December 21, 2011 Edition

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WR end year in good shape

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council held its last meeting of the year in the new police complex on Dec. 13. The complex, located on Highway 67B, officially opened on Nov. 20, and future council meetings will be held there.

The first drug court was also held at the complex on Nov. 8. The new complex was completed debt free, thanks to the council, numerous individuals and businesses, according to Mayor Don House.

The budget for next year was accepted as presented. It included a three percent raise for all employees and only small increases for equipment and operating expenses over the previous year's budget.

"We will close out the year with a balance of $300,000 in the general fund and savings accounts," House said. "The city will still receive quite a bit of money from FEMA due to flooding, storms, etc."

According to House, industrial matters continue to make good progress with food, natural resources and aircraft prospects. One of the prospects has already signed a lease for a large track of land at the edge of the city and applied for permits with the state for their planned operations. Another has purchased a vacant warehouse in our industrial park, which will be a major breakthrough for our twin-city area and Lawrence County, he said. "Other business and industry will then follow."

The city's new code and zoning manual has been completed and adopted by the council. Copies of the manual are available for review at city hall.

"This is the first rework of the codes in decades," said House. "It has passed numerous reviews and meets state and international requirements. Code Enforcement Officer Elizabeth Halfacre has led the way in putting the manual together."

The manual is part of the city's infrastructure in providing the opportunity for the orderly growth of the community, the mayor added.

The council was informed that the city's street department continues to do a follow up on the Midway Road repair project. A grader has been assigned to the road on a daily basis, weather permitting. Midway Road, which was damaged by storms and floods, and Southern Avenue near the Walnut Ridge Community Center, which was damaged by construction trucks, will be repaved in the spring. The city has received some FEMA funds to help with the patching and drainage problems on Southeast Free Street, between Second and Third streets.

House said he met with the director of the Rural Services grant program in Little Rock in November to check into some or perhaps complete funding for the police complex parking lot. The prospect for that looks good, he said.

The mayor said he also met with the Arkansas Good Roads Board, of which he is a member, the governor, the chair of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department as well as Chief Engineer Frank Bozel and others.

"Bozel told me that as soon as the federal highway bill passes, we can expect an announcement by the first week of January of the Highway 67 freeway's paving schedule all the way to Walnut Ridge," House said. "Also, the Black Rock Bridge project has been sped up so that bid letting could come as early as September of 2012."

House said the freeway and the new Black Rock Bridge will be great improvements and bring more opportunities for growth to the entire area.

"The city once again has 'Christmas in the Park' at Stewart Park," the mayor said. " Everyone is invited to drive or walk through the park and enjoy the light displays free of charge. The displays are open daily until 10 p.m. through Jan. 2."

The council approved left hand turns for traffic at the intersection of Second and Main streets after a review by the Arkansas Highway Department showed the change would improve traffic flow at minimal risk.

In other business, the council:

  • learned that the new $13-million-plus water plant has received many positive comments, from the water tasting better than what people had before, to the softness of the water and how much better tea tastes as well as the improvement it has made in laundry and dishwasher use. The plant was dedicated in honor of A.J. Henry, who has successfully led the city's water commission for many years.

  • heard from residents along Luther Bridge Road who were annexed into the city several years ago. They have been receiving mosquito spray coverage and fire protection, but have never received a bill for those services. They have now received bills dating back to the time of the annexation. The bills will be reviewed and the city will make recommendations that will allow those citizens the opportunity to pay the unexpected bills on a monthly basis and not cause them undue hardship.

  • was informed that the sewer project of the Highway 34 and Luther Bridge Road is now under construction, and the addition of four residence to the north of Village Creek is underway. All four have agreed they want to be included. The area north of Compress Road will be next in line to receive sewer extensions.

  • discussed a $193,000 lighting grant through the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Mayor House will work on the 80/20 grant and ask if the grant could be awarded in a smaller amount so the city's matching part would not be as much.

  • tabled a request from Larry Corbett who would like the city to help with placing barriers in front of his building on Main Street (formerly the Van Atkins store and now the Republican Party headquarters) after a car recently ran into the building, causing a large amount of damage. The council will need to study the problem and the Arkansas Highway Department will have to be involved in any decision.

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