Benton City Council members have taken a protective measure regarding Saturday's Cinderella In the City celebration by adopting an ordinance exempting event vendors from a requirement to pay the city's occupation tax.
According to City Attorney Brent Houston, a 1978 ordinance technically would require the collection of the tax from all vendors at any time. Although this has not been collected of vendors at special events in the past, in order to legally allow such commerce, Houston recommended that the council create a temporary waiver for the enforcement of the 1978 ordinance for such occasions.
Houston pointed out that the council's action on this is particularly important in regard to the city's Advertising and Promotion Commission's plans to construct an events center, which is expected to host special events where merchandise will be sold by out-of-town merchants.
The new ordinance states that "for this reason a review of the city's practices for licensing out-of-town merchants is necessary in order to ensure the collection of the city sales taxes at these events."
For now, the council action exempts such celebrations as Cinderella in the City, Old-Fashioned Day, Benton's Freedom Fest and other short-term events from remitting the tax.
The waiver passed Monday night will expire on Dec. 31, 2012, unless the ordinance is modified by the council.
In other action, the council passed a resolution exempting Freedom Fest — the city's Fourth of July celebration — from having to comply with Ordinance 27 of 2007 that prohibits excessive noise within the city.
This resolution will allow all of the planned activities, including a fireworks show, that will occur in and around the areas of Bernard Holland Park, Benton municipal airport property and the Saline County Fairgrounds.
During the meeting, Alderman Steve Lee, who serves on the A & P Commission, announced that a groundbreaking ceremony for the city's events center is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on July 3.
"We would like to have as many people as possible — people of every age — attend this event," Lee said.
"We're asking churches to encourage their youth groups to come," he said. "We want to have a huge group when we take pictures at this event. "It will be an exciting moment for the citizens of Benton," Lee added.
Alderman Kerry Murphy, who also serves on the A & P Commission, announced that the final design for the events center was selected in a meeting preceding the council session.
As did Lee, he encouraged community residents to attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
"A lot of invitations are going out and we'll have shuttles going to the site," he said.
(Additional details and architectural drawings of the events center will be published in a later edition.)
In another matter, the council heard the first reading of an ordinance that will revise the customer service rules, regulations and fees for Benton Utilities. No vote will be taken until the ordinance has had its second and third required readings.
The issue follows an earlier meeting in which some businesses complained about what they deemed to be unfair deposits when they were delinquent on their accounts. Benton Public Utilities Commission recently addressed the matter, which also came under the review of the City Council's Community Services Committee.
In the council's May 14 meeting, the aldermen approved a resolution authorizing the PUC to suspend increased deposit amounts for 60 days while the issue was reviewed.
According to Alderman Doug Stracener, the revisions contained in the new ordinance will put the city's practices in line with other utilities, including First Electric and Entergy.
The ordinance includes a passage regarding commercial and industrial customers, noting that a cash deposit amount must not exceed two estimated maximum monthly utility bills. Deposits of less than two months may be granted upon approval by the PUC if the applicant does not have an adverse credit history, the ordinance states.
As an alternative to a cash deposit, if the amount required exceeds $300, the customer may furnish an automatically renewable surety bond, a certificate of deposit made jointly to the customer and Benton Utilities or an irrevocable letter of credit from a local bank.
In other action, the council:
•Approved an ordinance amending the budget to allow the police department to purchase an additional vehicle to replace one that was damaged in an accident and cannot be repaired.
The vehicle will be purchased with the police department's drug seizure funds at no additional cost to the city, Chief Kirk Lane confirmed.
•Approved a resolution accepting the lowest bid for construction of a drainage improvement project on Gattin Road. The contract was awarded to JCON Inc. for $68,870.
•Approved a resolution authorizing Mayor David Mattingly to execute an agreement for professional services with Garver Engineers. The resolution states that the council will authorize $32,999 from the special street project fund for the Fox Ridge drainage improvement project.
Stracener noted that the "people in Fox Ridge will greatly appreciate this."
The mayor noted that the drainage concerns in that area have caused "some safety issues."
•Approved a resolution abandoning 70 duty holsters and magazine pouches that are no longer being used by the police department. The request to dispose of these items came from the police chief, who plans to donate the equipment to another police department that can use the equipment.
•Approved a resolution authorizing the exercise of eminent domain in the taking of easements for the completion of the St. Gobain water and sewer extensions currently under way at the St. Gobain plant in the local area.
Houston said the specific owners of the property actually are not actually known, but it involves land over and upon property of American Cyanamid Co./Pfizer Inc. of Collegeville, Pa., and Alcoa Corporate Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The resolution states that the city will pay for the taking of the easements at such sums as may be determined by the courts to be the fair market value of the interest in the land.
"This is a friendly condemnation," Houston noted.
Houston referred to another issue that involved the city's payment for an easement on Shady Lane. He said the city paid $7,000 to the guardian of Anna Sparks, who was believed to be the owner of the property.
Recently, however, the city has learned that she was not the actual owner and a trustee of a financial institution is asking to be paid, Houston said.
"Technically, we paid the wrong person, but it was done in good faith," he noted.
"If we get sued, we'll have to file suit against Anna Sparks for the $7,000," he said. "I don't believe we should pay twice."
In one additional matter, the council heard
the second reading of an ordinance amending the city's personnel policies. No vote was taken. The ordinance will come up for its final reading in a later meeting.