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Things went a little batty at the El Dorado Conference Center during the holiday season and a nearly $10,000 invoice for a wildlife removal service will have to be presented to the El Dorado Works Board for approval, city officials have said.

The invoice was submitted to the city by SouthArk, who operates and manages the El Dorado Conference Center in an agreement with the city, the owner of the conference center.

City officials inquired about the $9,307 bill during an El Dorado City Council meeting Feb. 7.

Robert Edmonds, director of public works, explained that the cost was for a service to relocate bats that had slipped into the conference center.

Dr. Barbara Jones, president of SouthArk, told the News-Times that she first received reports about bats in and around the conference center in December.

“We get issues with birds periodically because they’re looking for somewhere to roost. There were just a couple of bats inside the building, but we realized it was problem when we saw there were quite a few outside the building,” Jones said, noting that the University of Louisiana at Monroe recently dealt with a bat infestation in one of its academic buildings.

She said bats had begun congregating on the east side of the conference center and a few had infiltrated the building.

To get an early handle on the situation, SouthArk contracted with a North Little Rock-based wildlife removal service.

The Animal Guy specializes in the humane relocation of invasive pests, including bats, squirrels, raccoons, snakes and others.

Jones and Edmonds said work at the conference center included removal and prevention, with specially-designed nets installed to prevent bats from re-entering the building.

Crews worked in the evening when the nocturnal animals tend to be more active, Jones said.

She said the netting is still up to make sure the bats do not return and The Animal Guy will return later to remove the netting.

Jones said she spoke to former Mayor Frank Hash about the matter in December and he directed her to send the bill to the city for payment

“Will the college pay it?” Council Member Billy Blann asked Thursday.

Edmonds explained that the money will be taken from a contingency reserve that city officials set aside for the conference center in 2012.

At the behest of Hash, city council members and the then-El Dorado Economic Development Board agreed to dedicate $1 million to a fund to cover major, non-routine repairs, alterations, etc. for the conference center.

Per the O&M agreement with the city, SouthArk is responsible for annual operating expenses up to $300,000.

The city kicks in 50 percent of operating expenditures that exceed $300,000.

Noting that the conference center is a major city investment, Hash urged city officials and the EEDB to consider the contingency fund.

The conference center opened in early 2011, shortly after Hash took office for his first term as mayor.

The facility was the lead project for the former El Dorado Forward economic development tax.

The one-cent sales tax sunset in June 2015 after eight years.

During a special election the same year, El Dorado voters approved another one-cent sales tax, known as the El Dorado Works tax, to continue funding projects that are aimed at economic development and quality of life in the city.

The contingency fund is maintained separately from the El Dorado Works budget, as it was from the El Dorado Forward budget.

Since its creation, the fund has been used to pay for a walk-in freezer, scissor lift and trailer and lighting upgrades, all totaling $230,061.

Jones said she had also confirmed the payment of the invoice for the bat removal service with Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer, who took office Jan. 1.

Blann and Council Member Judy Ward said Thursday the bill would have to flow through the El Dorado Works Board and then presented to the council for final approval.

“When they want to dip into that fund, it has to go before the (El Dorado Works) board,” Blann said.

Added Ward, “That’s the way it usually works.”

She said EWB treasurer Alison Abson could provide the balance of the contingency fund.

Other bills

Council members also asked about other bills that were listed on the city’s statements for approval.

Council Member Mike Rice pointed to a monthly bill of $31,960 to house city inmates in the Union County Jail.

“Isn’t that more than what we’ve been paying?” Rice asked.

Council Member Vance Williamson said the amount was “outside an agreement” that had been in place for the past two years between the city and county.

For the past two years, the city had paid a monthly rate of $13,500 to house inmates arrested by the El Dorado Police Department in the county jail.

A committee made up of city and county officials agreed to monitor and revisit the issue. Now, the city is being charged $40 per day per inmate, said Williamson, who is a member of the committee.

The Union County Quorum Court set the $40 monthly rate in April 2018.

Last July, former El Dorado Police Chief Billy White asked the Finance Committee to add $42,000 to the EPD’s budget to make up the difference of a flat, annual rate of $162,000.

He said the city had reduced the rate to $120,000 — $10,000 a month — for 2018, but was still being billed based on the $162,000 rate.

“Right now, per month, we don’t know what we’re going to be charged until the county sends us the bill,” Council Member Dianne Hammond said Thursday.

Ward called on Fire Chief Chad Mosby about a $2,138 bill for repairs on an overhead door within the fire department.

More specifically, Ward homed in on the vendor, Camden Glass and Door, asking Mosby if the work could not have been done by an El Dorado business.

Mosby said the work — repairs on the garage doors for the vehicle bays at the city’s fire stations — was put out for bid due to a budget crunch the city has faced in its general fund over the past two years.

He said Camden Glass and Door submitted the low bid.

“Plus, they respond immediately when these issues arise and those doors won’t come up and they put us on a maintenance plan that’s saving us money,” the fire chief said.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@ eldoradonews. com.

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