August 23, 2017 Edition

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Steven Benesch (front, left) swears in with District Judge Adam Weeks after the Walnut Ridge City Council voted to have him fill the vacant seat left by Allen Smith. Benesch will complete Smith's term, which expires at the end of 2018. Those on hand for the swearing in included City Clerk Sharon Henson (back, left) and Mayor Charles Snapp.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Benesch is new WR Alderman

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

The Walnut Ridge City Council filled the vacant seat left by Allen Smith at Monday night's meeting. Steven Benesch was unanimously approved to be the alderman for ward 1, position 2.

Benesch moved to Hoxie when he was 15 where he attended school. After graduating, he enlisted in the United State Marine Corps. He returned to Walnut Ridge after his honorable discharge in 2007.

He currently works as a regional manager for Murphy Oil USA. Benesch is active in the community coaching in the NEA Youth Football League and Walnut Ridge Little League Baseball. He and his wife, Amber, have two children.

Excited for the direction the city is moving in and the ideas of the current city leadership, Benesch said he wants to use his experience to help Walnut Ridge continue to grow.

Rickey Ditto also lobbied for the seat. Alderman Rob Combs said the city is fortunate to have two very qualified candidates step up to fill the vacancy.

Dale Leatherman had spoken to the council about the vacancy at a previous meeting, but later asked to be removed from consideration. Snapp said this was due to some recent changes that Leatherman felt would limit the time he could commit to the city.

City backs ASU
lease agreement

The council also approved the city to enter into a lease agreement with the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport and Arkansas State University where the city will pay the first two years rent as an incentive to finalize the land lease on a disaster training facility.

The city will appropriate $25,000 to an interest-bearing account to make the payments. Snapp said this is necessary as the Federal Aviation Administration won't allow a free lease and ASU is unable to attempt to secure funding until the lease is finalized.

The city won't begin payments until ASU starts the project, until then the land will continue to serve as farmland. When work begins, the city will begin payments until the two-year lease expires, at which point any remaining funds are transferred back to the city. Should other funding become available to pay for the lease, it must be spent before the city funds.

The agreement still requires approval by the airport commission and the ASU Board of Trustees.

Also at the meeting, the council:

heard an update on the 108 Front Street property owned by J.R. Rogers, which the city filed a lawsuit against due to the danger of collapse onto public walkways. The building has since been partially torn down and, barring final assessment from a structural engineer, is safe thus satisfying the injunction, according to City Attorney Nancy Hall.

Rogers' attorney, David Tyler, said Rogers is looking into saving what is left of the building if possible.

approved the rezoning of five acres on Hwy. 67 North from agriculture to commercial. The request was made by First Free Will Baptist Church.

increased the maximum square footage allowed for accessory buildings without a conditional use permit from 800 to 900. This will eliminate the need for many conditional use permits as 900 square feet encompasses the most popular sizes.

approved public notices and hearings on street and alleyway closings. Fran Cavenaugh requested the street closings of Maple, from Memorial Drive to half a block past West Seventh; West Eighth, from West Free to Maple; and West Seventh, from Ash to West Free; as well as an internal alley between West Seventh and West Eighth.

Also, Larry Abbott requested an alley closing at Block 90 of Fontaine's Addition, located within Northwest Fourth, Fontaine, Northwest Third and Hill streets. Hearings will be held Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at the police complex.

approved the release of a portion of right-of-way at the 300 block of West Poplar. The right-of-way is set at 60 feet, but only needs to be 48 feet. Mary Wolf submitted the request to allow the property to be marketed with more usable space, according to Snapp.

heard from code enforcement officer Bryan Archer, who has issued several warnings since starting and reported improvements on some unsightly properties. He added that they are working on ways to make code enforcement more efficient and develop databases to track property owners down quickly.

passed a resolution of support on the state collecting internet sales tax and encouraging the governor to call for a special session to address the issue.

voted to move the October meeting to Oct. 23 as Snapp will be out of town during the regular meeting time.

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