January 7, 2015 Edition

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Snapp plans for
economic growth

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp discusses the city's economic structure at a meeting with city employees, aldermen and elected officials held Friday, Jan. 2, Snapp's first day in office. He reviewed many budgetary concerns and shared his plans for growth.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp has big plans for growth in his first term. He said he has been overwhelmed with people ready to help the city move forward.

"Walnut Ridge is in a unique position with a diverse council with an influx of ideas," he said. "We also have had several volunteers step up ready to give back to the city."

Snapp said that since he was elected, former mayor Don House invited him to help with city and budgetary decisions while Snapp was preparing to take office.

In addition to Snapp taking office as mayor, many other new faces will be starting at Walnut Ridge this year, including aldermen Allen Smith, Daniel Abbott, Everett Hart and Jon Walter and City Attorney Nancy Hall.

Snapp recently announced that Sharon Davis Henson will become the new administrative assistant as Sue Hilburn prepares for retirement. Hilburn will stay on for a little while longer to train Henson.

On Friday, Snapp held a special meeting with city employees, aldermen and elected officials regarding some of the changes they should expect.

"Change is coming to Walnut Ridge," Snapp said. "We're not going to be able to stop it but we can embrace it."

With several plans already in place to prepare Walnut Ridge for upcoming changes in industry, growth and leadership, Snapp said the city employees are the backbone of what is about to happen in Walnut Ridge and he expects everyone to give 100 percent.

Some key areas that Snapp intends to address during his time as mayor are as follows:

Economic growth

Snapp's main focus is going to be on economic growth, and he sees many opportunities for that in the future. With Highway 67 about to get a four-lane tie-in to Highway 412 in the northeast corner of Walnut Ridge, Snapp said the city will be opened up to increased traffic flow and distribution opportunities.

Another future boon to Walnut Ridge economics is Peco Foods, which will be located near the Randolph county line about 10 miles from downtown Walnut Ridge. The plant will offer 1,000 jobs itself, but there will be many opportunities for other businesses being located in the area as a by-product of Peco.

The business is poised to invest $165 million in the area and has room to grow in the future, offering even more jobs. Snapp said there will be 554 chicken houses needed in the Lawrence, Randolph and Clay counties area.

"We have to start thinking regionally," Snapp said. "There is no fence between Walnut Ridge and Hoxie. There is no fence between Lawrence County and Randolph County. We're going to have to unite our efforts."

Snapp said that his first objective will always be to bring industry to Walnut Ridge and Lawrence County, but he will also take advantage of any opportunity that will benefit the city, even if the industry itself is located outside its limits.

Snapp said with Peco coming, the number one issue is acquiring affordable housing. "We need people to live in Walnut Ridge, shop in Walnut Ridge and go to school in the Lawrence County School District. But to do all that we need affordable housing."

Since being elected, Snapp has already spoken with different entities interested in investing in spec homes, subdivisions, retail outlets and restaurants in Walnut Ridge.

"There's more growth potential right now than I believe I've even seen in my lifetime," Snapp said.

One way to attract buyers for housing and industry is through revitalization and condemnation efforts. Snapp said he hopes to condemn between 10 to 20 properties this year through strengthening and adding depth to the process led by the planning commission.

In addition, he said citizens need to be more responsible for their property. "Revitalization can be as simple as picking up the trash, pulling the weeds and sweeping the sidewalk before you open up your store."

Saving money

While reviewing the budget slated to be approved at Tuesday's city council meeting, Snapp said he hopes to cut out all overlooked and unnecessary spending. Snapp has already eliminated several unnecessary expenses including unused phone lines that were costing the city about $4,000 annually.

He said the city isn't in bad financial shape but there are still things that need to be done to cut spending and save for the future, especially with the minimum wage increase taking effect in 2015 and continuing through 2017.

Should the city increase its salaries across the board to accommodate the minimum wage increase, it can expect to pay $32,500 more in 2015 for 50 employees, a rounded number close to what Walnut Ridge employs. By 2017 with additional minimum wage increases, that number will climb to $182,500.

One way Snapp hopes the city can save money is by cutting out non-essential services such as twice a year city clean ups, which he said could be replaced with a better recycling program and access to dumpsters year-round.

He also said the responsibility for cleaning up limbs, leaves and grass clippings will fall to the property owners and the city will no longer offer pick up for these items, which Snapp said he believes is an unfair use of tax dollars.

"There are some things individuals have to take care of themselves," Snapp said.

City officials will also be held more responsible and all non-essential spending will be frozen until a purchase order system can be implemented. Snapp strongly encourages each department head to shop locally so that tax dollars, Walnut Ridge's main source of income, can stay in the city.

Snapp is hoping to do a massive overhaul on the budget as some line items were as much as 3,000 percent over budget. He plans to take about $65,000 out of each department's budget and redistribute it to correct some of these issues.

His goal is to build up enough savings to cover six months worth of city expenses as opposed to the two and a half month cushion it has now.

Need for volunteers

In addition to elected officials and city employees, Snapp also plans to work closely with several volunteers who will act on multiple committees.

He expressed no desire to form a committee unless the people on it were truly driven to help the city. "It's that passion through volunteerism that the city needs," Snapp said.

He also said he expects the same kind of passion from the city employees.

"You're working for the people. I'm working for the people," he said to city employees Friday. "If you're not getting paid enough to do your job and support Walnut Ridge, you better find another job."

He also said that all departments will be treated equally as each is an integral part of the city's service to its citizens.

"I want us all to be on a team, and we're going to change Walnut Ridge for the better."

Stewart Park

In his final term, House spent much time focused on the revitalization of Stewart Park. Through efforts from the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, the county jail work release program and city employees, multiple improvements were made throughout the park.

"The park looks better now than I've seen it in a long time," Snapp said. He added that the park will be under his supervision, and he hopes to eventually form a committee of volunteers with the park's best interest in mind. The committee would assist in grant writing and organizing service days at the park.

He intends to eliminate two positions at Stewart Park and put the park's care under the street and sanitation department, which were both integral in the park's revitalization. This will prevent the need to hire a new park supervisor after Charles Spargo recently retired from the position. Dangerous dog ordinance

An ongoing city issue regarding the restriction of having pit bull breeds within the city will be on the agenda for the January City Council meeting. Snapp said the ordinance will likely be tabled again for further research.

"We don't need to pass laws that we can't enforce and can't afford to enforce," Snapp said. He said that before passing any more laws, he wants to review and work to enforce the ones already in place.

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