City Council discusses Open Burn Ordinance

Questions and concerns about an ordinance to amend Ordinance number 1981-572, which defines and limits conditions for open burning within the city limits of Monticello, dominated the city council meeting Tuesday, April 28, which took place over the social media platform Zoom and Facebook Live. 
The questions began when Alderman Mike Wigley stated he had a few questions and concerns about the ordinance.
“I have had citizens as late as today ask me some things about this,” Wigley told the Council. “We are having to call in before we burn?”
“Section one, number three; ‘Permit holder is required to call the Monticello Fire Department before conducting any burns,” Wigley continued, “What is the reasoning for having to have a citizen call in? What is the reasoning there?”
“We would have the authority to not allow a burn due to weather conditions regardless of whether we are under a burn ban or not,” said Monticello Fire Chief Eric Chisom. “It’s wet outside but if it’s a real windy day and someone wants to burn their leaves they will call and we can tell them to hold off.”
Wigley then asked to clarify that the Ordinance’s primary reason was to turn a fire ban on or off, but Chisom clarified it would not be a ban, a ban would have to last longer. Mayor Paige Chase added calling in would also allow the fire department to know where a burn was taking place and where there should be smoke and where there shouldn’t be smoke. 
The Ordinance would also allow the City to put a burn ban in effect without waiting for the County Judge, according to Chisom, who said there were times the City has a need for a burn ban when the county doesn’t.
However, Wigley quickly turned back to the reason for a citizen to have to call.
“We are calling in to basically be told whether the wind is too high or not, that is what I am hearing,” stated Wigley. “For this conversation I am talking about the private citizen calling in for burning leaves. We can easily put in the ordinance if the wind is above a certain gust then don’t burn.” When other members of the council voiced agreement with the ordinance stating it made sense, Wigley responded.
“I am not one for putting ordinances or laws on people that I don’t think need to be administered,” explained Wigley. “In this case, someone who is going to abide by the law is going to call in to find out whether they can burn or not. They are going to do the right thing regardless. The person you are not going to know about is the one that is not going to call in, is not about to abide by the law and this does nothing to address that. Enforcement is not as easy as citizens self reporting. If we are going to have an ordinance, I am not going to vote for anything that we are not going to enforce.”
Alderman Jack Lassiter again voiced his support of the Ordinance.
“I don’t think you should burn within the city limits,” stated Lassiter. “This is the first community I have ever lived in that you can burn in the city limits. I am in the minority but I think Ron (Echols) and his (planning) committee have done a good job working with the chief in writing a simple ordinance that will allow you to do the right thing.”
“I understand that but I have never lived in a city where you couldn’t do that,” Wigley stated. “I, not unlike a lot of different people, we have large lots, wooded, there is always something to take care of there. Unless I invest in a lot of equipment I can’t get the limbs to the street for the city to pick up without quitting my day job. So to me it is imperative that I have the right to do that.”
Alderman Michael James pointed out that in the Ordinance special consideration is given to outdoor events, meaning citizens would not be able to burn within so many feet of a planned public outdoor event, and that in order to know if an event was taking place the citizen would have to call in. 
“That is outside of wind,” he stated. 
James also brought up confusing language in the Ordinance that led to questions about what needed a permit and what didn’t and asked that the wording be changed to better reflect the intent of the ordinance. 
During the meeting, it was also clarified that the permit would be a one time application process and the permit would be good for the length of the residence in that dwelling.
According to Chisom, it is an educational tool to make sure citizens understand what can and cannot be burned and what you need with you when you are burning.
“It is educational,” explained Chisom. “By giving a permit listing what they can and cannot burn it is clearly written and is from the fire department. 
We want to educate people on what they can and can not burn and what they need to have out there with them when they are burning.”
Chase then listed off what was allowed without a permit. 
“You can burn without a permit for grilling, clearing for construction, storm debris, instruction, that is for the fire department, ceremonial purposes, fire places, fire rings, fire pits, you can do all that,” said Chase. “No permit is required for all of that as long as you stay within the guidelines that create a safe environment to burn.”
It was then stressed that this was a first reading and that there would be two more readings before a vote was taken on the Ordinance. Chase and the other council members encouraged members of the public to come to future meetings to let there voices be heard and have their questions answered. 
Also during the meeting:
• A second reading of the resolution to amend Ordinance number 493 and 770 regarding scheduled rates for water was read and discussed and tabled for the third reading at the next council meeting.
• A second reading for to amend Ordinance number 356 and 735 regarding schedule rates for sewer was held and the resolution was tabled for the next council meeting. 
• Resolutions to amend Ordinance number 776 regarding scheduled rates for solid waste was read for the first time and tabled for a second reading at the next council meeting.
• Resolution to impose a lien in the amount of $2,755.70 on 618 Hillcrest Drive, Monticello was passed
• Resolution to impose a lien in the amount of $5,474.45 on 311 and 315 Texas Street, Monticello was passed
• A resolution to amend 2020 Alcohol Beverage Control Fund for the amount of $8,980 for the purchase of body cameras for the Monticello Police Department. 
• Resolution to implement warrant service fee was passed. The resolution allows the MPD to charge the state rate of $50 for service of City warrants, of which they are already serving but this will pass on the cost to those being served instead of being absorbed by the City.
• Resolution to authorize purchase of two dash cameras for MPD was passed. The cost of the cameras are covered by a grant, according to Akers. However, the grant requires the Department to purchase the equipment and then be reimbursed. The $10,000 approved by the City for the equipment will be refunded to the city,
• Amended budget to add funds to the Property clean up fund. This will be the first time since a deposit of $20,000 was made in March of 2016 that the City has needed money to help cover property clean up costs and the funds will be repaid as the fund is replenished as liens make there way through court. The Council approved a $10,000 transfer from the one cent sales tax to help fund the work by Brian Rodgers and the Public Works crew.
The mayor closed the meeting with her remarks stating that the City is still actively looking for and applying for grants to improve Monticello. One, recently discovered and applied for is a Blue and You grant that does not rehire matching funds and is a fit for the Monticello Lake trail design. The City is also looking at some more grant money for a sidewalk from the Southeast Arkansas Regional Library, Monticello Branch to Oakland Avenue, down to Jordan Park. 
Chase also announced the pool had a few issues with more leaks, which were fixed for free, and needing new steps, however, the liner is here and is being installed as the steps are being built and will be ready in a couple weeks, unfortunately public pools will not be open by then. 
“Our public works crew, PD, FD, Finance, water, parks, even senior citizen center has gone above and beyond their duties. During COVID-19 and then the storm on Easter. Want to say publicly, these people that work for you all are doing fabulous job.”
Wigley had one more suggestion for the council, “encourage those in city offices, figure out a way to have meeting in person next meeting. With a lot of things we are talking about, there are a lot of people that would like to be at these meetings.”
Chase agreed that face to face meetings were preferable and said the City would look into finding an appropriate venue that would allow for CDC recommendation to still be followed. 
The meeting ended with McCray noting in the coming weeks the restrictions will begin to be lifted. 
“Monticellonians,” he encouraged, “support other Monticellonians, shop local.”
“We survive because of small businesses,” Chase agreed. Then quickly followed up with a reminder to fill out your census and pointed out we are below the national average in self respondents.  

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