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City council extends land lease, creates line item for public transit

After approving a three-month pilot program for North Arkansas Transportation Service (NATS) in October, Mountain Home City Council moved to approve the line item in the budget for the public transportation provider.

The motion to create the line item carried, with only one dissenting vote.

The dissenting vote was that of Councilwoman Paige Dillard Evans, who recently was re-elected to City Council in a landslide against Marshella J. Norell. Evans originally voted in favor of the program back in October but voted against the budget line item on Nov 3 after hearing from constituents.

“I struggled the night that we voted for it [back in October] and I felt like it needed more public input,” said Evans. “After knocking doors the last few days since that vote, it became very clear to me that that’s what people felt like– that they weren’t interested in using taxpayer dollars to pay for people to be able to go ride around town.”

NATS is a transportation company that aims to provide rides at no cost to residents within Mountain Home city limits by getting the City to foot the bill.

Currently, NATS has seven buses and six employees and provides transportation in Mountain Home along its scheduled route for $1. NATS also provides the Mountain Home area with a $3 “dial-a-ride” service where anyone can book a ride in advance to anywhere in Baxter County.

“It was a minimal amount that people should be able to afford a dollar or three dollars,” said Evans.

Evans was also concerned about a fair and level playing field with other taxi or transportation services in Mountain Home, especially if those businesses were paying a franchise tax.

Often, Evans is found questioning ordinances presented to city council, advocating for her constituents’ property rights and responsible fiscal spending.

Even so, city council as a governing body continued to green light the NATS public transportation pilot program within Mountain Home city limits, slated to begin Dec 1.

The program’s cost is expected to run $1,250 monthly for the city.

Land leased to Baxter Healthcare Corporation until 2036

In other council news, two land leases from the 1970s were renewed through February 29, 2036 with Baxter Healthcare Corporation. At one point in history, the company was called Baxter Laboratories, Inc. and is often referred to simply as “Baxter Lab” out in town.

Baxter Lab has been in the Mountain Home community since the early 60s.

Sitting on the Northwest side of Mountain Home off Highway 201, Baxter Lab has been a source of noise complaints and general grumbling by residents living near the facility. Late last year, a letter was sent out to nearby residents from Baxter apologizing for upcoming project noise. They also stated they were working on new sound barriers and different ways of starting up equipment in an effort to cut down on noise.

Arnold Knox, Director of Streets, reported in last month’s October Street Committee meeting that the rest of the Russel Lane project that will go past Baxter Lab, will be built for truck traffic, including three lanes.

Baxter has finalized their own plans putting in two additional driveways for their truck traffic. Knox also stated the three lanes will extend about 60 feet past Baxter’s planned driveways.

According to City Attorney Roger Morgan, the new leases will have no impact on the city financially.

The land owned by the city is about 40 acres of land on the West side of Baxter Lab.

“Basically, the back part where they got parking back there for trailers and equipment and employee parking,” said Mayor Hillrey Adams.

Baxter still retains the option to purchase the land but have never exercised it.

“That’s kind of amazing they never bought it,” remarked Councilwoman Jennifer Baker.

According to City Attorney Roger Morgan, he assumes it makes better sense for Baxter financially to continue to lease the land instead of purchase.

The next Mountain Home City Council meeting is this Thursday, Nov 17.

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