March 2, 2016 Edition

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Consolidation petitions ratified

WR and CC consolidation to go to election

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

With both the College City and Walnut Ridge city councils approving their respective consolidation petitions last week, a special election could be called as early as May 3.

While a topic of discussion amongst the two cities for many years, several former College City mayors confirmed that this is the closest the two cities have ever been to consolidating.

Former mayor of College City Harold Johnson was one of the first to speak at a special College City City Council meeting held Feb. 23.

Johnson spoke about the many challenges College City faces and will continue to face should the consolidation not take place. With a population just shy of 500 based on the 2013 census, College City benefits from little property tax, has no substantial sales tax, receives low state turnback funds and suffers from lack of a police department, according to Johnson.

While the petition was ratified unanimously at a Walnut Ridge City Council meeting held Feb. 24, the vote didn't go quite as smoothly at the College City meeting the night prior with a 3-1 vote eventually being called in favor of ratifying the petition.

College City Mayor Paul Rhoads opened up the Feb. 23 meeting explaining that since the necessary 15 percent of voters had signed the petition, the law states that the city council shall pass an ordinance to approve and ratify the petition.

Even if the ordinance had failed to pass, the city could still file for a writ of mandamus, which would still allow the election to be called and protects the rights of the voters.

Rhoads explained that it was in fact the right of the citizens to bring this to a vote and the city council was not the deciding party on whether the consolidation would happen or not. "This is not going to be decided in this meeting in any way; it's going to be decided at the polls," Rhoads said at the meeting.

While the approximately 30 in attendance at the College City meeting mostly showed support for the consolidation, there were concerns about losing some of the benefits of rural living.

Alderman Blair Stowers vocalized the most opposition at the meeting, stating he wasn't sure the citizens would be getting enough benefits for what they would be sacrificing. He said several he had talked to were not in favor of the consolidation. He added that he felt like College City had the best of both worlds as it is close enough to Walnut Ridge to receive some of the city amenities but still felt like living in the country.

"I can go in my back yard and shoot my 22 and nobody cares," Stowers said. However, several College City citizens at the meeting said they did care and wanted police enforcement in the area.

College City resident Ken Gore, who has lived there 18 years, interjected as one of the initiators of the petition. He said that a consolidation has been discussed for years and citizen support was obvious as the College City petition received more than three times the signatures required. "The time has come."

Just prior to a vote being called, Alderman Dale Leatherman asked if it was possible to call another meeting to pass the ordinance as he didn't feel he had enough time to review it and didn't want to vote without being familiar with the ordinance. "I accepted this role to try to help this city," Leatherman said and added that the last thing he wanted to do was cast a vote without all the information.

Rhoads confirmed the ordinance contained nothing that hadn't previously been discussed and the delay in him receiving the ordinance was due to the time it took to get the signatures required on the Walnut Ridge petition.

Alderman Dr. Jeremy Dutschke added that he had reviewed the ordinance, and it was in line with everything that had been discussed.

After some discussion on scheduling another meeting to vote on the ordinance, it was apparent that a timely meeting could not be scheduled due to Alderman Roger Dunn leaving town for the rest of the week and other conflicts.

A brief intermission was held to allow the aldermen to read over the ordinance, which was ultimately approved with a 3-1 vote. Alderman Stowers cast the nay vote.

After the

Should the voters approve consolidating College City and Walnut Ridge, wards will be redrawn and a new city council will be elected in the November election.

Upon the beginning of the year 2017, College City would cease to exist. All assets and liabilities of College City would belong to Walnut Ridge. New aldermen would be sworn in.

College City residents would continue to have water and fire protection provided by Walnut Ridge, and Walnut Ridge police jurisdiction would be extended to include College City.

Residents of College City may choose to maintain their preexisting septic tanks or hook into Walnut Ridge sewer.

College City sales and property tax would adjust to match Walnut Ridge's rates.

The combined population will total over 5,000, which is the minimum population looked at by many retail and restaurant chains, according to Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp. However, though somewhat limited already, the higher population will offer less grant opportunities for the city of Walnut Ridge.

A clause is included in the consolidation to allow for the detachment of College City should the quality of life not be improved. Should detachment be deemed necessary, a petition would be circulated in the same manner as it has been with the consolidation.

Snapp said that as long as he is in office, he would continue to serve College City regardless of the result of the consolidation.

The ballot to be used for the consolidation vote will also include a vote on the name of the consolidated city, Walnut Ridge or College City. Should the vote be split between the two municipalities, then the larger municipality will retain its name.

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