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Arkansas-side Board approves rec center funding | Plaintiffs' representative speaks on pay parity

Arkansas-side Board approves rec center funding | Plaintiffs' representative speaks on pay parity

June 18th, 2019 by Karl Richter in Texarkana News

David Haak prepares to speak to the news media after a Texarkana, Ark., Board of Directors meeting June 17, 2019, at City Hall. Haak addressed the Board about a lawsuit he and others filed against city officials regarding police pay parity.

Photo by Karl Richter /Texarkana Gazette.

The Texarkana, Ark., Board of Directors has approved a funding agreement for a former Boys and Girls Club building that will become a recreation center.

During a regular meeting Monday, the Board voted to move forward with more than $884,000 in federal funding for the Legion Drive building. Specifically, the Board voted to execute and return a Funding Approval Agreement form to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In May, HUD approved the city's application for Section 108 funding, which allows low-cost debt for capital improvement projects. For the next 20 years, the city will spend about $49,000 a year from its Community Development Block Grant allocation to repay the debt, according to staff estimates. Distributed by HUD, CDBG funds are a common source of financing for state and local projects.

Next, HUD will submit loan documents to the city for review, Assistant Public Works Director Tracie Lee said. The city could have those documents within two weeks of returning the signed funding approval to HUD.

After city review of the documents, a conference call will be scheduled with HUD's Little Rock field office and Washington, D.C., office, the city attorney and city staff to discuss the loan documents.

Once all questions have been answered and city staff is in agreement, City Manager Kenny Haskin will move forward with the loan.

Ward 2 Director Laney Harris asked when the project is expected to be completed.

"We don't really want to give a finish date until we get an architect hired," Public Works Director Tyler Richards said.

Harris voted "present" on the measure. Ward 3 Director Steven Hollibush and Ward 4 Director Travis Odom were absent. The remaining votes were for approving the resolution.

Plans for the 12,245-square-foot building include a multipurpose gymnasium and a fitness/activity room. The facility will have a play area for younger children, a computer lab, a tutoring room and meeting areas. The building has been vacant since 2008 and needs extensive electrical and plumbing work, roof repair and a new gym floor.

Voting on the resolution was the only action item on the meeting's agenda.

During the meeting's citizens communication time, resident David Haak spoke about the lawsuit he and other plaintiffs filed in 2018 regarding police pay parity, asking the Board to consider settling the suit and questioning how the city's decisions regarding the meeting have been made.

Haak referred to a hearing scheduled in the case during which a judge will consider the city's request for summary judgment. He said the city wants declared unconstitutional the sales tax meant to keep Arkansas-side police pay commensurate with that of Texas-side police.

"It will go to the judge on July 1. What you risk, you are betting the farm, in this case the city. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but you are saying it's unconstitutional. We agree, but when it's unconstitutional, you will lose the $1.2 million in tax," Haak said. "Are you willing to bet on it?"

He also implied that city officials have been improperly discussing the suit outside of public scrutiny.

"Who has made these decisions? Have you as the whole Board?" he asked.

News media had been alerted that someone would be speaking about a police matter at the meeting. During the open citizen communication time during a Board meeting, Board members are not allowed to respond to those addressing them.

The Board's next meeting is scheduled for July 1.

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