City council takes action on Warner Brown resolution

Decision helps clear way for 911 dispatch center

Warner Brown hospital is pictured in this News-Times file photo. The county purchased the building in 2022 with plans to use it as the location of a new, central 911 dispatch facility for all of Union County's emergency services.
Warner Brown hospital is pictured in this News-Times file photo. The county purchased the building in 2022 with plans to use it as the location of a new, central 911 dispatch facility for all of Union County's emergency services.

The El Dorado City Council has passed a resolution to help clear the way for a new 911 dispatch center to be used for El Dorado and Union County emergency services.

Council members approved the resolution during a regular meeting on March 9.

The action clarified the terms of the deed to the former Warner Brown Hospital complex, which is owned by Warner Brown Building, LLC and will be the site of the new 911 dispatch center.

Warner Brown Building, LLC, was incorporated in 2015 by Pete Dunn, a Virginia-based real estate developer who owns and has revitalized several commercial properties in downtown El Dorado, including the El Dorado Federal Center and the Armstrong building, which houses PJ's Coffee, The Spot, El Dorado Creamery and other businesses and professional offices.

The Medical Center of South Arkansas deeded the Warner Brown complex to the city of El Dorado after the facility closed in 2013.

Warner Brown Hospital, which opened its doors in January 1921, merged with Union Medical Center in 1987, forming MCSA.

UMC opened in April 1964.

Following the merger, WBH served as the south campus of MCSA and housed the former Area Health Education Center - South Arkansas after hospital operations transferred fully to MCSA.

The Warner Brown complex has stood empty since AHEC closed its doors in El Dorado and relocated to Magnolia in 2013 after MCSA opted not to renew a contract that would have permitted AHEC to continue operating its family clinic and physician residency program out of the building.

At the time, MCSA officials cited rising operating costs for the Warner Brown campus.

The same year, two other El Dorado-UAMS programs, the South Arkansas Center on Aging and the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program, relocated to the Armstrong Building at 106 W. Main St.

MSCA subsequently deeded the Warner Brown property to the city.

In December 2015, Dunn purchased the property from the city with a $10 quitclaim deed.

Dunn, who has familial ties to Union County, had intended to re-adapt the 10-plus-acre property for a U.S. Veterans Administration project and had bid on the federal contract for the VA El Dorado Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

Dunn lost out on the bid, which went to the Oklahoma-based SI Property Investments, and the VA project proceeded at 1702 N. West Ave., the site of the former County Market grocery store.

The VA project had called for a major renovation of the interior of the Warner Brown building, including a remediation plan to address significant problems with lead paint and asbestos.

After losing the bid for the VA project, Dunn continued exploring options to redevelop the Warner Brown property and at one point, he considered a continuum of care facility.

However, Dunn was unable to get a redevelopment project off the ground before the quitclaim deed expired.

Per the terms of the deed, if the VA project fell through and Dunn did not redevelop the Warner Brown property within two years, ownership of the property would revert back to the city.

Union County has agreed to purchase the property from Warner Brown Building, LLC, to house El Dorado and Union County 911 dispatch services in one building.

Last September, county officials voted to purchase the property for $755,737.

Unpaid county property taxes that are owed by Warner Brown Building, LLC, in the amount of $46,953 brought the asking price down from $800,000.

For the sale to move forward, El Dorado city officials said they had to clarify terms of the historical deed that limited "the use of the property as a hospital" and stipulated that the property be vested to the city once it no longer operated as a hospital.

The matter initially appeared on the council's agenda in January but it was tabled.

Last month, Council Member Frank Hash inquired about the matter and Mayor Paul Choate said the effort had been delayed.

Verbiage regarding the transfer and use of the Warner Brown property had to be cleared up in the deed that transferred the property to the city, Choate explained.

"We've still got some muddy water that we've got to wade through before we can get some resolution to that, sir," Choate said.

"Did that have to do with the county purchasing the property?" Hash asked.

Choate said the matter primarily pertained to the future use of the property.

On March 9, the council approved a resolution that rescinded stipulations that set the two-year time limit for redevelopment of the property and called for Warner Brown Building, LLC, to provide quarterly, written reports to the city council and mayor on the progress of the work that was to have been done to the Warner Brown building.

In Resolution 1595, the city contends that the deed restrictions were satisfied when MCSA deeded the property to the city and that the city does not retain ownership or any reversionary interest in the Warner Brown property.

Other business

In other business, the council:

∙ Adopted an ordinance to increase fees to remove bulk trash from $50 to $100 for small piles; $100 to $200 for medium-sized piles; and $200 to $300 for large piles.

The rates apply to bulk waste that is left curbside from construction projects, "cleanouts," piles of household trash that is removed from rental properties when tenants move out, and other such circumstances.

The rates were last raised in October of 1996.

The new ordinance, 1907, repealed the 1996 ordinance.

The new rates were to have gone into effect on Wednesday.

However, on March 9, the city council suspended the rules and read the new ordinance three times before approving it and enacting an emergency clause, meaning that the ordinance and new rates went into effect immediately.

Hash cast the lone no vote on a motion for the emergency clause.

∙ Approved a request by Police Chief Kenny Hickman to add a temporary 911 dispatcher's position to the El Dorado Police Department's employment roster in anticipation of a shortage in June.

Hickman said there is one opening for a dispatcher and at the start of June, one dispatcher is set to retire and another is expecting a child, leaving three positions open.

"We can navigate one opening but when you get hit with a couple of others and you have one that it's in training, it could cause a bit of a difficulty," Hickman said.

He said costs for the additional position are not projected to exceed the EPD's 2022 budget.

"It's going to be a wash in terms of the budget or even a gain, overall, throughout the year because you're replacing a person that is going to be retiring that's at the top end of the pay scale with one that's going to be at the beginning of the pay scale," Hickman said,

"And, also, we have spent the last several months with that opening," he added.

∙ Waived competitive bidding to purchase a used bucket truck for the Department of Public Works.

Choate and Robert Edmonds, director of public works, said the 1995 Ford will be used by crews to switch out traffic lights, put up and take down the city's holiday decorations and other such work.

Per state law, the city may waive competitive bids for used vehicles.

∙ Appointed David Ainsworthy to the El Dorado Planning and Zoning Commission.

Ainsworthy is a certified residential appraiser with the South Arkansas Appraisal Group.