West Memphis mayor offers department-by-department snapshot of the community
By John Rech firstname.lastname@example.org
State Statute requires mayors to issue a state of the city address during the first month of the year. Some cities have gone to putting the mayor’s speech on YouTube, cable access television or city websites. But West Memphis Mayor Bill Johnson elected to comply with the requirement the old-fashioned way – submitting a hard copy to the city council and the media. In the address, Johnson recapped the accomplishments of each department in 2014 and highlighted key plans for 2015. The big news was in new development and reinvestment in the city infrastructure. But Johnson did try something new for the address. It wasn’t social media groundbreaking or a video innovation. For the first time, this year Johnson required each department head to submit a summary for the state of the city address. “I did things a little bit different this time,” said Johnson. “I had the department heads write up their own and submit them. Then I compiled them. They did a good job. I was pleased with the way it turned out, more factual than I could have done by myself.” The Planning and Development Department issued commercial and industrial building permits for $60 million. Construction on 18 new business buildings started with 27 more remodeling. The Economic Development Department delineated some of the big new undertakings. Expressed in million dollar increments construction projects announced in the city ranked in this order: Cargill $31.5, Dreyfus, $10.8, Sediver 5.9, Holiday Inn Express $4, Curtis Lumber 2.2, and Faulk Elementary $2. Neither Cargill or Dreyfus asked the city for economic development incentives for construction on their river port granaries. That’s not all. Despite just ten new house starts last year, more big expansion plans were slated in West Memphis during 2016. “Sterigenics International announced it would begin a $15 million dollar expansion in 2016 and will add another 20 jobs to its operation once complete,” said Johnson. “Sediver announced West Memphis will be the center of its North American operations.” Sediver committed to the Mid America Industrial Park and aimed for a hopeful November 2016 opening with 70 new employees in manufacturing averaging $21 per hour. The Police Department went all in on training. West Memphis was one of just five cities chosen to participate in the U.S. Department of Justice pilot program, the Violence Reduction Network. The program is a systematic community outreach program aimed at reducing violent crime. In all 14,000 man hours of training were logged with even more for 2016. Police offer businesses and schools active shooter training. Workshops planned officers in 2016 include leadership development, community engagement, ethics, stress management and self improvement “The department will be hosting a Blue Courage Training Seminar,” said Johnson. “All WMPD officers will attend and the seminar will be open to surrounding law enforcement agencies.” The Fire Department opened training to other fire departments too. The city hosted an 80 hour driver/operator class from the Arkansas Fire Academy. New Tornado sirens were installed with funding from a grant. New grants won by the WMFD included a $19,000 FEMA port security grant for new water rescue equipment, $16,800 ADEM funds for Hazmat Equipment, and $1,000 from Walmart for fire prevention. Public relation highlights included schooling 200 kids during the October fire prevention month, receiving recognition for being a quality employer of military guardsmen and reservists, and participating in the JA backpack give away. Lt. Scott Simpson represented the WMFD in a national 9/11 stair climb competition. The big red fire truck ran 1,348 times with ambulance responses numbering 4,862. The Utilities Department completed rehabs of manholes in the north part of the city and began work the same work on the biggest drainage basin in the southeast part of the city along with the pump station at 22nd and Monroe. The electrical substation near ASU-Mid South was upgraded and remodeled. “These equated to approximately one million dollars spent on improvements to the city’s infrastructure,” said Johnson. “The West Memphis Utilities continue to maintain the lowest water rates in the state and now have the second lowest residential rates in the state.” The Public Works Department worked on rain water runoff during 2015. Using an 80/20 Community Development Block Grant South 10th Street benefited form a drainage improvement project. Two big drainage basins were dug effectively reducing flooding in Westwood Acres in the southwest part of the city. Code enforcement was ratcheted up on mowing, illegal dumping and tire disposal. E-waste and latex paint were added to the recycling options offered by the city. A total of 11,000 linear feet of roads were overlaid in all corners of the city. The Community Development Department administered CDBG grants too, overseeing 61 home rehabs done by volunteer groups and the demolition of 49 substandard and vacant places. MATA bus ridership increased to more than 20,00 free riders per month. Eco-park development and a surfaced trail project started to coincide with the Big River Crossing for bikes and pedestrians on the Harahan Bridge.