April 17, 2013 Edition

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WR passes hazardous
driving ordinance

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council passed a hazardous driving ordinance and repealed its current zoning regulation ordinance at its meeting on April 9.

After much debate and considerable opposition after its first reading two months ago, councilmen voted to adopt a hazardous driving ordinance for the city.

The ordinance will take effect in 90 days and will allow police officers to write traffic tickets that will not go on offenders' driving records in Little Rock. Fines and court costs generated by the ordinance will be divided among the city, county and state.

Walnut Ridge Police Chief Richy Thatcher told the council that this ordinance will not be used to generate revenue, but will allow officers to give first-time offenders a break.

"We are estimating the ordinance might bring in an additional $2,000 a year," Thatcher said. "We don't really write a lot of tickets."

Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin gave each council member a copy of a story that ran in the April 8 Arkansas Democrat. The article states that the city of Parkin's use of the same type of city ordinance accounted for nearly 70 percent of the town's revenue, and its former police chief claims it operates a speed trap to fill its coffers. The article also says that Parkin's City Council recently increased the rate of fines they can charge under the ordinance.

"We have a lot of people working hard to bring tourism to our area," Wallin said. "The Lawrence County Tourism Committee and the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization and others are making great strides to attract people to our town, and I wouldn't want to see us written about in a paper like this to discourage people from coming here. I don't want us to be known in the same way as Parkin.

"I'm not saying our officers would abuse the ordinance," said Wallin. "Nothing against our officers, I just feel that there should be a better way to write it. If it's 100 percent to help people, I would vote for it."

Alderman Boyce Dixon reaffirmed that this ordinance is for law-abiding citizens, not habitual offenders.

City Attorney Adam Weeks told the council that there is a standard fine and court costs on court dockets where this type of ordinance is in effect, and that he has rarely seen a judge go over those amounts.

As part of the discussion, Alderman Jeff Taylor told the council he had talked to judges in Lake City and Ash Flat and they told him they like having the ordinance.

Wendell Jones was asked to refrain from voting on police matters by Alderman Ed Lawson. "He is a reserve deputy and our police chief for works for him part-time at Arkansas Emergency Transport," Lawson said.

Mayor Don House told Lawson that neither the council nor the mayor can ask Jones to do that.

"That is up to him," House said.

Taylor said he would vote for the ordinance if the words 'produce obnoxious noise' were removed and fines were set at no more that $100 for a violation, with court costs at $75.

Those amendments were made, and the ordinance passed with Wallin and Lawson voting against it.

Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Frank Owens told the council that the recently passed zoning ordinance is causing confusion in the enforcement of various provisions of city zoning and asked that it be repealed.

"The new book does not match our maps, and we need to go back to our old zoning book for the time being," Owens said. "The Municipal League will help us get our zones and maps up to date so the city's maps will match the zoning ordinance we will pass in the near future."

Owens is filling in for the former zoning officer, who took another job.

The council voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance.

Mayor House informed the council that the city's new garbage truck will be delivered by May 1. He also told them that Regions Bank was able to finance the truck for the city at a lower interest rate than the company they had discussed dealing with.

The mayor also appointed Alderman Wallin to serve as mayor pro tem.

In other business the council:

  • rescheduled the city's auction for May 4 providing the auctioneer is available,

  • learned that sales tax revenue was down in January and February, but the mayor hopes it will turn around as the economy improves.

  • heard an update on what the city has learned about placing a signal light at the intersection of Free Street and Highway 63B in the future. Until a light is installed, a police officer will direct traffic at that intersection in the mornings while students are on their way to school. This will continue through the end of this school year.

  • was informed that spring cleanup is going well, and that the city's Easter egg hunt was a great success.

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