HEBER SPRINGS — Heber Springs City Council continued to refine the operating hours for the city’s Community Center against COVID-19 restrictions at its regular meeting Sept. 17. The council also reviewed encroachment requests as well as staffing issues and discussed ambulance staffing.
Community Center hours had been a topic at the August meeting as the council reviewed expanding hours for the center, which had restricted hours at the pandemic onset in the community. At the August meeting the discussion was the renewing of hours would require hiring additional part-time staff for the center, which was approved at the time.
At this meeting the council, discussing with Parks Director Stacey Mills, moved to update the hours. The council’s vote was for center hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the week, a change from the current 3 p.m. closing time, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
The new hours go into effect Oct. 1.
Part of the problem the center is dealing with, Mills told the council, is current state Department of Health restrictions are not allowing basketball, so the center is seeing a downturn in activity compared to pre-pandemic levels. In some cases, Mill told the council, nobody shows up on a Saturday.
A quick discussion was held on the possibility of promoting Pickle Ball, which is permitted, as a way to attract center users.
The council also passed encroachment requests for three properties, considered fairly minor changes to do with long-standing property spaces. Two of these were in Brighton Point, and one on 7th Street.
The council also review current and on-going requests from homeowners for the pickup of leaves and branches, exacerbated by the recent storms. The matter had been helped by the city’s recent purchase of a grapple truck to replace the old worn-out truck discussed at previous meetings. Attendant to this City of Heber Springs Mayor Jimmy Clark presented a request to be able to pay overtime to public works employees engaged in clean up.
In the past comp time had been used to compensate for extra hours, but that had gotten to be too large an expense, the council was told.
The council also passed a budget request to fund three additional part-time employees for Public Works. At the same time the budget was approved to add three additional part-time to the Community Center.
The Council closed the meeting in a conversation with City of Heber Springs Fire Chief Jason Robitaille, regarding questions about ambulance service brought up at the previous week’s Cleburne County Quorum Court meeting.
At that meeting, City of Quitman Mayor Cyndi Kerr addressed the court that the volunteer staffing throughout the county was not enough to sustain ambulance service and a better solution was required. Survival Flight was awarded the franchise to provide ambulance service in Heber Springs last November and had shortly afterward signed a mutual aid agreement with the county. At the Quorum Court meeting, Survival Flight Regional Clinical Manager Shaine Keesler said while Survival Flight had been responding to calls in the county, it was staffed and equipped based upon the projected needs of Heber Springs and not the entire county.
The discussion at that time was the need for an additional ambulance to assure county service under worst-case circumstances.
The the Thursday City Council meeting, Robitaille outlined the current operating environment, which provides three ambulances ready to go, with up to five available using fire department staff qualified as ambulance crew and paid for by Survival Flight.
The current system, where ambulances are dispatched outside the city and into the county is “not a sustainable model,” Robitaille said, adding that it had not caused a problem or lack of response to date.
Clark reiterated several times “If somebody’s in trouble we’re going to help them” as the ambulance issue moves toward resolution.