YEAR IN REVIEW: Fresh faces, new challenges in Green Forest in 2012
GREEN FOREST -- The past year saw the birth of new leadership in Green Forest. Several longtime leaders left the council table and were succeeded by fresh faces.
The year brought some good news: Residents and local officials banded together to convince the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to abandon plans to move U.S. Highway 62 around the city, bypassing the downtown area.
However, 2012 was also a year of challenges, and city leaders struggled to cope with revenue shortfalls and rising wastewater treatment costs.
Following is a recap of the major issues considered by council members in 2012:
The Road to Victory
Officials with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department announced in September their decision to abandon plans to expand or re-route U.S. Highway 62.
Many in the city saw the announcement as a triumph. Local elected officials and residents had banded together to protest the plan in the preceding months.
At an informational meeting in June, residents had spoken out in concern about the highway department's proposals, which would have either expanded the highway to four lanes through the center of town -- taking out most of the historic buildings in the process -- or rerouted it around Green Forest. Many expressed worries that the latter action would sap the last of the city's economic vitality.
The highway department acknowledged the role of this opposition in a Sept. 27 press release announcing the change of plans.
"(T)he community's local and state elected officials and some business owners have continued to express concern over the possible impact of a bypass on the local economy," the release read, "which has factored into the decision to defer action on this project."
For more on this issue, read our past reports online: http://www.carrollconews.com/story/1898998.html.
City leaders were less fortunate in financial matters. Revenue shortfalls led City Council members to make an emergency transfer of $50,000 from the city street fund to the general fund on Oct. 8.
That money was returned, and replaced with $50,000 from the water fund, when it became apparent the initial transfer had violated state accounting laws.
The money had included state highway turnback and county road tax funds, both of which are prohibited by law from being used for anything other than transportation and street work. There are no similar restrictions on the use of water funds.
In order to avoid a similar situation in the future, Mayor Charles Reece has proposed increasing the city water and sewer rates and the city sales tax.
Combined, Reece has estimated the rate and tax increases would generate more than $300,000 in additional revenue each year -- money he says is needed to replace aging emergency vehicles and improve the city's worn-out infrastructure.
Council members will consider Reece's proposal in January. For more on this issue, read our past reports online: http://www.carrollconews.com/story/1922896.html.
Further complicating the city's financial situation is the escalating cost of wastewater treatment.
In March, the Tyson plant in Green Forest was forced to shut down for the second time in half a year when the biological treatment system at the city's sewer plant failed.
City leaders have blamed the incidents on chemicals in the waste coming from the plant. Officials have struggled to manage the often unpredictable waste stream, which comprises the majority of waste treated at the plant.
New, more stringent environmental regulations have lately complicated the situation, forcing the city to use more chemicals and haul more sludge -- the brown, gritty byproduct of the waste treatment process. This has, in turn, driven up costs.
During budget review in July, council members increased the line item for chemicals from $320,000 to $500,000. By Nov. 30, that amount had already been exceeded, and city leaders are planning to factor the higher costs into the 2013 budget. The city also took out a loan this year to purchase a new sludge press.
City leaders have met with officials from Tyson to search for solutions. However, those negotiations came to a standstill earlier this year.
For more on this issue, read our past reports online: http://www.carrollconews.com/story/1831824.html.
An ordinance banning the Sunday sale of alcohol by the drink again became the subject of contention this year. The ordinance had also aroused emotions when passed in 2009, after a statewide ban on Sunday sales was lifted.
City officials stopped enforcing the law this summer, when Reece apparently told two business owners they could begin selling alcohol on Sundays.
That move angered some in the community, including local church leaders who had lobbied for the 2009 ordinance. They protested to Reece, who subsequently subsequently reversed course and had local authorities again begin enforcing the law.
The mayor then proposed drafting a new ordinance to allow Sunday sales. However, the proposal would have only applied to restaurants. In response, local bar owner Tom Lawrence threatened to sue the city.
Lawrence later backed down, when the mayor later said any new ordinance would apply equally to bar and restaurant owners. Council members tabled the issue in November, leaving the Sunday prohibition intact.
For more on this issue, read our past reports online: http://www.carrollconews.com/story/1914507.html.