August 17, 2011 Edition

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WR Council discusses equipment,
employees' benefit fund provider

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge City Councilmen will pursue the possibility of renaming a portion of a city street in conjunction with the future location of The Beatles' sculpture in the downtown area. The council also voted to purchase new equipment for the Street Department and will change the carrier of the city's benefit fund.

An executive session was held at the beginning of the meeting with no action being taken.

Alderwoman Paula Haskins told the council that the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization and the Lawrence County Tourism Committee, who are building a pocket park on Southwest Second Street to house The Beatles sculpture, have asked to have one block of Southwest Second Street, from Main Street to West Elm, renamed Abbey Road, in keeping with the theme of the sculpture and in time for the upcoming Beatles Tribute celebration

"I feel this would be an interesting addition to promote tourism," Haskins said. "The name change would only affect three businesses on that block."

Alderman Dirk Davis said those three businesses would have to change their address on checks, letterheads and on other business-related items. The Office of Emergency Management 9-1-1 system would also have to be notified of the change.

City Attorney Brent Crews advised the council that a public meeting would have to be held before the street name could be changed, and Haskins was asked to contact business owners who would be affected by the new name in order to get their input.

The council agreed to hold the public meeting as soon as practical, and that having the Abbey Road signs up by Sept. 18 in time for the unveiling of The Beatles' sculpture and the tribute celebration was probably doable if no obstacles arise.

Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial representative Josh Dement addressed the council and explained what his company has to offer city employees in the City Benefit Fund.

"I have met with all city employees and went over the services we offer," Dement said. "Most agreed the new plan would be better than what they now have."

Mayor Don House told the council that the employees have told him they want the new plan, which guarantees they will receive three percent interest on their investment.

The interest rate is recalculated every three months and the rate they receive may increase, but will never be less than three percent. The employees will also receive many other free services in this no-risk plan, Dement said. Members are eligible for up to $16,000 in student scholarships and grant programs, monthly income and scholarships to children if they suffer the loss of their parents and are guaranteed the insurability of all future children, along with many other free benefits.

The council voted unanimously to accept Modern Woodmen's plan to replace the one they currently have.

They also voted unanimously to buy some needed equipment for the city.

Street Superintendent Rickey Ditto asked the council to purchase a skid steer for the street department. He has located one that has between 170 and 180 hours on it and comes with a trailer, a bucket and a price tag of $18,000.

A brand new skid steer was priced at $24,500 with a trailer for $2,500 and an angle broom for $5,200, bringing the total cost to $32,200 if they purchase all new equipment.

"The one I found is nearly new. We can use this machine as a street sweeper, for snow removal, digging holes, shoveling and as a clippings spreader - all types of jobs," Ditto said. "I can find a sweeper for it for $3,000."

Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin reminded the council about the ditch digger the council purchased four years ago.

"It's not being used like it should be," Wallin said. "It should be going every day mopping out ditches - not setting on a lot. I'm in favor of the city buying equipment it needs, but I want to be sure it will be used."

Ditto assured Wallin the ditch digger is now being used on a daily basis, and that floods and storms had kept the street department very busy during the past few months.

"It's a question of updating our equipment and still being fiscally responsible," Mayor House told the council.

The city's new building inspector is Elizabeth Halfacre. House said she has been working with Fire Chief Frank Owens, and the new building code book they are working on with the review committee is coming along very well. The first review of the book is scheduled for this week, and multiple reviews will take place before it is brought to the council for approval, said House. Halfacre will attend classes in Jonesboro this week regarding the compilation of the new book. The class will be led by the state building inspector, who will review Walnut Ridge's proposed manual when it is completed.

House and the council also discussed the poor condition of Compress Road.

"The road just fell apart after the floods," House said. "FEMA will help us with the expense of repairing it, but we don't know how much it is going to cost. We have to address that road as quickly as we can: it's worse each time I drive on it."

In other business:

  • House reminded the council of two major events scheduled for September. The Beatles event will be in downtown Walnut Ridge on Sept. 18, and the first annual Cavenaugh 5K Race will be held at Stewart Park on Sept. 14th with proceeds going to the Humane Society. A business expo is also scheduled for Aug. 25 at the First Baptist Church MAC.

  • the council learned that the city pool has had excellent attendance this year and will remain open on an abbreviated schedule through Labor Day. Several improvements have been made at the pool, and a grant is available to the city for a splash park for children between the pool and the parking area and could be operational by next summer. City council action will be required for that project, House said.

  • councilmen were informed that the ball complex at Stewart Park is getting a new dugout due to storm damage. The donation of five light poles from Entergy and Craighead Electric for lighting the parking area is greatly appreciated, House said. The lights are ready to be installed as soon as the fifth pole is set. Other improvements have been made, and John 3:16 Ministries is scheduled to trim trees in the park in November.

  • the mayor expressed his gratitude to Lawrence County Sheriff Jody Dotson for allowing the city to utilize the help of 309 prisoners recently, and to Arkansas Workforce Services who provided two workers at no cost to the city.

  • the council was told that work has begun on the south addition part of the sewer expansion project, and bids are to be let in early September for the Compress Road addition.

  • councilmen learned that two city street department employees have attended schooling on repair and operation of traffic lights and will attend two more sessions.

  • Mayor House informed the council that Arkansas Soil Conservation and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, along with Ben Starr, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Herb Ginn, staff chair of the Lawrence County Extension Service, continue to work with the city in preparing an approved site for proper disposal of leaves and grass clippings from citizens' yards. The plan they are working on will be used as a pilot program if the project is approved on a five-acre lot near the airport.

  • the council discussed plans for the Guitar Walk planned for placement in the area near the Iron Mountain Depot along Front Street. A $200-a-year lease fee will be charged by the railroad, and they will require that the area be covered by a large amount of liability insurance and that a fence be built around the display. The city attorney will check to see if the city's $10 million insurance policy covering the sewer project will meet the railroad's requirements, negating the need for more insurance. He will also check to see if an umbrella policy might be less expensive or what insurance for the Guitar Walk would cost if a new policy is required.

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