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Mountain Home City Council received some minor pushback on a request by City Treasurer Alma Clark to create new line items to the city budget following increased expenses for cyber security in Thursday night’s regular council meeting.
During the meeting, Clark made a request to create new line items to further split portions of the city budget into their own line item for ease in keeping track of the city’s multi-million dollar budget, including the city’s computer operating budget.
The request also came with a $36,000 increase to portions of the city’s budget that covered computer expenses, prompting questions from Mountain Home City Councilwoman Paige Evans.
“I noticed that the computer operating expense that you’re moving and all that, I mean it’s increasing by $36,000. Why is that large amount going over there at the end of the year,” said Evans.
The increase in funds for the city’s computer expenses comes from two separate issues as noted by Clark during the meeting.
The first issue entails a need to purchase more data storage for Mountain Home Police Department’s new body cameras, which were approved in an earlier council meeting in March. In that meeting, city council waived competitive bidding to authorize the purchase of 30 Axon body-worn cameras and software.
The total price for the cameras will cost Mountain Home taxpayers $275,000 over a five-year period. Axon is one of the United States’ top body camera companies for law enforcement, earning themselves a reputation for also holding officers accountable when they make mistakes or commit crimes, as well as helping local governments shut down frivolous lawsuits.
Arkansas Code § 14-2-204 (2020) requires that all municipalities maintain body camera footage for a minimum of three years for auto accidents, incident reports, offense reports, bond records etc. MHPD is required to maintain felony and class A misdemeanor footage for a total of seven years.
The additional expenses for the city’s body camera storage have nothing to do with the recently approved security cameras for certain Mountain Home intersections.
“The public safety cameras are totally separate from this,” said Mountain Home Police Chief Eddie Griffin. “The storage for that is totally separate, this is our body cameras. So, the law mandates how long we store any evidence, or anything pertaining to a case. Whether it’s paper evidence or digital. So, our storage for the body cameras will have to be backed up. What we’re increasing will be for the backup.”
According to Clark, the second reason for the $36,000 in computer expenses to the city’s budget comes from two bills over cyber security that were passed by the State Legislature earlier this year.
“There were two bills that were passed, and we’re mandated to take care of those things and we have no choice. We’ve got to get it done,” Clark said.
Clark was pressed by a member of the public to produce documentation on the two bills during the meeting. Clark was unable to fulfill the on-the-spot request. She was also not able to list the bill numbers off the top of her head as requested. Clark directed the public to the city’s administrative manager.
During their March session, the Legislature passed three cybersecurity bills.
House Bill 1555 was developed in response to ransomware attacks across the state and allows lawmakers to go into closed session to discuss security breaches. In December of last year, the Little Rock School Board chose to pay a $250,000 ransom to hackers that broke into their internal data network.
In addition to that bill, House Bill 1396 was created to set a minimum standard for cybersecurity across all state government agencies.
House Bill 1780 established an Arkansas Self-Funded Cyber Response Program that requires all municipalities participating in the program to comply with a minimum cyber security standard defined in the bill. Those governments that do comply with the standards are eligible to have their damages from a cyber security attack covered by the fund.
The fund is overseen by a newly created Cyber Security Board, which is responsible for creating and maintaining cyber security standards across the state.
Baxter County was recently hit by two separate cyber security attacks earlier this year. Those attacks targeted the Baxter County Tax Assessor’s Office and the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.
Other council news
Following the discussion over cyber security and additional computer expenses, members of the City Council approved the sale of a 2020 Dodge Ram from the Street Department to the Baxter Day Service Center.
The vehicle was appraised between $22,000 and $26,000 but will be sold to the Service Center for $23,000.
The City of Mountain Home has been working to assist the Service Center in remaining open after a collapse in recycling prices put the center in jeopardy of having to close. Over the summer, Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams and City Council released $87,000 in funds raised by a 2017 deal with Methvin Sanitation to collect recycling materials for $2.50 per 95-gallon cart in June to assist with overhead for the day center.
The Baxter Day Service Center processes roughly 3 million pounds of recyclable goods from the Twin Lakes area each year and is responsible for providing employment to 50 clients with special needs disabilities.
Almost all of the Service Center’s equipment is owned by Baxter County.
Following the approval of the sale of the truck, City Council approved the sale of Mountain Home Police Department’s old body cameras to smaller police departments in need of cameras.
Police Chief Eddie Griffin also took an opportunity to defend City Councilman Jim Bodenhamer, who was personally attacked by members of the public for his vote on the city’s new security cameras.
“He’s a 33-year Army veteran and he should not be attacked,” Griffin said. “I respect you. I appreciate you. And all of these council people should never be subject to negative treatment because of the way they vote, especially personal attacks.”
City Council ended its meeting by agreeing to start its Oct. 5th meeting early due to a public hearing concerning the implementation of an Arkansas Community and Economic and Development Program (ACEDP) grant for the renovations to Grandma’s House Children’s Advocacy Center.
The purpose of this hearing is to inform citizens of the current scope and progress of the ACEDP project; discuss any changes or impacts involving financing sources, user fees or beneficiaries that have occurred since the first public hearing conducted on October 3rd, 2019; accept oral and written comments regarding the project; and discuss any potential impacts upon citizens that may/will result during the course of the project.
All residents of the City of Mountain Home are encouraged to attend this hearing and participate in the community development process.
City Council will officially start their meeting at 5:30 and roll into other business following the hearing instead of waiting until 6 p.m. The public hearing is only expected to last five to ten minutes.