There will be no beer sales in the near future at Ben Geren Regional Park’s golf course.
The Sebastian County Quorum Court decided Monday (Nov. 25) to nix the idea that was first raised as a new source of revenue for the financially-troubled public course.
At issue for the court were two different issues – whether to abolish the Parks Advisory Board and whether to pursue annexation into the city of Fort Smith in order to legally be able to sell alcohol (Fort Smith, considered the northern half of the county, is wet while the remainder of Sebastian County is dry).
In discussing the purpose of the Parks Advisory Board, Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge said the board of seven provided good information that the Quorum Court could take under consideration.
"They present a lot of good ideas, exchange a lot of information and I think it's to (Sebastian County Judge David Hudson's) interest and the parks superintendent's best interest to hear what these people say that are getting the pulse of the users of the park on a daily basis and have to deal with the soccer league and the softball league and the miniature golf," he said. "I think it would be a real shame to abolish this advisory board that does have some good input."
The Parks Advisory Board, which had no voting power, did not always present the best ideas but they were worth hearing out, according to Aldridge.
"At least they're putting ideas out there and trying to find a way to solve problems. And certainly seven heads or five heads is better than one in trying to get this resolved."
The problem the Parks Advisory Board was trying to resolve was a projected budget shortfall for the golf course, which The City Wire reported in September was on track to lose $150,000, the third straight year the golf course would not turn a profit for the county.
Justice of the Peace Bob Schwartz said he thought the board was not an assistance to the Quorum Court in any way.
"Danny, I know where you're coming from on that. But really, I've been on this Quorum Court for about 16 years and we've had advisory boards and look at how we're going down hill. I don't see where they're helping. Actually, they can't vote on nothing. We have to vote for it. So they're hanging out there on a wing and having their meetings – taking up time and expense and all that – I personally don't think we need it because it hasn't provided anything."
Even if the board has ideas, such as alcohol sales, the ideas have not been brought before the court by a member of the board.
"They never come to vote on them. They don't vote either. We have to approve them. So I've never seen someone on the Board come up here and talk to us about it. The judge hasn't let us know. … It's just something we need to get rid of and it's something we can take care of through the Quorum Court."
Justice of the Peace Shawn Looper, who first brought up the issue of alcohol sales before the court after reading of the Park Advisory Board's suggestions in local media, suggested the Quorum Court direct Hudson to create a Parks Committee of three justices of the peace.
"As we continue to lose more and more money there, we need to get more and more involved. The judge is in control of that, he's administrator and all of that. But we need to be more and more involved in what's going on at the golf course. …Sometime we have to take responsibility and say, 'OK. This is what we've got to do.'"
While the Quorum Court did vote to abolish the Parks Advisory Board and abandon any plans to seek annexation for the golf course into the city of Fort Smith, essentially killing the plan to introduce alcohol sales as a revenue source, no action was taken by the court or Hudson on appointing a committee of three court members to serve on a parks committee.
In other business, the Quorum Court voted to approve several budgetary items which will allow the court to vote on a budget ordinance at its December meeting.
Among the items to be approved was a $75,918 reduction in expenditures at the golf course which will eliminate four full-time positions and create five seasonal part-time positions that do not carry benefit packages.
Additionally, the court approved 2% pay raises for elected department heads, such as the county judge, sheriff, treasurer and other executive-level elected officials. The 2% pay raises were also extended to all county workers, regardless of position. The only people to not receive a 2% pay raise next year will be the Quorum Court, which voted to eliminate funding for the raise. The only member of the court to vote for a pay raise was Justice of the Peace Tony Crockett.
The court also voted to approve appropriating $115,961 from the Treasurer's Commission fund in support of the county's Information Technology department.