By Tia Lyons
The El Dorado City Council set a precedent Thursday with a vote to amend the payouts of retirement benefits for a former city official.
Aldermen agreed to provide survivor’s benefits to the wife of former City Clerk/Treasurer Dennis Puckett.
Puckett died on Sept. 8 in Springdale. He was 88.
He twice served as city clerk/treasurer of El Dorado, first from 1989 to 1995 and again from 2003 until 2006.
With at least 10 years of service in public office, Puckett was eligible for the city’s retirement plan for elected officials.
Per state statute, the city may elect to provide the surviving spouses of those enrolled in the retirement plan with 50 percent of the monthly benefits.
Mayor Frank Hash said Puckett was being paid $1,157.23 monthly, and his wife, Nancy, also of Springdale, would receive $578.61 per month.
City Attorney Henry Kinslow said the council’s vote on the matter would set a precedent because it is the first time such a situation has arisen with the local retirement plan.
Hash said former El Dorado mayors Larry Combs and Mike Dumas are the only two other retired city officials who are receiving payments from the plan.
Alderwoman Dianne Hammond asked if Nancy Puckett had requested the payments from her late husband’s retirement plan.
“No, she has not requested it. It’s something I’m offering up,” Hash said, noting that the payments come from the city’s general fund.
“He had a very difficult tenure, and he deserved every penny he got,” Alderwoman Judy Ward said, referring to Puckett’s 2003 - 2006 term.
Puckett retired in early 2006 with several months left on his term.
In other business, the council approved annual millage/property tax rates of 5.4 mills — 2.4 mills for general purposes and one mill each for the maintenance of the public library and pensions to retired police officers and firefighters; the widows and minor children of deceased police officers and firefighters; and pensions to widows and minor children of retired officers and firefighters.
Hash said he was hoping to be able to increase the millage rate to cover debt toward an unfunded liability pension fund for an old, local retirement system for police officers and firefighters.
Fire Chief Chad Mosby previously explained that the old pension fund was consolidated into the state-structured program in the early 1980s, and retirees and their spouses are still being paid out of the original fund, for which the city is responsible.
The total debt service for the original fund was $7.2 million.
On Thursday, Kinslow said a proposed state constitutional amendment has not yet made it to the ballot for a vote by the public.
The amendment would allow the city to raise the millage cap to pay off the debt service.
Hash said two mills would take care of the debt service.
While reviewing city statements for council approval, Alderman Billy Blann inquired about two invoices totaling $1.3 million from El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc.
Hash explained that bills were the third payment for the amphitheater ($936,585) and second payment for the children’s playscape ($410,961) that are part of the new Murphy Arts District, which is under construction in Downtown El Dorado.
The payments are included the city’s pledge of $14.2 million toward the development of the new arts and entertainment district.
The city will own the amphitheater, playscape and other property associated with the massive project and lease it to Festivals and Events, who is spearheading MAD.
The city’s financial commitment comes from one-cent sales taxes that are geared toward economic development — the former El Dorado Forward tax ($9.02 million) and the current El Dorado Works tax ($5 million).
Blann also asked about a bill of $16,925.51 to TK General Contractors.
Hash explained that the bill is part of a $600,000 commitment from the old El Dorado Forward tax to build a natural gas pipeline for the new Conifex timber sawmill, located in the former Georgia-Pacific plant on U.S. 167 south.
The amount was approved in 2014, and Hash said the cost of the project was overrun by about $100,000.
He said crews ran into additional costs when the route of the pipeline had to be run across a swamp.
“It’s going to cost you $700,000. You own the pipeline, but that is a $64 million plant,” Hash said, adding that the council will have to formally approve a budget adjustment for the additional $100,000.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.