McKinney: State of City is ‘blessed’
Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney delivered his annual State of the City address during last week’s city council meeting, touching on a variety of topics from various planned city projects to economic development, along with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“2020 was a year unlike any other in my lifetime,” McKinney said in his opening remarks during the Feb. 2 meeting at the Berryville Community Center. “The pandemic that has not only affected life in Berryville — but also the world — is something that will remain as a life-long memory for all who have lived with it over the last year. I would like to say our country met this challenge with a united front like we have during so many other troubled times in our past, but that would not be true. I never thought I would see a public health issue that has had such a devastating effect in our country become so polarized.”
McKinney said that his choices as mayor during the pandemic were fueled by the opinions of medical experts and the science that guides them rather than what someone read on social media.
“Now, with 20/20 hindsight, it is clear the experts have been right,” McKinney said. “The pandemic is not over yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of vaccines that are now becoming available. My hope is that everyone will receive this vaccine and continue to do their part by wearing a mask and social distancing, so we can get back to a more normal life.”
McKinney also addressed those who have reservations about taking the vaccine, reciting a list of the various diseases that have been controlled or outright eradicated by vaccines, and also offered up a question to those who refuse to wear a mask.
“I understand that everyone has the right to make that decision,” McKinney said. “My question to them is, what are the consequences if you are wrong? I choose to wear a mask and follow the experts’ advice because, despite the inconvenience, I am protecting not only myself but others also by helping to slow the spread of the virus in order to get back to a normal life again.
“I would then ask those same people, what are the consequences if I am wrong?”
Despite the pandemic, McKinney praised city employees for several things that happened in the past year, beginning with the parks department and the Berryville Community Center staff, which took advantage of the facility’s months-long closure to give it a complete makeover, including installing a new pool surface, restriping the gymnasium, massive deep cleaning efforts and more than 300 gallons of paint.
“Now that the work is done, the BCC looks almost new instead of 18 years old,” McKinney said.
In addition, McKinney pointed out the recent restoration of Berry Spring.
“Thanks to a $100,000 grant we will soon have a trail that will connect the Spring and the BCC,” McKinney said. “We also received a grant of almost $250,000 that will make one of our older parks — Pool Park— ADA-compliant and add playground equipment to our new soccer complex.”
Another parks project expected to kick off in 2021 will be renovations to Public Square Park, for which McKinney shared preliminary designs during a council meeting last month.
“Our downtown area is full of history and is one thing that everyone passing through Berryville sees,” McKinney said. “We want to have a Square Park that reflects that history in the way it both looks and feels. I am always excited about growth anywhere in Berryville, but we need to remind ourselves of the jewel we have in our downtown square. Occasionally we need to polish that jewel and take care of it so that it is a place where people want to gather and do business.”
Turning to Public Works, McKinney highlighted the work of the city’s street crew, which made use of a new sealing program that allowed them to complete much more rehabilitation work than could have been done using asphalt overlays.
“Our focus on streets this year will be to identify the heavier-traveled streets that need repair and improvements, and then begin work on those in phases,” McKinney said, adding that the city had also received grant money — 80 percent federal and 10 percent state, with a 10 percent local match — to replace the traffic signals on the downtown square with newer models that will have sensors and controls for pedestrians.
As for economic, industrial and business development, McKinney reported that work has begun on the city’s new Eco-Industrial Park, with city crews installing water lines for the project, and groundbreaking has begun on the first property sold at the more than 300-acre site, which will host a 10-acre solar array.
McKinney said work on the project was facilitated by a $1.5 million economic development grant.
Turning to public safety, McKinney called for more effective enforcement of the city’s unsightly and unsanitary ordinances to “make Berryville not only a better-looking town, but also a safer one.”
“Due to their condition, properties that are no longer safe or are affecting the values of neighboring properties need to be cleaned up or eliminated,” McKinney said. “We also want to make sure our building codes are being followed. These codes are in place to make sure our businesses and homes are safe, and our citizens get a quality product when they build on or purchase a property within the city.”
In the future, McKinney said, much of the city’s building code and permitting processes will be moved online to provide more information and convenience to building contractors, especially those that are not local.
“In summary, I would say the State of the City is blessed,” McKinney said. “We have some things we can do better, but we also have great employees, dedicated elected officials who are public servants and not politicians, a beautiful part of the world to live in, and, most of all, people who care and take pride in our town.”
In other business, the council passed — by a split vote — Ordinance 1085, the amended liquor-by-the-drink sales ordinance that has been under discussion since December.
The amended ordinance included the addition of missing language intended to bring it more in line with state law, as well as making allowances for a separated beer/wine on-premises permit from a full-fledged liquor permit.
Only restaurants — defined as an establishment that derives at least 50 percent of its gross revenues from the sale of prepared food items — and private clubs can obtain a full-fledged liquor-by-the-drink license from the city.
The new allowance would apply to businesses such as microbreweries, wineries, sports bars, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues, allowing them to serve beer and/or wine, but not spiritous liquor or mixed drinks. All of these venues would also have to serve or sell prepared food items, but wouldn’t have to meet the 50-percent gross revenue requirement.
In addition, the amended ordinance also attaches a 3 percent supplemental sales tax to the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Council members JoAnn Harris and Max Nichols voted to approve the ordinance, while Jason Williams voted against. Linda Riddlesperger voted “present,” leaving McKinney to break the tie with a vote in favor of the new ordinance.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the Berryville Community Center.