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TEXARKANA, Ark. — The city Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to give all city employees a pay increase and to establish a downtown entertainment district where open containers of alcohol will be allowed outdoors.

City employees will get a 2% raise, their first cost of living adjustment since 2012. The measure passed with little discussion after Ward 2 Director Laney Harris requested that it be moved from the consent agenda, where it would have been voted on without debate.

"I'm just glad this is targeted to all city employees," Harris said.

The cost of the raise this year will be more than $92,400, according to the city finance office.

The Board fast-tracked and approved a revised ordinance establishing the entertainment district, which was made possible by state legislation earlier this year.

When the ordinance takes effect in 30 days, open consumption of alcohol will be allowed in a large portion of downtown Sundays from 11 a.m. to midnight and Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Establishments in the district licensed to sell alcohol may allow customers age 21 and over to leave with an open container. No one may enter any business with an open container.

All state alcohol regulations remain in effect, including that no open containers may be carried out from liquor stores, no open containers are allowed in any motorized vehicles, and underage drinking is illegal.

The ordinance provides for trash cans and daily pickup of garbage in the district.

With input from the Police Department and Fire Department, the city Planning Commission will prepare a review report on the district in June 2020 and January 2021, and annually thereafter. Ward 6 Director Terri Peavy requested that the phrase "and as needed" be added to clarify that the Board can review the ordinance at any time.

City Manager Kenny Haskin sought to reassure Peavy that nothing stops the Board from reviewing and changing the entertainment district ordinance whenever it chooses to.

"We're not prohibited from taking immediate action" if any issues arise, Haskin said. "We will address those issues promptly."

Signage clearly demarcating the district and explaining its rules, as well as the garbage bins, will be in place by the time it is opened, Public Works Director Tyler Richards said.

George Dodson, co-owner of Hopkins Ice House on East Third Street, which will be in the district, thanked the Board for passing the measure.

"It's going to be a great thing," he said. "I appreciate your confidence in downtown."

In other business, the Board tabled a resolution accepting a federal loan guarantee to fund $885,000 in improvements to the former Boys and Girls Club building on Legion Drive.

Attorney Jim Fowler told the Board that he and Assistant Public Works Director Tracie Lee had worked out some terms in the contract that would be more favorable to the city. He said that earlier in the day he had gotten verbal approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the loan guarantee, that his changes would be acceptable.

A revised resolution including the changes will be ready for the Board's next meeting, on Oct. 7.

The Board also voted to condemn a burned house at 307 Charles St. The owner will be notified and have 30 days to address the house's problems. Then the city will have the right to demolish the structure.

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