June 20, 2012 Edition

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WR to seek grants

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge City Council members passed resolutions to apply for grants that should help bring new jobs to the area and to make improvements to Stewart Park at their meeting on June 12. They also voted for a resolution to make the airplane/helicopter swap official.

Aldermen passed a resolution approving the trade of the helicopter it formerly owned for an airplane the city has had possession of for several years, with neither aircraft properly registered until now, and without a formal vote taken at the time of the swap.

The late Tony Miles traded his plane for the helicopter several years ago and the problem with the paperwork and the oversight of voting to approve the trade came to light in the past few months.

"The law was not followed at the time, and there's no excuse for that," said Mayor Don House. "But we have to find a resolution to this and maybe we've found that now."

House said he had talked to the State Regulatory Committee, and affidavits from council members (past and present) will publicly show what happened. The committee will file an exception with the auditors and legislators will review it and decide whether to approve it or turn it over to the authorities.

"The retroactive affidavits go a long way in showing no wrongdoing took place or was intended," House said. "Our council has to follow the laws and the Legislative Committee suggested we try this to correct the oversight."

House also expressed sympathy to the Miles family on behalf of the city.

Council members also passed a resolution to apply for a 50-50 matching grant to fund an improved swimming park, which will include a splash pad at the present city pool. House said he has worked through the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department to get a grant for the swim park, and a grant has been prepared by the East Arkansas Planning and Development District to begin a funding program for overall park development.

The 50-50 matching grants can be matched with some in-kind labor and materials and the rest by local cash donations. A new grant can be applied for each year for up to 10 years and will be used for ballpark reconstruction and modernization.

House said state officials and engineers have made multiple visits to Walnut Ridge to give advice and make recommendations. A public hearing has been set tentatively for Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Walnut Ridge Police Complex to discuss funding, and there will be other hearings on the matter during the next three weeks.

Mayor House then asked the council to pass a resolution authorizing the city to enter into an agreement for a grant application to the Delta Regional Authority to fund efforts for the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport to become a Certified Foreign Investment Center Site (EB-Regional Center).

The EB-5 is a federal program overseen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that grants immigration visas to foreign nationals who make an investment in a job-creating business or new commercial enterprise in the United States. The program attracts foreign investors seeking permanent residency by allowing them to pool their investment with others, rather than starting their own business, in a USCIS-approved regional center. They must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within a regional center and independently apply for an EB-5 Visa. Regional centers invest the funds into businesses that create jobs in rural or high unemployment areas.

Mayor House said the purpose of the program is to attract foreign investors to create jobs for Americans.

If approved by USCIS, foreign investors are granted a conditional two-year green card, and must provide proof after two years that they have created at least 10 jobs as a result of the investment.

"We have an industry that will put in a factory and employ 120 people if we can become a site," Mayor House told the council. "Arkansas has no centers now which would give us an edge over other towns in the state. We have an entity in Arkansas who wants to become one, which would help us with our site.

"Our part of the grant would cost about $112,000, a ten percent match. The Intermodal Authority will help us, and an industry in Little Rock will contribute $10,000 as a loan or a donation to help us get through the financing, and Lawrence County United Group has pledged to help. Basically, we already have our 10 percent amount."

The resolution passed.

In other business:

  • the council learned that John Kopp is the new City Water Works manager, following Lester Herring's resignation for health reasons. Herring had been with the department for more than 32 years.

  • a request from John Andrews to rezone property he recently purchased form an R1 to an RR, which would allow him to build a square post building on the property, was tabled until next month.

  • aldermen learned that their health insurance is going up from a Class III to a Class IV, which will bring an increase of $36 per employee per month.

  • Mayor House informed the council that the state veterinarian had called to let him know that each city has to have a plan for cats within their city limits. Anyone who owns a cat or feeds or cares for one he/she does not own is responsible for that cat and for making sure they have current rabies shots. Failure to do so will result in a fine. A plan for controlling the city's cat population will have to be devised.

  • the council voted to appoint Mike Shelton to the Walnut Ridge Airport Commission to complete Dr. Ralph Joseph's unexpired term.

  • alderman discussed the dedication of three streets in the McEntire Addition that are not yet properly dedicated.

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