Chickens, signs, Constitutional concerns, updated employee requirements, building a new library and other matters stretched into a two-and-a-half hour meeting Monday for the city council agenda planning.

Public Works, Budget and Personnel, and Police and Fire committee members Kevin Davis, Jon Moore, Dallan Buchanan, Rick Prentice, Angie Jones, Ann Gilliam, Ed Long and Ryan Flynn attended the meeting

Mayor Bill Cypert, public works director Brian Boroughs, animal control director Mike Wheeler, human resources director Matthew Hood and city clerk Tammy Yocum addressed the committees on budget matters.

Boroughs said the process of developing the draft sign ordinance took about 12 months, with the goals of clarify the technical parameters to be enforced and to simplify the format. "Simplicity is key … and we don’t want to die on the hill of content," he remarked.

While there are no radical changes in content, there have many changes intended to assist permitting of signs and enforcement of restrictions, Boroughs said. The ordinance is a balance of Constitutional law and freedom of speech, he said.

Fundamentally, court rulings hold that time, place and manner restrictions on free speech is acceptable in certain instances: are the restrictions content neutral; are the restrictions narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest; do the restrictions leave open ample alternate channels to communicate the message, Boroughs said.

The Supreme Court, in separating commercial speech and private speech, developed a four-point test for restrictions: is the expression protected by the First Amendment; is there substantial government interest being asserted; does the regulation advance the government’s interest; is the regulation no more extensive than is necessary to serve that interest, Boroughs said. "We believe we offer you a …legal, constitutional revision."

Permits will be key to the regulation of signs. "Everything gets a permit," though there are some exceptions, Boroughs said. Permit fees are based on square-footage of the sign. Size restrictions, illumination allowances, alternative signs, electronic signs are detailed in the proposed ordinance.

Signs not requiring permits include yard sale signs, barber poles, political campaign signs, real estate signs, with requirements for placing and removing the signs.

Prohibited signs would include any sign interfering with traffic; signs within rights-of-way; signs blocking existing signs; flag banners; flashing signs; off-premises signs; roof signs, and signs advertising a home occupation.

The committee tabled further action to the May committee meeting to allow time for committee members to study the draft.

Wheeler presented the proposed animal control ordinance that, he said, would combine four city ordinances. Having the multiple ordinances creates a problematic "back-and-forth" in enforcement, and many parts of the existing ordinances have been found by courts to be unenforceable to enforceable according to the intent of the ordinances, he said.

The proposed, single ordinance — the product of five years of work — would fix the situation, "and improve the quality of life for citizens of Cabot and their pets," Wheeler said.

Some features include minimum care standards, expanding on simply requiring shelter, food and water, Wheeler said. "[Pets] need healthy food, they need clean water, they need shelter, they need an area large enough to exercise," he said.

Other changes include establishing guidelines for coping with feral cats, keeping chickens on a residential lot; provisions for non-residents to bring animals to the shelter; guidelines for a dog park; stricter fencing requirements; fines and penalties are better defined; better incentives to ensure rabies vaccinations are kept current; and "Many others that would need a long time to go over," he said.

The non-resident provision is a response to animals "found at Walmart," Wheeler said of a common ruse to surrender animals that are actually from outside the city. "This gives us a way to deal with that."

Chickens have become popular across the country, Wheeler said. The ordinance would give the requirements of shelter requirements, cleaning schedule, manure disposal, permits, distance-from-houses requirements, "The entire gamut of everything you have to do," he said.

"Coops would fall under building codes … Roosters would not be allowed under this ordinance," Wheeler said.

Boroughs said bids on the Veterans Park Cabot Community Center parking lot and a left turn lane at the junction of Lakewood Drive with Bill Foster Highway have been accepted, and asked the mayor and city clerk be given authority to sign the contracts.

The turn lane will be $56,000, by Cox Paving, and $34,000 for the parking lot by Chris Bradley Construction, Boroughs said. Firm construction dates will be set later.

Construction of the new library could begin sometime in May, though preparation for the new facility is still underway.

"This goes back a long way," Long remarked about a call to disband the city library commission — a detail brought out during planning.

Cypert recalled that efforts for a new library began under Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, but that by the time he, himself, took office library patronage had doubled in five years. In later remarks, Library board president Deborah Moore said that number has now tripled.

During the process of preparing to build the new library, it was found that Cabot has a library commission, but which has not been functional, Cypert said. "The city has full confidence in the Lonoke-Prairie library board," Cypert said in calling for the disbanding of the city library commission, entering into a long-term agreement with the board on use of the new library, and to authorize the mayor and clerk-treasurer to enter a construction contract for the new library.

Moore, and architect Bob Schelle, said there were 12 bids made to build the new library, with Dayco Construction, of Damascus, being chosen for the contract. Schelle said a number of issues remain to be settled, such as value engineering on the building plans, before a figure can be fixed, but the cost could be expected to be about $2 million.

The committee voted to present the proposals for consideration at the April 21 council meeting.

Hood presented the proposed City Employee Handbook, describing the changes and modifications made to bring the handbook into line with current needs. Most of the time, a handbook needs a thorough review every three years, but this was a "major overhaul," Hood said. "You won’t see this, hopefully, ever again."

"I think this overhaul signifies the city’s transition…from a small city way of doing things to the way a large city does things," Hood remarked.

After Hood’s 20-minute presentation, the committee voted to send the recommended ordinance to the April 21 council meeting.

The City Council agenda meeting, which sets the agenda for the next city council meeting, is held 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday each month, in the City Council Chambers of the Cabot City Annex, 201 North First St.

The meeting is the combined meeting of the city Public Works, Budget and Personnel, and Police and Fire committees. Each committee portion of the meeting includes time for public comment.