March 14, 2007 Edition

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WR holds public
meeting on land issue

Wilson Schmidt (far right) talks with Michael Moore of Walnut Ridge and Pat McEntire administrative assistant to Mayor Michelle Rogers.
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council held a public meeting on Thursday evening at Firemen's Hall to receive input from citizens in respect to the simultaneous detachment of 18 acres of land inside the city limits and annexation into Hoxie's city limits. Approximately 30 people attended, including Hoxie Mayor Donnie Roberts and Hoxie alderman Sherry Moore.

The property belongs to Wilson Schmidt who would like to develop the property for both commercial and residential use; however, the property has neither water nor sewer services.

Schmidt said he plans to start breaking ground as soon as the weather clears up.

Mayor Roberts said that the city of Hoxie could start work on getting utilities to the property the day after it is annexed and that it should take no time at all to complete. Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers said Walnut Ridge could have utilities there within a year, and there is a grant she is looking into now to help finance the work. She estimated the cost would be $600,000 using a six-inch sewer line.

The proximity of the property to Hoxie makes it more economical for Hoxie to run sewer and water lines, according to Schmidt. "The timeframe worries me if Walnut Ridge provides the services," he said. "I'm looking at a July timeframe. The proximity and affordability of these services is the biggest thing.

"The best thing that could happen to Walnut Ridge would be for this to be successful. It would give people a reason to come out there. It could be a magnet for other businesses," Schmidt said. "I own 100 acres still in Walnut Ridge. It needs to flourish. We don't need something in there that would fail."

Alderman Michael Wallin asked Schmidt, "If you have to start working on something in July, could you start on the Hoxie side?"

"I will not create development out there and just let it evolve. I want to know something is going in there," Schmidt said.

"If Walnut Ridge provides services to the property, do you have prospective businesses that you're sure want to go in? If we go out on a limb, do you have a guarantee?" City Attorney Larry Steele asked.

Schmidt said he did not have anyone wanting to open a business out there. "I have not spoken to any major chain or store. No one is going to stand in line by my door wanting in. I've got to make it worthwhile."

Alderman Paula Haskins pointed out that she wants Walnut Ridge and Hoxie to work together.

"Hoxie has nothing to lose in this deal," she said. "Walnut Ridge does. If Wal-Mart comes in and wants to build out there, it would hurt Walnut Ridge"

Michael Moore of Walnut Ridge said that developing the land would be good for the entire county.

"I prefer the respective towns take care of their own property," he said. "Walnut Ridge would lose city tax money but would still collect county taxes."

Alderman Jonathan Sanders said that this decision is not a Walnut Ridge vs. Hoxie thing. "It's about money and taxes. It's a business decision."

"Water and insurance rates are things that need to be paid attention to. They can cost thousands of dollars depending on the town's fire rating," Alderman Ron Smith said.

Schmidt told him that they could put a fire station out there on the property. He has enough land for that and a police station if they're needed out there.

The council also noted that there are no estimates on paper at this time, and Delbert Robins asked how long it would take to recoup $600,000. He suggested a study be done on those figures.

Walnut Ridge aldermen will vote on the issue at a council meeting in the future.

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