percent drawings for the complex should be completed by Nov. 20 and that a pricing estimate would be obtained from Flintco, the city's project manager.

The council passed a resolution to proceed with plans to build a double Tuj Lub court in Gentry's main city park, just east of JR Bever Blvd., at a cost of approximately $50,000. Councilmembers said they wished to move forward with plans for the Tuj Lub court and splash pad so that citizens can see that they are getting something for their tax money.

Johnston reported that the city had submitted a grant application for a 50/50 Arkansas Outdoor Recreation Grant for up to $250,000 offered through Arkansas Parks and Tourism to be used for the splash pad and had scored high. He said he was invited to give a brief presentation on the project Oct. 29. He said the city should hear if it is being awarded any grant money for the project toward the end of the year.

Other business

The council accepted the bid of Landmark Structures for a water storage tower near Y-City Road with a 750,000-gallon water tank for $4.227 million. The council chose a 750,000-gallon tank alternate rather than a 700,000-gallon tank because it gives the city a bit more room for growth before another water tower will be needed.

A virtual meeting to approve a bond ordinance and bond purchase agreement for the water tower project was set for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20.

The council passed an ordinance condemning structures located at 119 N. Nelson in Gentry. If the owner does not resolve the code violations within 30 days, the city has the option to demolish the structures and remove them, with the cost to be recovered by placing a lien against the property.

The council had tabled action on the property last month to give the owner time to get a start on the demolition project but a lack of transportation and money delayed the start of the work, and the owner was waiting on a demolition permit from the city which was being held up until utilities could be disconnected.

The council voted unanimously to condemn the property and will leave it up to the city administration to determine whether to allow the owner to continue demolition work after the 30 days is expired if the structures are not yet removed. It was pointed out that anything the owner can get done before the city takes action would reduce the amount of the lien placed against the property.

Johnston reported that a structure on S. Collins which had been condemned is now down, with the owner beginning to haul off debris but delayed because of a stolen trailer.

Action on a petition to vacate an alley running from E. Arkansas to Railroad Ave. was tabled to allow the city time to secure letters of intent to grant the city necessary utility easements. Action is expected at the November council meeting.

A 2020 millage rate resolution was adopted, keeping the rate the same for another year.

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