September 21, 2011 Edition

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WR Council discusses damage
to WRPD and economic news

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

"A tragic accident occurred today in Walnut Ride, claiming the life of one man and injuring Walnut Ridge Code Enforcement Officer Robert Rice," Mayor Don House announced as the city council meeting began last on Sept. 13. "Our prayers go out for the family of the young man who died and for Robert and his family."

"Our people responded heroically," he continued. "The fire department, police department, emergency medical personnel, the 911 dispatchers and personnel from Hoxie were wonderful. Even those who were off duty were quickly on the scene to assist. They are all greatly appreciated."

The accident happened around noon when a pickup truck drove into the Walnut Ridge Police Station on Southeast Front Street, killing the driver and injuring Rice, who was the only person inside the building at the time. He was airlifted to The Med in Memphis. The WRPD received extensive damage and will probably be declared a total loss, according to Mayor House.

"We have $35,000 worth of insurance on the building, with a $5,000 deductible, and equipment inside the building is insured for $12,000," Mayor House told the council. "We lost some radios, phones and a copy machine among other things."

The WRPD will be temporarily housed inside the Walnut Ridge Fire Department building on Highway 67B North.

The possibility of purchasing a piece of property adjacent to property already owned by the city was discussed in the event a new police station has to be built. Money collected from the insurance company would be used toward that purchased.

Walnut Ridge Police Chief Richy Thatcher told the council that there is a $150,000 grant that he can apply for that can only be used for building purposes. He will pursue that possibility to help pay for repairs or a new building.

In an executive session, the council agreed to shift some of Officer Rice's responsibilities to Elizabeth Halfacre, the city's building inspector, and to contract someone on a part-time status until Rice is able to return to work.

In economic news, Mayor House said it has been a long time since Walnut Ridge has had so much attention from industry and business prospects, and he is engaged every day in working to bring jobs to town.

"Four different industrial prospects visited city hall during August, and at least six prospects are on 'very active' status," reported House. "With the help of our economic team, including the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Authority, I feel some of these prospects are going to make a decision in coming months to locate here, bringing jobs to our citizens."

"We need to have our code and zoning manual completed soon so we will have it in place when industries decide to come to our town," Mayor House said.

"We appeal to our residents to make sure they clean up their yards and dispose of any waste. Business and industry prospects often arrive in our city in advance of us knowing they are looking at us. One of the big things they notice is how clean our citizens keep their properties."

Mayor House also gave an update on the city's assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for cost incurred for cleanup following spring flooding and storms.

"We have received our first payment from them in the amount of $2,100," he said. "Our employees have done a masterful job in gathering the information they require in order to assist us. However, they now have a new coordinator working with us who could not find our paperwork, so we have had to regather and resubmit all that. Also, FEMA is running low on money for cleanup costs."

"Regardless, whether we receive help from them or not, work will begin on Compress Road next week," House said. "Compress Road was badly damaged by the spring flooding and is getting worse all the time."

Council members voted to rename one block of Southwest Second Street. It will now be known as Abbey Road, and a pocket park that will house the sculpture of The Beatles is located on the street. A public meeting was held on August 30 to discuss the name change, and no opposition to renaming the street arose.

Stripes have also been painted on the street to simulate the crosswalk on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album. The council discussed the possibility of changing the traffic signal at West Main and Abbey Road to allow people to turn left at the light or using it as a regular stoplight. The Highway Department will have to be contacted before any changes can be made.

Mayor House also signed a proclamation declaring Sept. 18, 2011, Beatles Day in Walnut Ridge.

In other business, the council:

  • learned that the new banners ordered for the street lights on Main Street would cost a little more than originally planned. "We will pay $2,900 for 50 banners, and the setup fee and shipping and handling will bring the total to around $3,200," Alderwoman Paula Haskins said. "We hope to have them this week."

  • was informed that the owners of two properties the city has condemned have indicated they will bring their property up to code and asked for and received a little more time to complete the work. The properties are located at 320 Northeast Front and 321 East Poplar.

  • heard a report from Mayor House on a meeting held at Stewart Park last week with representatives from Arkansas Parks and Tourism and East Arkansas Planning and Development District. The city is hoping to receive grant monies to improve Stewart Park's ball fields and swim park. The representatives will return in three weeks with an engineer to draw up plans for improving park facilities and possibly creating a sports complex.

  • learned the code and zoning manual is being worked on daily.

  • was informed that five new building permits were issued in August, and three new business licenses were issued. Robert Bosch Tool Corporation celebrated their 125th anniversary as a company and their 38 years in Walnut Ridge. They are looking at the possibility of adding one or two more lines at their location here.

  • Mayor House praised Alderman Wendell Jones and thanked him for his volunteer work with the WRPD. "I want to thank him for all he does," House said. Jones, a certified auxillary police officer, has filled in as a volunteer during Officer David Burnside's illness. Jones is the owner of Arkansas Excellent Transport, and he and his wife also own the Daylight Donut Shop in Walnut Ridge.

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