January 18, 2012 Edition

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WR Councilmen hear
State of City address

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Mayor Don House presented his State of the City address to the city council at their regular meeting on Jan. 10. House pointed out many of the city's successes in 2011 and some of his agenda for the coming year.

"The State of the City address in 2011 was made with a clear vision: A vision to (1) bring our people together; (2) restore confidence in our police department; (3) make our city more responsive to the people; (4) create a new cooperation between our city, the county and our twin city Hoxie; and (5) create jobs," House said.

"We have addressed every issue with the help and advice of the council and interested citizens of our city. Some of these goals will obviously lap over into this new year in their fulfillment."

House said the city has placed ethical operation at the top of the agenda, and has restored confidence in the police department.

"We have better outfitted our police, park, street, fire and mosquito departments," he said. "We have sold worn out equipment and replaced it with better equipment and added additional equipment.

"We have a new police complex without taking out loans or a tax being attached.

"We have created a new pride among city employees. They have more respectable uniforms, a better retirement program and a long-deserved pay raise for all full-time employees. We can provide better for those who serve our citizens by taking better care of the funds entrusted to us.

"We were able to begin the completion of four different sewer system projects without increasing anyone's sewer bill, and we improved our water by connecting to the NEA Water Facility at Black Rock, again with no increase in our water bills."

A drainage program was begun in 2011 and House said he hopes that will be an annual program. Additional residents will soon be added through annexation of an area on the north side of Midway Road. This should allow new housing development in that area and will broaden the city's tax base, House said. An updated code manual and zoning manual have been completed in time for this future growth.

"I recommend we resurface portions of Midway Road, Southern Avenue, Free Street, Northeast Front Street, Old Pocahontas Road and other main arteries within our city as soon as funds become available," he added. "A 10-year plan to pave all our streets should be developed before our next paving bids are let, and we need a 10-year development plan for additional annexation and zoning updates. We also need an auditorium of size for indoor civic events. In partnership with Walnut Ridge Schools, we have refurbished our joint-owned community center auditorium and gymnasium."

House recommended that the city invite the leaders of College City and Williams Baptist College to seriously discuss how a merger with Walnut Ridge will better serve each other. He also recommended that the council join him in securing a grant for construction of a new sports complex for Stewart Park as soon as funds become available.

"We have at least four serious industrial prospects looking at setting down in our city and immediate area in 2012," House said. "The commitment this council is making in appropriating funds for economic development is one of the things that is bringing this prospective growth about."

The city has been able to accomplish all these things and still end the year in sound financial condition, House concluded.

Following an executive session, the council agreed to combine the street and sanitation departments into one. Ricky Ditto will be superintendent of the new department.

In other business, the council:

  • voted to apply for an 80/20 grant from the State Highway Department for downtown sidewalk and lighting enhancement.

  • passed a resolution for changes to its zoning regulations.

  • accepted a contract with Gateway Animal Clinic that will allow them to serve as the city's dog pound.

  • appointed Harry Hicks to another term on the airport commission.

  • named Spencer Ponder as mayor pro tem for 2012.

  • voted to accept a budget cleanup ordinance.

  • agreed to give the antenna at the old police department building to the Lawrence County Amateur Radio Association, provided the group takes down the antenna and accepts liability during its removal.

  • discussed problems Jake Henry is having with city services since his property was annexed into the city.

  • was updated on the placement of barriers in front of the Republican Headquarters building on Main Street. Following an automobile accident that damaged the building, Larry Corbett requested the barriers to prevent another such accident. The state highway department is working on this project with Corbett and the city.

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