June 08, 2011 Edition

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U.S. Sen. Boozman visits
with county leaders, residents

U.S. Senator John Boozman (left) met with community leaders and citizens at the Lawrence County Meeting Room in Walnut Ridge on Thursday. Terry Lambert, president of Lawrence Health Services (second, from left), Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker and Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House discuss issues they are facing.
TD Photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

"The Federal budget is the greatest challenge our country has faced since World War II," U.S. Senator John Boozman told county leaders and residents during his visit to Lawrence County on Thursday. "Jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy and gas prices are some of the toughest issues we are dealing with today."

Issues facing citizens on a local level were also discussed, including infrastructure, healthcare, FEMA assistance to flood victims, aid to farmers whose crops have been destroyed, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Walnut Ridge Regional Airport and county schools.

Mayors, farmers, bankers and representatives from area businesses and organizations along with concerned citizens attended the meeting in the Lawrence County Meeting Room in Walnut Ridge. Each one was given the opportunity to tell Sen. Boozman their main concerns and the needs in their part of the county.

Many of them voiced the same concerns.

"We need a highway bill to complete the work on U.S. Highway 67," said Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House. "It is very important to our county to have that highway completed to the Missouri line.

"The Black River Bridge at Black Rock needs to be repaired or replaced as quickly as possible. It is causing problems for our citizens and costing our businesses revenue they can't afford to lose."

State Rep. James Ratliff asked Boozman for help in getting information about the status of the independent inspection of the bridge required by the State Highway Department earlier this year. The results of the inspection will determine whether or not five-axle trucks weighing more than 66,000 pounds will be allowed to cross the bridge, saving truckers time and money.

"Our citizens want answers, and I haven't been able to get the information they need from Little Rock," Ratliff said. "Also, flooding victims need all the help we can get them. Right now, they have the choice of losing their homes or living in their houses with mold in them."

"It is important to get our transportation improved," Boozman said. "Our infrastructure is in bad shape, and I'll help in every way I can. We really need to concentrate on transportation."

He added that the Highway Trust Fund has no money in it right now because people aren't willing to pay high gas prices, and that those prices affect every aspect of life in our country.

"We need to use American supplies and keep our money here," Boozman said.

"Gas prices go up too fast and come down too fast to be a supply and demand problem," said Mayor Tinker.

Mayor House told the senator that FEMA has been right on the ball to help the county's citizens and towns, and Rep. Ratliff added that the Red Cross has also done a good job.

Airport Commission Chair Dan Coker and Mayor House asked for continued assistance for the airport. House said the airport contains the city's majority of land for industry and future growth and that in the event of a large earthquake along the New Madrid fault line, the airport would be the center of air transportation for this entire area. He added that Boozman's office and those who held the office before him have always helped ensure that it remains a good airport.

Coker said the largest expenditures are for maintenance to the ramps and runways, and that the airport commission needs all the help it can get with funding.

Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker told Boozman his town needs financing to help clean up property to make way for new housing. "We'd like to see some FHA houses built in our town," he said.

"We need jobs," said County Judge Dale Freeman. "If we can get jobs in here, then we'll get our tax base back and be in good shape."

Strawberry Mayor John Veer added, "Crime in our county is related to unemployment in this area. I'd appreciate your help in keeping the jobs we do have here."

Terry Lambert, president of Lawrence Health Services, expressed concern about the future of small hospitals.

"We're a critical access hospital and employ 350 people with a payroll of $9 million. We are vitally important to this community," Lambert said. "Healthcare reform is a moving target. We're doing our part and continue to count on government to do theirs."

Boozman said the president's healthcare bill is hard on community hospitals. "We need healthcare, just not this plan," he said. "If we lose hospitals, we lose communities."

The senator reassured Millard Allison that because he is on Medicare now, his coverage will not change, that it is set in stone. "It's the people age 55 and under who will be facing a Medicare problem if we don't do something about it," Boozman said. "We are not going to privatize Medicare, but we have got to start working on it now."

Allison had been concerned about a provision that would turn Medicare into a controversial voucher-like system for those under 55.

"I think the plan including that proposal is a good plan, and it started the discussion," Boozman said. "It will take a lot of discussion; we want to preserve Medicare for future generations, not cut it."

Walnut Ridge High School Superintendent Terry Belcher told the senator that he wishes the federal government would get out of the school business. "We like having all the money we can get, but 'No Child Left Behind' isn't realistic," Belcher said. "We can't get over 90 percentile grades after so long a time."

Boozman agreed with Belcher and added that he had served on a school board for seven years.

Rickey Goff of Farm Service told the senator that salaries at Farm Service have been frozen for two years now.

"We have been through floods, erosion and sand deposits," Goff said. "Our local farmers need help. Between 50,000 and 70,000 acres of our farmland have been hurt by the flooding this year. That makes a big impact on our county."

Boozman told those at the meeting to get in touch with him whenever they need to.

"Write me, call me or grab me by the throat when you need my help," he said. "Let me know what you need - it's a matter of everyone working together."

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