July 20, 2016 Edition

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Walnut Ridge Council
supports park efforts

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Mechelle Teel-Davis with the Stewart Park Committee discussed efforts to develop a structured plan for the future of the park at Monday night's Walnut Ridge City Council meeting.

Teel-Davis said she has been working with Ecological Design Group, Inc., out of Wynne. The group has done some preliminary work and submitted a proposal for the work required to complete a master plan.

Kyle Gaines with Ecological Design Group is the main contact for the project, which would emphasize programming, connectivity and stormwater management.

Teel-Davis said having the plan in place would allow a way for the park committee to keep work consistent, without having gaps of time where nothing gets done.

Utilizing matching grants, Teel-Davis said they would start work gradually and build up to larger projects as funding becomes available. In addition to maintenance and upkeep, she expressed interested in utilizing areas of the park for the benefit of the community, such as the low areas that collect water and the pavilion for more public events such as a farmer's market.

Mayor Charles Snapp said the park is an asset to the community in many ways, and when he brings potential new businesses in to look at the area, they are amazed that a city the size of Walnut Ridge has a 70-acre park.

Fran Cavenaugh also spoke at the meeting as a representative for Lawrence County Friends of the Park, a group dedicated to fundraising for the local parks. She said there is $45,000 designated for Stewart Park in addition to money already within the park budget to start these projects once a plan is in place.

The council voted to support the park committee authorizing Ecological Design Group to develop a master plan for the lump-sum of $5,000.

209 West Main
Street addressed

Bids for the sale of property at 209 West Main Street came in with the high bid of two being $12,200 from Twin City Development. The building, which was donated by the Hilburn family, was approved for sale recently with the stipulation that the money from the sale would go to Stewart Park.

B.J. Hibbard with Twin City said they plan to use the building for a new restaurant to bring people into downtown Walnut Ridge. Their plans would utilize local contractors and offer 10 to 12 jobs initially.

Aldermen Jon Walter and Jeff Taylor both said they believed the bid to be too low. The minimum bid set by the council has to be 75 percent of the appraised value, $34,000. The council voted to reject the bid.

Additional discussion followed on how to proceed with the sale of the building. Alderman Robert Combs said they need to consider taking less on the property to get something in the area the city could benefit from rather than risk selling it to someone who will let it deteriorate.

Bobby Macom with Twin City said that part of the reason their bid was low was because they were factoring in the expense of replacing an outdated boiler system, which alone would cost about $20,000 due to the construction required to remove it.

Cavenaugh spoke as a property owner in downtown Walnut Ridge saying that property in that area has to be purchased low in order to have room for necessary repairs. "I'm hoping you get 75 percent, but you aren't going to," she said.

The council voted to rebid the property at a 60 percent of appraisal minimum bid.

Separation of
clerk/treasurer

The council also voted to separate the positions of city clerk and treasurer. The decision was made due to the workload growing for that position and to assure that the bookkeeping is done by a qualified individual.

With the treasurer included in an elected official seat, this prevents certain qualifications from being met.

"By splitting these positions, its going to assure that the people of Walnut Ridge have the right people keeping the books," Snapp said.

City Attorney Nancy Hall confirmed that typically an accountant would need to be hired from time to time as elected officials have different levels of experience in bookkeeping.

Sharon Henson, interim clerk/treasurer, said the two positions should be split to avoid having one employee inundated with work, and as Walnut Ridge grows, the split is becoming more necessary.

The clerk position will remain as an elected position, but starting in 2018, an accountant will be hired to handle city bookkeeping. Estimated cost for the accountant is between $2,000 and $2,500 monthly, but the council will set the pay rate when they set job description and qualifications.

In other business:

lifted the condemnation on the old Krepps building at the airport as requested by C.L. Clark, who is purchasing the building and has turned in plans to restore it. Hall said this would remove a financial strain on the city as the tear down cost of a building this scale would be high.

heard updates on two other properties that were up for condemnation at a recent meeting. Snapp confirmed that Jim Jansen was in the process of getting a building permit for his property at 121 Southeast Front. The property on Hwy. 67N, owned by Wanda Thornton and Louise Sifford, has still not entered into its 30-day notice of condemnation as the papers have not been accepted through the mail and would have to be served by a police officer. The owners' lawyer has made contact with Hall, stating the intent to enter a rehabilitation agreement.

voted to support the proposed disaster training facility at the airport. Alderman Allen Smith said it would be a great asset to the community, possibly bringing in hundreds of people a week to train, which would lead to additional businesses coming in and a boost in the county's economy.

amended the Walnut Ridge police and fire department budgets to reflect the transfer of code enforcement from the police department to the fire department.

authorized the purchase of equipment for the street department from Skidsteers/Nexstep, Inc., out of Wisconsin. The purchase includes a 16-inch cold planer, a 40-gallon water kit and spray bar and a 72-inch pickup broom, including a spray bar system, for $18,462. Snapp said the equipment will allow some materials to be recycled into gravel as street work is done.

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