The Van Buren City Council approved additional funding for an economic development study Monday night (May 19), in addition to approving amendments to the city's zoning for indoor gun ranges.
The city, which already has a contract with the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce for an economic development study, allocated an additional $7,500 to fund a study in partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
According to Mayor Bob Freeman, the study will highlight strengths and weaknesses in the city's economic climate and provide areas for improvement. Work on the study will take about a year, he added.
"It will be nearly a year-long process with public input and working with the Chamber and UALR to set objectives, some goals in analyzing our strengths and weaknesses," he said.
The amendment to the city's zoning of indoor gun ranges was approved without opposition, with Freeman explaining that there was interest from an individual in developing an indoor range, therefore necessitating a revisiting of the city's ordinances and zoning.
One ordinance passed brought the city's regulations for operating an indoor range to the same standard for obtaining a concealed carry permit, according to City Attorney Candice Settle. A separate ordinance specified that the ranges could only go in specified commercial and industrial zones and required conditional use permits.
The council also heard from City Clerk/Treasurer Barbie Curtis about rate increases for the city's health insurance policy through the Arkansas Municipal League.
She said rates would increase July 1 and a discussion was held on various ways to save on costs, including reducing the city's current coverage of 100% of premiums for employees and dependents to only covering 100% for employees and a certain percentage for dependents, what amounted to about $45 per month.
Police Chief Kenneth Bell spoke out against the premium increase.
"I do want to point out on behalf of my employees that we did go several years without a cost of living raise and now that we finally get one, we have to give up it up for health insurance. That's my two cents," he said.
The council declined to take action on forcing employees to start paying for a portion of dependent coverage, leaving the city's premium payments of 100% for employees and dependents tentatively in place through the end of the year, at a cost of about $35,000, which Freeman said would come from the city's surplus.
The council did ask that Freeman and Curtis explore other options, including having an outside company make a proposal for coverage of city employees.