February 27, 2013 Edition

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Mayor House gives
State of City Address

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

"We begin 2013 with brightened prospects as we start the slow process of what we hope is economic recovery in our nation," Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House said in his State of the City Address distributed at the February city council meeting.

He discussed improvements made during the past year and plans for the coming year.

"After tightening our belts, cutting payroll and some non-essential services, we were able to maintain all necessary services and complete the year with $274,000 in our General Fund and $85,000 in our savings," House said. "Due to the economy, we experienced a shortfall of tax revenue from state turnback funds, occupation funds, franchise taxes, state, county and local sales taxes in excess of $80,000. Costs continued to rise while revenue went down. While we believe the worst is over and an upswing will now occur, we must continue to be frugal in our planning and budget."

The new police facility became fully functional in 2012, housing the city's police department and serving as a meeting place for the city council, the county drug court and other government related events, House said. "Crime in our city continued to drop in 2012, but illegal drugs remain a constant problem," he added.

Large grants were received by the Walnut Ridge Airport and used for concrete and lighting improvements, and jet activity at the airport has increase.

More than $1.8 million dollars in grant funds were received to cover sewer expansion and airport improvements. A new water line is expected to be run to South Point Tiger Express and the south Intermodal area in 2013, covered 100 per cent by grant funds.

"One of the best things citizens of Walnut Ridge experienced this year was a new source of water provided by the City Water Works," House said. "We undoubtedly have the best water anywhere, and our waste water system is now working much more effectively than in recent years."

Stewart Park has seen various improvements, including trimming hundreds of trees and better drainage. The city is working in cooperation with the Arkansas Forestry Service on a tree replacement program, and the park's maintenance building was painted and received a new roof. The city's pool had one of the highest attendance counts ever and actually made money this year. Savings came through improved water that required fewer chemicals, and city workers took on maintenance projects that were contracted in the past

The Kiwanis Club in cooperation with Fran and Don Cavenaugh and Cavenaugh Motors raised $40,000 that is intended, along with in-kind services, to match a grant that has been awarded by Arkansas Parks and Tourism to install a Splash Pad in the swim area of the park.

Walnut Ridge was also named a Tree City USA during the year, thanks to members of the council who worked on the project and volunteers within the city.

House told the council that interest is strong for the city's baseball programs at the park, and hopefully grant funds can be secured for ball field improvements in the coming year. The soccer program has also enjoyed increased interest and improvements in that area also need to be made.

The fire department maintains an excellent fire rating and its large ladder truck was paid off during the year.

"Our second duty garbage truck bit the dust in the latter part of the year, and a new garbage truck is a must," said House. "Our present truck, which is seven years old, would become our second duty truck when a new one is purchased."

The city has also made application to the new State Aid Street Fund and should hear from the State Highway Department within the next two months about funding possibilities for streets that will fit into the program.

Corning Area Healthcare began construction on a $1.3 million dollar facility on Colonial Drive, which will employ 14 new staffers and one new doctor. Two new housing areas have also been announced.

"Some of our local factories employed additional workers in 2012, two large facilities at the airport became occupied as warehouses and the last of the empty building in the old Walmart shopping center on Highway 67B B North now houses a new business," House said.

Voters approved the building of a five-lane stretch of Highway 412 from the intersection of Highway 141 to Walnut Ridge. The completion of the Highway 63/Highway 412 project to Portia and bids let on the Black River Bridge at Black Rock were welcome news. These projects will employ several people from this area and should prove to be an economic boost for the twin city area, House said. He added that the Birdsong Peanuts' new buying point at Portia generated a few permanent jobs and several seasonal ones.

"We have three industrial prospects looking at us at the present time," said House. "We have been working with a couple of those for about a year." House added that he, the Chamber of Commerce, County Judge Dale Freeman and the Intermodal Authority try to work as a team in bringing industry and business to the area.

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