Year in Review: Area mayors look back at 2011

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 marked the year many cities in Poinsett County saw a decrease in state aid due to population loss reported in the Census. Several mayors have said they are tightening up budgets for the coming year.

Trumann Mayor Sheila Walters said some highlights of the past year included going to Savannah, Ga., and Washington, D.C., with Jackie Ross and Barbara Lewallen for National League of Cities conferences, where they heard speakers talk about assessment tools for cities, met with people from different states and discussed what the city needs.

Mayor Walters also said city buildings have been assessed through Entergy's CitySmart program to make them more energy efficient. During the past year, city hall was remodeled, a new concrete pad was poured at the Sports Complex to help with festivals, a bid was accepted for a grant to put in sidewalks to help elementary students get to school, a lot of repairs were made to the water and sewer system, and city equipment was upgraded.

Walters said the city is in the process of repairing the water tower on Oak Street and will work on the industrial park water tower next.

"In May, the city was declared a disaster area," Mayor Walters said. "It wasn't nearly as dramatic as in '09. All that work is complete." Walters said the budget was tight this year, but "we finished the year with a little more money than we started with." The city also received free work through the Disaster Program, which provided workers to help clean up storm-related damage for 10 weeks. This saved the city $15,000.

Walters also mentioned the death of Trumann police officer Jonathan Schimdt.

"That has made an impact on everybody," she said. "We don't want to forget how important he was to the police department."

Marked Tree Mayor Wayne Nichols said the past year was good overall despite a loss of revenue.

"We had a decline in revenue for 2011 and less state turnback money. Sales tax is less because of the economy, but we didn't reduce services to the public because our employees chipped in and worked efficiently," he said.

Mayor Nichols said he hopes to get the railroad spur for the Awesome Products plant completed this year.

"What we'd like to do, if revenue is up, is do street work and get streets repaired," he said. "The railroad is another goal. We want to just try to provide the services we've been providing."

Lepanto Mayor Steve Jernigan said the bulk of the problems that city has had over the last year involved stray dogs, garbage, brown water and drainage. The city was constantly repairing water leaks all over town, he said, and Lepanto now is in the process of looking for funding to replace 13,000 feet of galvanized water lines. Replacing the 80-year-old pipes will take about a year to get going, Jernigan said, but will help with the brown water problem, which is caused by rust.

"That's one of our goals," he said. "It will take a year to get going, but it's a problem that's not going away."

Mayor Jernigan said Lepanto saw an 11 percent population decrease, which means a decrease in state aid for the next 10 years.

"It's going to affect everybody. The price of gas is kind of an unknown equation at this point. At some point you've got to decide what you'll do," he said.

"Sales tax collections and revenue are down a little, but expenses are up," Jernigan added. "We'll have a tight budget this year. We have to try to find how to break even. There's a whole bunch of things to take care of. We just got to keep plugging."

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