The Hot Springs City Council on Tuesday approved first reading of a $4.3 million annual budget for the coming fiscal year, an amount only slightly higher than the previous year.

Coming in at $2,896,400, the general fund portion of the proposed budget compares to $2,760,635 in general fund appropriations for the current year. The ordinance estimates tax revenues of $2,807,750 to pay for city spending. Sales tax revenue is estimated at $490,000 for the coming year.

“(The budget) is tight, just like last year,” and no major projects are planned for the coming year, Mayor George Kotti said after the meeting. “We would like to have more always, but we are happy with it.”

Kotti said he expects the budget will result in little change to residents’ property taxes. “We made a big effort to keep things down,” he said.

The measure passed over the lone dissenting vote of Ward 1 council member Craig Romey. Romey did not explain his opposition to the spending plan, but in discussion questioned Kotti about a change from the preliminary budget proposal that increased funding for Prairie Hills Transit by $2,500 using money from the city contingency fund. Romey said he was unaware of the proposed change, but Kotti said the information was sent by email to all council members.

Second reading of the budget will be at the council meeting on Sept. 16.

In preparing the budget the council and Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton focused on finding means of increasing revenue, in part by examining the city’s fee schedule, said Kotti. That effort resulted in the council’s approval later in the meeting of an increase in the charges for library cards for out-of-town residents to $10 for an individual and $20 for a family.

“This will gain us $5,000 to support the library,” said Kotti. The increase will take effect in January 2020.

In closing remarks, Kotti noted that tourism has been down by about 20% this year, possibly due to weather this spring, but year-to-date sales tax revenue is up by about $50,000, despite the closure of the Shopko store.

“I think a lot of that is due to internet sales,” he said.

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Tuesday’s council meeting was the first for newly hired city administrator John Gregory. In brief remarks Gregory said his first weeks on the job have included orientation with city departments and meetings with many civic organizations.

“It’s rewarding and encouraging for me to see so much genuine interest in our city and dedicated people interested in improving,” Gregory said.

Gregory also noted that a discussion with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding Fall River floodway channel work had been constructive and that cattail removal will be a high priority.

In a report from the Airport Advisory committee, council member Bill Lukens said the recent balloon festival was a big success, with 23 hot air balloons and over 5,000 people in attendance. The festival’s ‘night burn’ brought out some 1,600 cars, said Lukens, and issues of traffic coordination and trash pickup at the event will have to be addressed for future events.

The council later approved purchase of a $1,095 software system for the airport fueling system. The software currently in use dates from 2008 and does not credit fuel purchases directly to the city, said council member Bob Nelson.

In other business the council:

•set a public hearing for Sept. 16 at 7:15 p.m. to hear community comments on the city’s application for federal Community Development Block Grant funding for Highway 385/18 construction, including sewer and water line work. “That’s a $1.2 million operation. We would like assistance in getting that done,” said Kotti.

•announced that a review of city’s website with Robert Sharp Associates will take place Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. at city hall, and urged interested residents to attend. “We want to make it as user friendly as we can,” said Summers-Walton

•learned that a concern has been raised with the Public Safety committee about traffic speed and pedestrian safety on North River Street;

•approved second reading of an amendment to the zoning ordinance creating a new airport zone.

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