Farmer's Market proposes open-air pavilion in park
By Jonathan PleasantMountain City’s leaders were faced with some big decisions last Tuesday night that could result in a variety of noticeable developments both within the city limits and without. The first big discussion came when Robert Back, a representative of the Johnson County Farmers Market, brought a proposal before the board that could see the establishment of a permanent home for the growing organization.
Presenting detailed information about the market’s background, its benefits to the local community, and its growth since moving to the Johnson County Courthouse parking lot a couple years ago, Back explained that the organization would like to try to take advantage of several grants to build an open-air pavilion in Ralph Stout Park. Mayor Lawrence Keeble and Public Works Director Bob Eller had already met with Back and had looked at the proposal and its projected location. Long and narrow, the building would ideally be constructed between the tunnel under Highway 421 and the park’s major playground. Taking advantage of existing parking and paralleling the future Goose Creek Trail project, the pavilion would be constructed of materials matching those of the park’s stage and bleachers and would ultimately be owned by the city.
A lease or agreement would have to be worked out to allow the Farmers Market perpetual use as needed, and Back indicated that one of the hopes associated with the project is to eventually be able to have a second market through the week rather than just on Saturdays. Additionally, the building would also have power access for vendors allowing more reliable use of credit or debit cards, and other services. The market itself is a 501c3 non-profit organization but does oversee vendors that sell their produce and crafts to make money.
Because of the unique nature of the project and the impact it could have on the park, there was extensive discussion by the board, especially from Vice-Mayor Bud Crosswhite. Most of the concerns did revolve around the financial issues of allowing private sales on public property. However, there was also an acknowledgement that the Farmer’s Market has a much bigger community service impact than would an individual vendor and most members of the council seemed to see the building proposal as a win-win situation.
That said, there was a motion to table the issue until next month to allow time for City Attorney Steve McEwen to review all of the legalities involved. Further, the council will also look at issues of insurance coverage, although the market does carry insurance of its own. The only other public comment or concern of the evening came from former JCHS volleyball and basketball player Sarah Swift who made a request to have Ralph Stout Park’s volleyball net replaced. Acknowledging that the city used to have a net in the park, Alderman Bob Morrison questioned whether the original poles might still be in storage, and if so whether they could be reinstalled temporarily with a new net until a permanent set of poles could be installed. Public Works Director Bob Eller explained that this would be a possibility and that the older net simply had not been replaced when it fell into disrepair. With that in mind, Alderman Morrison went on to make a successful motion to temporarily replace the old poles until a more final set could be acquired.
These two issues aside, the board turned to several ongoing developments including a resolution that will change the dates of the city’s next election. Currently Mountain City holds their municipal elections during an off year, causing problems with low voter turnout and extra expenses. Over the past few months suggestions have been looked at to move the election date so that it will align with already planned state elections, simply adding city positions to the already established ballot.
Because turnout to the bigger elections is higher, poll workers, advertising, and elections costs are already accounted for the council agreed unanimously that changing the date would be a smart and effective move. However, under current state law this would also mean that currently sitting members of the council would be forced to extend their terms by more than a year to rectify the discrepancy between the currently scheduled municipal election in March of 2015 and the state elections in November of 2016. Because of staggered terms, extensions would affect half of the council in the first election and then the other half two years later.
Although several members expressed their concerns about voting on an issue that would affect their own seats, this would be the only legal way to change the election date under current state law. Because of the many benefits, including the potential for better representation as a consequence of the increased turnout, the council did make a motion to ratify the resolution as presented, effectively postponing the next election until November of 2016.
The board also met with members of the Carderview Utility District from Butler concerning an ongoing project to connect with the city’s water system for emergency service. Having just come though major organizational restructuring, Carderview’s board is now preparing to do the work necessary to bring the two systems into contact. Collection Distribution Superintendent Jerry Horne will need to discuss several technical aspects of the project with Carderview operator Kevin Burchett, but the city did reaffirm that the existing contract drawn up a couple of years ago would still stand.
There was much discussion throughout the meeting concerning the city’s budget, and although things seem to be going smoothly, Mayor Keeble gave a grave update about Mountain City’s financial future, indicating that because of ongoing shortfalls and deficits, serious cuts may be in store down the road. For the time being the council has passed the first reading of next year’s budget and were anticipating a second reading this month but were forced to postpone for a separate meeting to be held on June 16th at 8 a.m.
Other updates and announcements addressed at the meeting included a notice that the bridge near Village Apartments has been closed by the city in preparation for a future replacement project. The council also announced that the Independence Day fireworks display provided by the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce at Ralph Stout Park will be held on Saturday, July 5th this year with events planned all day.
Alderman and 911 director Jerry Jordan is still working determinedly to find any inconsistencies in the city’s addressing system and brought a couple of issues to the council’s attention. Both items, which involve addresses on Murphy Street and DeLa Drive, will be added to the agenda of the city’s next planning commission meeting to be considered for a recommendation.
City Recorder Sheila Shaw also announced that the annual Jeff Shaw Road Block Fundraiser had been held recently, generating more than a thousand dollars that will go to help continue funding annual scholarships for two seniors at Johnson County High School. This year’s recipients were also named, with the council congratulating Zack Wills and Kelsie Watson who will both receive $500 each.
With no other comments or concerns from the board, Alderman Morrison made the motion to adjourn.