We voted, at the March 1, 2005 election, to consolidate the City of Helena and the City West Helena. What a change it has made!
The last year of the existence of the former cities was quite tumultuous. Quicker than the press could publish them, lawsuits were hurled across the community for one group or another to get its way. The suits dealt with who would be on the city council, when it was supposed to meet, whether it would make payroll, and just an amalgam of issues generally unheard of except in some far away and foreign land; not in the United States of America.
Many people had taken part in formulating the Strategic Community Plan, Phillips County, Arkansas 2005-2010. We had a transition team of honorable local citizens who tried hard to put together a packet of useful information to assist the new city with its birth and early existence. The new city came into being on December 31, 2005. Prior to the birth of the new city, we elected the leaders for the consolidated City of Helena-West Helena in November 2005. The new city council adopted more than half of the Transition Team's recommendations and endorsed the Strategic Plan.
Interestingly enough, the law of consolidation required that the name of the larger city become the name of the new city unless, like we did, the citizens vote to adopt different name. Our consolidation ballot included two questions: for consolidation and against consolidation and for the name Helena-West Helena and against the name Helena-West Helena. A majority vote in both cities separately was required to make this thing happen. Just about sixty percent of the people in each city voted for the consolidation and the new name: Helena-West Helena.
We have merged our Police, Fire, Street, Sanitation, Parks, Courts, Code Enforcement, Administrative, and Landfill departments. Our Water Departments are yet separate. We are currently studying the options for standardizing the services and fees in those departments.
Since consolidation and with your help, we have been able to re-open our landfill. That piece of property is worth about $24 million dollars in open air space now that it is open. We commend the staff at the landfill for receiving a perfect score on its state inspection recently.
We re-opened the Fern Hill Fire Station which will assist us in reducing homeowner's insurance rates. To better serve you, we have increased our staff at our police and fire departments from 24 to 36 state certified employees each.
We have increased our usage of our parks and our golf course through better maintenance and police patrols. Our community center and swimming pool have seen additional users as well. We also built a new pool house at the North Helena Park at very little cost to the citizens by using volunteers, donations and discounts.
When we merged, we moved our courts to 226 Perry Street; right across the street from the county jail. We have found that to be efficient and manageable.
We have razed; torn down many structures throughout community. We have also cleared many vacant and abandoned lots. We want a clean and safe city!
We owed a lot of money when we consolidated. We are now poised to pay those debts off on or before September 10, 2007. Your vote for the sales tax and bond on May 8, 2007 has enabled us to make this giant financial move.
We are looking forward to being able to pay all of our debts in a timely fashion and not making any debts that we cannot pay. We also look forward to being able to produce in understandable fashion reports of city accounts and the activities in them for the public to see and understand how its money is being handled.
Consolidation has been good to this community because it has provided a renewed lease on life here. We have a real chance to create an environment where a good quality education is the highest priority followed by good community, economic and industrial development which can lead to job creation and growth in our population.
We have good commissions staffed with good people. Yet, we need every citizen to do everything possible to make home and place where hearts long to be; where minds are shaped and molded into vessels of uncompromising positive intellectual productivity and finally where "we the people" care enough about each other and our legacy to reach out and do something to make our community better.
Members of our Honorable City Council, Department Heads, Employees, Members of the Press, Observers in the Audience, and Citizens of the City of Helena-West Helena: Good Evening. Arkansas Law requires an annual address assessing municipal affairs by the Mayor of all cities in the state be given at the second regular meeting of the year. I had to delay this presentation because of an illness that required medical treatment and we shortened and expedited our agenda on February 4, 2008 because of the inclement weather that led to horrendous storm damage across the mid-south. It gives me great pride to report to you that our city is on the move in the right direction and is much stronger than it was a year ago.
As we entered 2007, we were still navigating the merger process and seeking ways to stabilize a precarious financial situation. As we enter 2008, we have completed almost all aspects of the merger process and our financial situation is the strongest for a Phillips County city in a generation thanks to the hard work of the citizens of this community.
We have much to report in the way of progress for 2007. As I sat down to prepare these remarks, I was truly amazed at how much had been accomplished by our city in the last twelve months. As we go day-to-day, it is easy not to appreciate the movement in the right direction because it happens in small increments. However, when a compilation was made for the entire year, the results were almost staggering.
The media too often attempt to portray our community as one with nothing but problems, but I am happy to be able to bring to you the message of hope today as I update you on the progress of last year and offer a portion of my vision for 2008. While we have accomplished much, we still have considerably more to do to give our citizens the first-class city they deserve. Also, I commend the media outlets for providing our citizens with ample accurate information about the goings on in our city. KJIW, Suddenlink Communications, The In The Community With George Bingham Show, The Daily World, KCLT, KFFA, The Inside Scoop and Videomasters have, in their own way, provided a plethora of information to our citizens.
Before we get into the details of our accomplishments, I would like to take a special moment to remember one who departed from us during the past year. The loss of Alderman Robert Martin was a blow to this community, and we certainly would be remiss if we did not mention him when looking back on the major events of 2007. I think it is and will be fitting and appropriate that this city council honor Bobby's legacy with a placard installed on our new freshly delivered fire truck or with the naming of one of our fire stations in his honor. In addition, this past year, we also honored all of the officials at a community unity celebration to recognize the first anniversary of the consolidation. Former City Alderman Pastor Kenneth Harman who now serves the city as a member of the board of the directors for the Helena Housing Authority was honored for his service to our newly formed city during our inaugural year. Also given special recognition during 2007 were our employees at our employee appreciation day, which we intend to do annually. Finally, the city joined the nation in having a day of mourning honoring the late former President Gerald Ford.
For starters, I am reminded of an adage that says "a good thing to remember and a better thing to do to work with the construction gang and not with the wrecking crew." No discussion of the achievements of 2007 is complete without mentioning the passage of the sales tax. The mantra "two cents makes cents" will be long remembered not just as a slogan but a methodology for investing in our community. Without those revenues, we would have never been able to stabilize the city's financial situation. Today, instead of living in debt with collectors calling daily, we have started building a reserve, have restructured our debt, are current on our bills and have only one remaining issue to negotiate which are the issues related to the county jail. Employees have been granted pay raises and are looking forward to July when this council begins the retirement package for them. This was thought impossible a year ago and it is a financial miracle that the citizens of this community should feel proud to embrace.
Also on the financial front, City Treasurer Michael Boone deserves commendation for taking the lead in 2007 to obtain a grant from the Delta Bridge Project that enabled us to purchase and implement a top-notch set of accounting software which should eliminate the recordkeeping problems that plagued the city because of the mess inherited when we took office in 2006. Because of this work, we should no longer have the voluminous difficulties preparing for audits. Also, Mr. Boone and City Clerk Sandi Ramsey, along with the administrative staff, should be commended for recreating records and solving problems so that auditors can complete their work for 2006. The problems inherited from the previous two cities in terms of record keeping systems made their work difficult, but they have shown their dedication, value and competence through this progress, and I, along with the citizens of the city owe them a commendation for their stupendous efforts.
The landfill is another area where we can report with pride considerable achievement during the past year. Our landfill was closed when we took office in 2006 and stayed that way for much of the year. As we entered 2007, many wondered if we could make the landfill profitable. Today, I can report to you that we have turned a $6 million liability into a $27 million asset that has steadily growing revenues and received a perfect score during 2007 from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. This January our revenues out-paced our expenses by about $20,000.00. This city has shown through this process that it can accomplish many things, and I want to say a special thanks to the supportive members of this council that saw the importance of keeping our landfill and to Bob Gaston and Phillip Fields who have made these successes happen on the ground. Things are only going to get better for the landfill's balance sheet now that the city is purchasing its own equipment, including a trash compactor, which will lower the landfill's monthly obligations by as much as $10,000.00 per month. Our city is stronger for the accomplishments made on Storm Creek Road.
More significant progress has been made through our city's fire department. As a result of their hard work with the assistance of the city's other departments, property owners in this community should soon receive better rates for fire insurance. After starting this journey with two cities that had ISO ratings of five and six, our combined city now has an ISO rating of four. Only six percent of the fire departments nationwide have a rating of four or lower. This has come as the result of hard work by the management of our fire department- Chief Reginald Wilson, Assistant Chief Travis Williams, and Battalion Chief Roderick Brown. As a direct and proximate result of the lower ISO rating, many residents have begun to receive refunds for their prepaid homeowner's insurance policies. Also, we added new equipment over the course of the past year, and the department has added new staff. Among the equipment purchased was a new fire truck at a cost of about $413,000. We will be applying, again, for a Homeland Security grant to help us to secure the necessary Snorkel/Ladder truck which will cost over One Million dollars. We do not plan to leave our multi-level buildings unprotected. However, we must acquire such a fire wagon in a way that will not cause a budgetary calamity.
It has been well documented that crime is a serious issue facing this community. I am pleased to report that we have increased the number of officers patrolling the streets, and we have improved the equipment in the department so that they can do the job more effectively. As we approach 2008, our officers are calling the wrecker service for traffic accidents instead of coming to pick them up off of the side of the road because we have purchased twelve new vehicles. We have also improved the cameras and video equipment available to the department to aid it in investigations, and the city has bought improved radars to improve our traffic enforcement efforts. Also, 2007 saw the end of the career of Police Chief Vincent Bell and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the role he played in his final year in guiding the department in these improvements. I can assure the citizens that we will continue to work to improve our department so that we can combat the criminal element in our community.
This city has also made great strides in the area of merging our water operations. In 2007, we completed our review of the three (3) 2006 water rate studies, which served as the basis for the city council's earlier vote this year to put all citizens on equal footing in terms of water and sewer rates in a way that insured the solvency of our departments. The city also merged the fee structure of the two water systems so that residents in the city are treated equally regarding deposits, late fees, returned check fees, etc. That is a huge accomplishment because now all of the city's service fees have been equalized across the city, which was an essential step as we seek to build a culture of one-city amongst our residents.
Also, our water departments have made significant improvements in the areas of equipment in service. On the west side, this city has added new communications equipment in the water department, made security upgrades at the plant, rebuilt the city's sewer pond, and replaced outdated flow meters at some of the city's sewer facilities. We also approved the extension of the west side sewer system to accommodate a company building a new nursing home that will create almost one hundred jobs.
On the east side, new vehicles, erosion control measures, replacement of aging water lines, and increased security at some of the facilities were all made during 2007. The east side also made repairs to the sewer main on Cherry Street and sewer pumps around the system.
Every citizen knows the difficulty we face in making our parks a vibrant asset. After nearly 10 years of service, Alvin "AJ" Jones decided to seek higher ground. In spite of the difficulties, 2007 saw many positive changes that will provide a foundation for future success. The hiring of Oshea Burrell to run that department has brought much-needed energy and vision. Already, without adequate funds, he has been able to secure needed equipment for golf course maintenance, get the community center painted, and increase the level of activities offered, which includes the implementation of peewee basketball leagues at the center. Oshea has had the capable assistance of Tracy Williams Davis who was hired a few months before Mr. Jones' departure. A couple of really significant programs at our community center saw the first ever girls league basketball program of elementary school girls and the first ever cooperative league that included Helena West Helena, KIPP and Desoto teams. The Parks and Recreation department also saw the building and completion of a new pool house at our pool at the Cleo Stroger Dunnings Park in North Helena.
Our street and sanitation departments have made significant strides during the past year as well. Because of the improved financial situation and our desire to keep our sales tax era promises, the fees for sanitation decreased by $10.00 per month per household and new equipment was purchased for both departments. Among the items added were an excavator, a grapple truck, a bush hog and finishing mower, three zero-turn mowers, John Deere 658 bulldozer, Dodge 100 bob truck, Kobelco SK 210 Excavator, 8 Wheel Air Low Boy Trailer, Ford 9000 turbo tractor, White GMC 14 yard dump truck and a new mosquito sprayer. The department also implemented uniforms so that our workers would be easily identifiable while working on the street and would look professional in public. Also purchased were new Christmas decorations to provide a more pleasant atmosphere and pleasant appearance in our city during Christmas time.
The departments also cleared a bunch of dangerous lots for which we have billed or will be billing many property owners. We brought in state inmates who helped us to clean a number of ditches throughout the city in an effort to improve our drainage system and to control rodents, vermin, pests, insects and mosquitoes. We have worked on a number of potholes around the city, repaired washouts near Waverly Wood and on Springdale Road, ramped up Code Enforcement, tore down many unsightly properties, restriped many areas of streets and intersection, and improved our mosquito control. While much work remains to be done to rid the city of unsightly properties and improve the quality of our infrastructure, our citizens can take pride in the amount of work that has been accomplished in the past year, which included the condemnation of over forty unsightly structures.
There have also been some measures put in place that transcend departments. Among those accomplishments is the implementation of mandatory drug testing which has weeded out many employees and potential employees that could have potentially posed a threat to themselves and others through the use of drugs. We have standardized the sick and vacation leaves for those employees who are not covered specifically by state statutes, and we started the HOME program, which we hope will enable our citizens to either improve their property or allow them to enter the ranks of property owners. Finally, we were given the Razorback #1 station, which will enable us to establish a central fueling station for our vehicles and allow us to cut costs by buying our fuel in larger volume and allowing us to take bids for larger volume purchases.
As we look to 2008, Helena-West Helena has reason to be hopeful but knows that there is much work to be done. We must complete the city's master plan and make some crucial decisions about how we want to shape the future of our city. We must put aside the petty bickering and focus on the big picture so that we can continue to improve the city's business climate. We must continue to work to forge relationships with our Chamber of Commerce, Port Authority, and business and civic community in an effort to bring us all to the same page delivering the same message in a positive way to those from the outside examining this community. We should encourage volunteerism. We should encourage pride in clean and safe neighborhoods. Going forward, let's not forget that "it is easier to be critical than correct." We must cease to be our own worst enemy.
The City also must lead in areas it does not control. We must be pro-active. Remember "the man who does nothing but wait for his ship to come in has already missed the boat." As the 2010 census approaches, we need to encourage all citizens who do not have a high school diploma or the equivalent-GED, no matter how young or old, to take advantage of the adult education programs at Phillips Community College and obtain a diploma so that the statistics related to our potential labor force will improve. We, as city leaders, must lead this community to do whatever it takes to support our public education system because it is an integral and essential part of improving our economic climate. It is also an essential part of providing a better future for the next generation of leaders in this community. Quality public education from the Helena-West Helena School District affects us all and no amount of private education or charter education can replace it. We have a moral, political, and economic obligation to offer real leadership in this area or we won't have a community left to govern. Consequently, as we move into to 2008, we must resolve to be supportive of district initiatives in all areas. That includes urging our Advertising and Promotion Commission to follow the recommendation of the City Council passed in Resolution Number 8-2007 and pronounced legal in an opinion from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and City Attorney Andre Valley- and PROVIDE FUNDING FOR THE RENOVATION OF CAD POLK STADIUM!
We must never shirk our duty to build a better educated community. Education is such an important principle that the State of Arkansas has made it mandatory for minors to attend school and expends about 70% of its budget on operating our public schools. Our city council appropriated monies for educational incentives in our current budget. Those incentives serve to motivate our current employees to become better trained and educated. Those incentives also provide us with a good recruitment tool for new hires. Tupelo, Mississippi landed the most recent Toyota Plant based primarily upon the education and training levels of all available employees available in the market area. We must, as a community, embrace education and training as a legitimate and attainable goal for economic development.
2008 must be the year where the city makes the decision to grow. We must annex the islands within the city that already receive all city service but do not pay the city's property taxes. We must also consider the annexation of territory to the south and west of the city to build up our population numbers from a base of people that already receive our water services and that typically receive a response from our fire department. It is time for this city to develop a mentality of growth instead of decline, of success instead of failure.
We also must look to make infrastructure improvements. We must begin a strategic plan to fix our deteriorating streets, which might warrant the consideration of a bond issue if we see tax collections come in at a level where one could be supported. We must work to improve our parks so that we can increase the number of children involved in wholesome activities as opposed to drinking beer, smoking pot, fighting at school, and breaking in houses. Also, we must step up our law enforcement to make sure that those that don't do right go to an appropriate place- JAIL! You will see us do both as we hire and better train officers while at the same time Mr. Burrell expands summer activities in our current parks.
We must also improve our communications system for all departments. The time has come to improve our city halls so that we can have adequate space and technology to provide quality service to our citizens and maintain our records in a professional way. And yes, I want to assure the animal lovers in this community that we will make improvements to the way we treat our animals picked up by our vastly improved animal control personnel.
These accomplishments come on the backs of our many loyal and dedicated employees. I thank them over and over for the service they provide to this community. Our sanitation workers are out at 4:00 a.m. picking up refuse in the cold dead winter. Our Police Officers and Firefighters always put it all on the line for the safety, security and convenience of our residents. Our water departments provide the best possible water and sewer services to our citizens at a rate that places us among the lowest in the State of Arkansas. Our landfill employees have secured perfect inspection scores. Our Court clerks have vastly improved the management of our dockets. Our code enforcement department has had such a noticeable impact that we are playing catch up to keep up with their projects. Our employees, drug free and dedicated work for this city because, like you and me, they love this place and this is home. My hat is off to the employees of this great city for doing what they do to make it work and make it great. Our employees labor with the thought "Once a task you have first begun, never finish until it is done, be the labor great or small do it well or not at all."
In closing, I believe this is an exciting time and place to be in office, and I hope that you feel the same way as well. We have a responsibility in office to do what is best for the city, and I want to encourage those of you in office to always consider what's best for the community when taking action. The only people who can stop us are ourselves, and it is time that leadership is offered that seeks to solve problems, not create new ones. I have a vision, and I urge you to get on board for the journey as we continue to move this community forward and make it a jewel of the delta instead of a stone in the headlines.
Thank you! Let's go to work!
Members of our Honorable City Council, Department Heads, Employees, Members of the Press, Observers in the Audience, and Citizens of the City of Helena-West Helena: Good Evening. Arkansas Law requires an annual address assessing municipal affairs by the Mayor of all cities in the state be given at the second regular meeting of the year. A separate code provision requires that the Mayor present a financial report within the first 60 days of the year. The Arkansas General Assembly is in session and has a bill to reconcile these deadlines such that they are consistent. In one word, I am proud to report the progress our hometown has made.
We began 2008 with our financial situation "the strongest for a Phillips County city in a generation." As we exited 2008 we had amassed savings in an amount over a half million dollars. The finances of our city have been continually improving. The citizens of this community deserve all of the credit for making it possible for the massive turn around we have experienced since consolidation.
Before getting started, I pay homage to the memory of three of our own who passed from life to glory during 2008. Mr. Sidney "Bubba" Alice, a Street Department employee who was struck by a motorist on Perry Street during the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 18, 2008; Mr. Eugene "Red" Johnson, a retired educator and sincere public servant; and Ms. Connie Nathan a dedicated water company employee for a number of years who succumbed to a long oncologic battle. Each of them gave quality effort to our city and has been deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families.
Picking a starting point is difficult. The economic climate in the United States of America is so tedious that it strikes fear in the hearts and minds of most citizens. Yet, our citizens have been resilient. Our financial situation has not taken the negative down turn that many areas across the country and around the world have. Look at our property tax collections, sales tax collections, franchise tax and sanitation fee collections. In every category we experienced increased collections.
We are proud that each year as we enter the holiday shopping season, we have the local radio stations to advertise shop locally and shop at home commercials. We know that shopping at home helps our local economy and helps us to take care of ourselves.
According to the Small Business Administration, for every dollar spent in the community, the following breakdown shows how much is retained/re-circulated/reinvested in the community:
Big Box Retailer (Lowes, Wal-Mart, etc)= .06
Chain Store (Catos, Fred's, etc) = .20
Sole Proprietorship = .60
Therefore, shopping at home, with sole proprietors and entrepreneurs, helps to make the entire city's economy stronger. Our philosophy is that we are better off as a community with 50 entrepreneurs with 50 employees each than with one big employer with 2500 employees. The reason is that the entrepreneurs can re-train and re-tool much more quickly. Additionally, the loss of one of those entrepreneurs is absorbed much easier than the impact of a large plant closing.
In recent times, we have lost Kroger's, Taco Bell, The River Road Restaurant, En Focus Hair Salon, Rusty's, Firestone, Becky's Quick Stop, Levine's Office Supplies and Equipment and Dr. Cremeen's Dental Office. However, others have stepped up to fill the void. Edward's Food Giant remodeled and opened in the old Kroger building. The Bistro Bar & Grill did open during the 4th of July holiday in 2008. The Shoe Show and Mo' Money Taxes opened in the West Helena Plaza shopping center across from Wal*Mart and next to Cato's and It's Fashion. Autozone built its own stand alone building. Big Time Rentals opened in the space formerly occupied by Autozone.
Stack's Hair Affair opened a location on Oakland Avenue. In recent times, the Twin City Machine Shop was able to acquire the old Western Auto building and relocate from a building that has been torn down. The Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County was able to move from Richmond Hill where it shared a building to its own home on the corner of Plaza and Highway 49 Bypass. Marty Mart opened at the former Rusty's location. Airgas moved from Sebastian Street to Highway 49 Bypass near the Department of Human Services. Hickory Hill Pharmacy upgraded its parking lot and renovated its interior. The old Dr. Ellis Office Building has been opened as a rental hall for receptions, dinners, family gatherings and other general uses. Treasurers, a children's clothing store, opened in the Twin City Shopping Center. The Cotton and Kudzu mall opened in the Main Street Building on Cherry Street.
The Delta AHEC adding a walking trail and children's play equipment. Delta Force II became Delta Force III after adding WNEV 98.7 Radio station in Friars Point, MS to its radio network. The Solomon House expanded its offerings and included a Mother's Day Luncheon. Lil' Folks daycare relocated after a fire destroy the building on Sioux street. We now have multiple Pillow Clinics and Dr. Moore has a location within our local hospital. Dr. David Webber has been designated as the city's pre-employment and random drug testing physician as well as all non-emergency care for work related injuries. Pafford Ambulance Service renovated its building and improved the living quarters within it at the Professional Plaza on Highway 49 Bypass. Dr. Traylor relocated his Chiropractic Clinic to Garland Street while Day Spring Behavorial Health set up shop in the old Traylor Clinic.
New Light Church held its first service in its new home following a march from the Freedom for Youth Building southwest to its new home. Mid Delta Community Services expanded its parking lot to accommodate its expanded user base. Counseling Services opened Delta Care 2 on Rightor Street. Beautiful Zion Church engaged in several neighborhood clean ups in and around the Pontotoc Street area, which is also dubbed Beautiful Zion Lane.
Hay's Grocery Store added Charley Biggs Chicken to its deli. Subway moved from the Exxon Store to its own stand alone location on Sebastian. Quality Furniture moved in with The Bedroom Warehouse. Jack's Used Cars expanded and increased the number of cars for sale on Sebastian Street. Southern Bancorp is the new name for First Bank of the Delta. Essentials Hair Salon moved from Oakland Street to Sebastian Street. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service relocated to Sebastian Street. Pac Man Bail Bond opened on Plaza Street. Donald Knapp Law Firm opened on Hickory Hill Drive. The House of Ribs set up shop on Valley Drive. Linda's restaurant was reestablished on Oakland Avenue. Regional Home Care opened on Hickory Hill drive while Dr. Todd Stewart and Dr. Cremeen combined to form The Helena Family Dental Clinic across the street in a newly renovated office space that housed Dr. Stewart's dental practice. The Quapaw Canoe Company set up shop Ohio Street and began providing guided tours of the Mighty Mississippi River.
After an extensive renovation and facelift, Wal*Mart Store 714 held its re-grand opening on Friday, May 9, 2008 at 7:30 a.m. The facelift included painting the store's exterior, replacing floor tiles, rearranging the floor layout and lowering the caps on the rows making the store more open. The new colors are nice. The new look is inviting.
The associates were pumped; excited! They gave away lots of money to local civic and non-profit groups including Rotary, Sonny Boy Blues Society and the Wild Hog Music Festival. They gave the Helena West Helena Police Department $2,500.00. The Helena West Helena School District and The Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County received $1,000.00 each.
This is a sampling of the reasons our local economy has been vibrant and resilient in spite of the turbulence occurring around the world. This listing is not all inclusive and many others have had a positive impact on our community's economy.
I am proud of the overall business climate in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. Helena is a great place to live, work, play, raise a family and operate a business.
I must admit, I have lost sleep about this city's condition. I am always concerned about the overall betterment of our community. I see, everyday, the dedication and purpose our employees bring to the citizens. I see police officers meeting people at their worst: drunk, belligerently, profane, unruly, upset, bleeding, kicking, screaming, smelling awful, and generally complaining. I see firefighters going dangerously into burning homes attempting to save lives and property and to save the neighbors lives and property too. I see street department and sanitation department employees handle our waste. I see dispatchers taking calls including 911 calls and scrambling to get the person connected to the right service provider. I see clerks and deputy clerks fulfilling their daily duties. I see water department office workers and outside workers taking it on the chin for the benefit of our city. I see so many people everyday with their lives and livelihood hanging in the balance depending upon us to be good citizens who care about each other enough to make a positive difference. I see employees side by side with equal pay; equal benefits and now with retirement benefits too. On their behalf, I say to this city council and to the people of this community, Thank You.
On the business and economic development side, our community played host to several influential groups including the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, Arkansas Economic Development Commission (November), and the Arkansas Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission, Arkansas Legislative Public Health Committee and there was another committee (October during the Bluesfest), and Arkansas Legislative Transportation Committee (January). We also, hosted Good Morning America and KATV Channel 7's Good Morning Arkansas programs which provided for great publicity (September).
In March, Helena-West Helena was recertified as an Arkansas Community of Excellence by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. In May, the Helena-West Helena School District regained local control over its school board and district operations.
In June, there was a groundbreaking for KIPP's new gymnasium and The Honorable Brian S. Miller was sworn in as a U. S. District judge following his appointment by then President George W. Bush and confirmation by the U. S. Senate. His investiture drew many proud Helenians to Little Rock and then to Cherry Street for a fish fry reception.
In October, the completed Downtown Master Plan was unveiled. This plan provides a blueprint for revitalization of Downtown and throughout our community. The plan also will assist us as we compete for grants.
In November, we hosted the first-ever joint pep rally the Central High School Cougars and the Desoto Thunderbirds. KATV Channel 7 also came to town for an early morning pep rally as the Cougars prepared to play Sylvan Hills in a home football playoff game. In December, Paint the Town Red and Blue was a huge success that brought the community together to show support for both schools. Overall, it was a great football season for Phillips County High Schools. Most teams in the county made the playoffs. The Cougars were the state runner-ups and the Thunderbirds were the state champions.
Also, in December, it was announced that Helena-West Helena was the recipient of a $205,000.00 Preserve America grant which will be used for marketing and branding of the city.
We did have significant building activity too. In Helena-West Helena there was approximately $8,521,215.95 in construction and remodeling Costs according to permits on file with the city clerk's office. Our large notable projects included:
Large Notable Projects -
*3 grain bins at Scoular Company
*Wal-Mart major renovation
*Sonic major renovation
*3 newly constructed homes totaling $396,000.00.
According to our land records, sales transactions decreased in 2008 compared 2007. In 2007, $8,139, 967 in real estate sales took place in Helena-West Helena. In 2008, that number was constricted and reduced $6,557,595.00 because of tough economic conditions are the globe and the tightening of the credit markets. Sizeable purchases do not generally occur without bank financing.
There has been quite some discourse over the life of this administration about our parks. I really smiled big when I saw something about fixing the parks was not worthwhile because they might get destroyed. I wondered how the public would feel if I took that approach to fixing potholes. You know, why bother, you are just going to drive over the streets and tear them up again. Maybe, I could try that approach on picking up the trash too. Why bother picking it up, you're just going to put more out next week. I had a college roommate that never made his bed. He said, why bother making it up when 12 to 16 hours from now you are going to mess it up again. I smiled and wondered why bother.
The City of Helena-West Helena Parks and Recreation Department serves users of diverse cultural, gender and economic backgrounds with various physical abilities and geriatric needs. The following programs and activities are offered through the Parks and Recreation Department:
1. Youth Boys and Girls Basketball: This program is tailored to meet both the academic and social needs of our participants, for grades 3rd-6th.
2. Adult Male Basketball: This program is a mainstream leisure activity for our adult males on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7pm-9pm. Fall Basketball league are also offered in early fall with a 10 week season with about 5 to 7 teams participating.
3. Volleyball program: This activity is tailored for all adults who wish to engage in a recreational activity. The Center is open for volleyball participants on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7pm-9pm.
4. Summer Food program: Breakfast and lunch is offer to school age youths from grades K-12 during the summer break.
5. Swim Camp: Each year the swim camp is a collaborative efforts of Parks and Recreation Department and Partners for Hope, the swim camp provides a two week basic swimming lesson, health training and water aerobics. Camp is provided to all children, youths and adults during the month of July. Approximately 250 volunteers from across the country come to assist in this endeavor and over 3000 children have been taught to swim and this is the 7thyear.
6. Youth Baseball and Softball: Tailored to encourage outdoor recreation and to have a diverse experience in other sports and to bring positive activities back to our public spaces. (approx.100 youth)
7. Afterschool Tutorial program: This program is designed to give additional help and reinforcement to our youths that struggle with academics and social issues in a positive and safe environment.
8. Arkansas Classic football game: This yearly activity is in place to encourage our tutorial students and expose them to college life very early. Our tutorial students that exemplify academic excellence and character building are permitted to attend the Arkansas Literacy Classic featuring teams from UAPB and Grambling State University.
9. Diabetic Clinic: This activity is tailored to the entire community with emphasis on their health. The Community Center hosts several workshops on the care of diabetes.
10. Senior Safety Club: Parks and Recreation has teamed with the Community Outreach of the Mid Delta Agency to host monthly safety issues. Smoke detector usage and carbon monoxide detection have been previous safety issues.
11. Rural Development Grant: Community Center was awarded $20,000 to put HVAC in the building. Community Center was painted, the bathrooms were repaired and game room floor was completed.
12. General improvement Enhancement Grant (GIF-1): Parks and Recreation was awarded $15, 00.00 to and enhance the parks with baseball equipment.
13. Bleachers were painted at the little league field. Upgrades to old pool house (the Pavilion), repairs and painting at the Washington Street Park. Bathrooms repairs at the North Helena by Tennis Court completed.
14. Pilates and Tae Bo: These activities are offered from 5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday during summer months.
15. Easter Egg Hunt: Community wide Easter Egg Hunt held in North Helena Park.
16. Spring Break Camp: Spring break camp is designed with both the parent and child in mind to provide a safe and educational place for our local youths.
17. Delta Christmas Toy and Coat Drive: Yearly event to provide coats and toys to this community serving 300 youths.
18. School supplies and uniform drive: Yearly event tailored to prepare our local youth for a fair and even start for returning back to school. Parks and Recreation Department serves nearly 350 youth from grades k-12.
The Parks and Recreation Department purchased Lawn mower for golf course and acquired new golf carts. The department replaced the entrance sign and changed the course name to reflect the new city's name. Therefore, instead of the West Helena Municipal Golf Course, the course is properly scribed as the Helena-West Helena Municipal Golf Course. We also added, with permission of the state highway department, directional signage pointing residents and visitors to our jewel of a golf course. Finally, we granted city employees the option to pay half price membership at our city owned golf course.
Our district court has gone through tremendous change. The entire staff is new if you reference January 1, 2006 as a starting point. None of the current district court staff was employed in the District Court at that point. Two of the staffers have been transferred and are successfully fulfilling other duties within city government. In late 2007, we advertised and underwent a competitive hiring process for a new district court clerk. The salary and benefits were made commensurate with the expectations of performance and service delivery. Mrs. Linda Moore Danley was hired and has done an excellent job.
Great effort is being made by the staff of the District Court Clerk's office to work with local law enforcement to expeditiously process citations and outstanding warrants. In 2008, there was a noticeable increase in the number of cases filed by the various agencies of law enforcement. That number was up from 7,599 cases in 2007 to 9,917 in 2008. Cases ranged from traffic infractions to criminal warrants, DWIs, and violations of city ordinances. In May 2008, a Court Officer was hired and has been very effective in this process. Through the efforts of the entire District Court staff and local law enforcement, 7,014 of the 9,917 cases were resolved and an increase in revenue for the City relative to the collection of fines and cost can be noted.
Number of Cases filed in 2007:
City of H-WH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,955
City of WH – Old Warrants. . . . . . 283
Game & Fish Commission. . . . . . . 35
Highway Police. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Phillips County Sheriff Dept . . . . . 2,264
Total. . . . . . . . . . .7,599
Number of Cases filed in 2008:
City of H-WH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,266
City of WH – Old Warrants. . . . . . 10
Game & Fish Commission. . . . . . . 19
Highway Police. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
Phillips County Sheriff Dept . . . . . 2,468
Total. . . . . . . . . . .9,917
Number of Cases Resolved in 2007:
City of H-WH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,166
City of WH – Old Warrants. . . . . . 470
Game & Fish Commission. . . . . . . 38
Highway Police. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Phillips County Sheriff Dept . . . . . 1,896
Total. . . . . . . . . . .5,617
Number of Cases Resolved in 2008:
City of H-WH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5,149
City of WH – Old Warrants. . . . . . 36
Game & Fish Commission. . . . . . . 17
Highway Police. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
Phillips County Sheriff Dept . . . . . 1,690
Total. . . . . . . . . . .7,014
City of H-WH Assessment for Fines & Cost in 2008 - $1,589,849.67
City of H-WH Assessment for Fines & Cost in 2007 - $ 772,033.20
The district court clerk's office stands in the need of additional help to continue to process cases efficiently. The District Court Clerk is working late evenings and on weekends to try to keep up with the increased work load.
For the West Helena Water Utilities company, it was rough year in the maintenance department. Not only did the number of leaks double, some of the leaks were on larger water mains. We are, however, nearly through with the rehabilitation work on our Sewer Pump Stations and that work should be completed early this year.
We stand ready to assist the new nursing home upon its arrival. It is our understanding that it is suppose to happen this spring. We are keeping our fingers crossed on that one. A new Aaron's Rental is coming this year. We expect Aaron's to build a standalone store on Sebastian Street near Autozone. We are planning to put together some projects to begin replacing some of our two inch galvanized piper water mains. We see so many leaks in those small lines. We have ordered a new backhoe to replace our 29 year old backhoe and we are expecting delivery of that item within 60 days. We updated our accounting software and are now using windows based Perception Accounting Software which was installed in April. This software is used by Helena Water, the Landfill and the City Clerk and City Treasurer as well.
The Helena Municipal Water and Sewer Company experienced many of the same type issues as did the West Helena Company. Leaks, Leaks and more leaks. In the area of Green Acres, we repaired a major sewer line for lift station number seven which carries sewage from the Central High School areas through the College Campus and down Valley Drive in route to our sewer ponds off Highway 44. We also had a major emergency repair job done on Sewer Lift Station number five. On the water side, our major expense was upgrading our billing software, replacing computers and acquiring a printer.
The landfill has come long way from closure in January 2005 to re-opening in October 2006 to nearly perfect scores on all post opening inspections. We were given five (5) years to make modifications and corrections to the landfill and its waste placement. We did make all corrections within the first year of re-opening the landfill. Our work has become a model for other landfills in the State of Arkansas. The landfill staff has earned the faith and confidence of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which is the state level Environmental Protection Agency. The ADEQ staff believes that our landfill, which was shutdown, almost for good in January 2005, can be operated in a sound environmental and regulatory manner. The landfill has proven to be a valuable asset to the City's future and potential growth. There are only 23 landfills in the entire State of Arkansas. ******BOB VERIFY******
We added a trash compactor to our equipment list at the landfill. The purpose of a trash compactor is to crush and mollify waste in to small spaces and preserve room in the landfill for more waste. Our preliminary numbers indicate that the compactor saved the City over 60,000 cubic yards of volume (air space) in the landfill by nearly mollifying the trash. This has resulted in a savings of air space, which can be sold at $28 per ton, in the approximate amount of $420,000.00 for the landfill.
Our street department provided a numerous services to our citizens. Here's a partial listing of the tasks completed to assure an acceptable quality of living for our citizens:
1. Purchased new Leaf Vaccum using grant money from East Arkansas Solid Waste Management District;
2. Cleaned storm drain ditch from South Sam to Little Rock Rd (Street Project) used part-timer labor and saved over $30,000.00;
3. Cleaning storm Drain Old Dominion (Storm Drain & Street Repair Project);
4. Repaired storm Drain Valley Drive;
5. Performed Street and Storm Drain repair Waverly Wood Lane;
6. Cut back overgrowth Moore Street near Nellie Woodridge's place;
7. Purchased Big Tex Dump Trailer for curb side debris removal (this has assisted in keeping Ohio Street Yard Clean);
8. Installed used motor in 2000 Dodge Ram previously donated to Street Department by Eastside Water Department;
9. Purchased Knuckleboom Truck from Rivercity Hydraulics which took our fleet to three (3) such trucks and improved our class four (4) waste removal efforts;
10. Purchased storage/utility trailer to haul equipment to job sites;
11. Built up south shop yard w/gravel and dirt for storage of all Street & Sanitation equipment;
12. Enclosed south shop yard with 10ft fence;
13. Installed heater in box shop;
14. Repaired several storm drain covers on east side of town;
15. Cleared and Reestablished Drainage Ditch at West Russell and South Coanza (Alice Harris);
16. Cleared low hanging trees on West Russell to make area more visible and remove dangerous limbs over power lines.
17. Acquired New GMC Pickup Truck from Landers Chevrolet;
18. Destroyed many Beaver Dams that caused all kinds of stagnant water problems;
19. Installed, replaced and refaced many stop signs throughout the city;
20. Worked vigorously to keep pace with replacing signage being taken by vandals and juveniles;
21. Closed River Reach Park during times of flooding and severe weather;
22. Installed crosswalks for students at Beechcrest school at Garland and Tenth Streets;
23. Made room for Cell Tower Construction on Ohio Street lot;
24. Animal Control Officers and Supervisor attended training and received certifications for the training;
25. Improved the drainage at Beechcrest School at Garland and Tenth Streets; and
26. Cleared and cut numerous alleys throughout city.
In our sanitation department we have successfully maintained the Lakeview trash contract, collecting residential and commercial waste on Mondays throughout the year as well as maintaining a high quality trash collection effort for our own Municipality. By becoming more familiar with suppliers and distributors, we have been able to locate parts in timely manner and keep our fleet moving.
Although the paper market has fallen, we are still providing the collection service for used paper with hopes the market will soon return to normal and we can resume our revenue stream and find ways to increase our profit margin. Perhaps, with help from ADEQ, we can possibly start plastics recycling. The Sanitation Department has acquired additional equipment this past year including:
1. Mini Track (mini excavator-lease);
2. Hydraulic Dump trailer;
3. Diesel Tractor;
4. A trailer for our full size Track hoe (excavator);
5. Acquired Bucket Truck for limb trimming and difficult to reach uses;
6. Purchased Ford F-350 Duelly to pull various trailers;
7. Traded New Holland Backhoe to the City of Widener for brand new Vermeer Wood Chipper;
8. Razed more than 20 structures as a result of acquiring the new equipment by this department;
9. Painted office space and building inside and out;
10. Installed break room for employees;
11. Added dispatcher to roster to assure that service was timely, professional and efficient
12. Tracked carts to assure customers were paying for services rendered; and
13. Increased the overall morale of the department.
The Code Enforcement Department had only two (2) officers on duty during 2008. Both officers were new to the field of code enforcement. However, we continued to make strides in this area and were successful in cleaning neighborhoods and opening up breezeways for many citizens. A sampling of the results of code enforcement actions include:
Total number of vehicles tagged 117
Total number of vehicles towed 8
Total number of letters mailed 328
Total number of post cards mailed 229
Total number dilapidated property tagged 75
Total number of house condemned 13
Additionally, code enforcement has created a billing system which has aided us in being able to invoice out a total of $26,311.92. We have successfully collected $13,646.38. We have begun to see positive results in completing the process which sometimes leads to the submission of Affidavits of which we have submitted 16.
These stepped up efforts have resulted in the removal of blights and eyesores within our community. We have also implemented a process of informing the public. We present information to the grade school children along with the fire department. We are networking with other code enforcement departments in various cities throughout the State of Arkansas.
We are members of American Association of Code Enforcement (AACE). This organization assists code officials in training and networking to increase the level of trained professionals in the field and works politically to advance safety legislation and enact laws that provide greater safety for the health, welfare and general property values of all communities.
The use of postcard and letters has had a successful impact on getting property owners to regularly assign someone to be the caretaker of their property(s). We have compiled a list of licensed lawn care providers which we submit to each property owner. This list, compiled from paid occupational license fees, allows the owners to contact a local service provider to take care of their property. We are confident that this department is ready to address the needs of this community in its entirety with regards to keeping the city code compliant and enhancing and improving the quality of life of our citizens and neighbors.
We ask that the City Council pass legislation to assist us in our efforts to continue to make our community more safe, healthy, and appealing to the eye as far as the law is concerned.
Our Police Department is the single largest and most visible department within city government. Training is the cornerstone of effective policing.
TRAINING ACHIEVEMENTS 2008
- The Helena-West Helena Police Department sponsored a part-time officer auxiliary school with 13 graduates (3 from Holly Grove PD, 1 from Marianna PD, 1 from Marvell PD). The department also hosted a class in late 2007 which included several local constables.
- The Helena-West Helena Police Department has trained 5 officers for their Special Response Team
- Officers Bowers, Yant, Petty, Acosta, Carson McGee and Eaton joined the police force. Officer Bowers completed the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy in the top of his class. Officers Acosta and Yant are currently attending ALETA in Camden. Officer Petty returned from retirement. Officers C. McGee and Eaton joined the department from the Part-Time Class of 2007.
- Police Unit 3 got a new look similar to the fire department vehicles.
We have also had training in the following:
· Blood Borne Pathogens
· Racial Profiling
· Radar Certifications
· Crisis Intervention
· Vehicle Stop and Approach
· Community Relations
· Drug Enforcement
· Traffic Control
· Instructor Development
· Night Course on Fire (Firearms Training – using patrol lights and night situations)
· Building Search
· Dealing with Difficult People
· National Instructors Certification
· K-9 training
· ACIC Certification
· Missing and Exploited Children
· Domestic Violence Culture Human Trafficking
· Spanish one-on-one
· Stress and Anger Management
· Victim Reparation Program
· Law Enforcement Symposium
· ILEETA Firearm Instructor
· Public Relations
· Suicide Prevention (dispatch)
· Field Training Officer
· Computer Forensic Course
· Public Records and Management
· Drug Education Class
· CASA Training
· CGI Ethics Workshop
· Fingerprinting Class
· Major Scott and Capt. Vann - SLES (school of law enforcement supervision)
· Arkansas Leadership Program
· Grant Writing
· Training External and Internal affairs
· Principles of Supervision
· Weekly Captains meeting
· C. I. D.
· Leadership Class
· Managing Criminal and Drug Investigations
· Homicide Investigations
· Supervisor and Management
The Helena-West Helena Police Department has been involved in numerous community activities such as:
- Freedom for Youth
- Mid-Delta Senior Citizens
- Youth Diversity and Crime Prevention
- Wal-Mart Community Day
- Teen Court
- Sponsoring Movie Day with the local housing authorities
- Senior Citizens Safety with the West Helena Housing Authority
- Sponsoring Smart Choices and Better Chances with the Attorney General's office
- No More Victims Program with the Justice Network and Central High School
- Sponsoring A Child for the Angel Tree organization for the Christmas holidays
- Stamp Out Smoking
- Ice Cream Social was sponsored by the Arkansas Street Neighborhood Watch Program
- Fans for the Elderly
- Delta Promise (drug prevention program for teens)
- PCCUA Kids Day
- Sharing The Rainbow sponsored by the school district
- Officers visited several schools in the area in reference to Drug Awareness Intervention.
The Helena-West Helena Police Department helped organize neighborhood watch programs in the Sylvan Ridge, 7th Street, and Cleburne areas.
The Helena-West Helena Police Department will dedicate its talents to create and sustain a safe community for all with our Community Outreach Program.
Results of the Police Department's
Plan Of Action 2008
The Police Department assessed our crime situation in the City of Helena-West Helena and came up with a plan of action to address a lot of problems that we are having in our community. Starting in August 2008, we successfully implemented curfew saturations in the various areas of the city.
Our plan did consist of zoning our city into 6 sectors. This allowed us the ability to assign officers to each sector per shift. This allowed our officers the ability to focus on a particular area.
1. Our zoning plan required our Records Department to report to police administration our high crime areas by zones. The information gave us the ability to know the areas that needed saturation. Our saturation efforts consisted of checkpoints, foot patrol, knock and talk, and identify those walking in the neighborhoods gave us the opportunity to serve pre-existing warrants and make the community safer.
2. With the city council's approval, we made N. 2nd Street from Plaza Street to Anderson Street, a south bound one-way street and N. 3rd Street from Plaza Street to Anderson Street, a north bound one-way street, with Center Street from Anderson Street to N. 2nd Street, a one-way street.
During our first 3 day operation, the department netted a total of 32 arrests, which 22 were misdemeanors and 10 felonies. The majority of these arrests were weapons violations and drug possessions to include the following:
- 2 simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms
- 7 possession with intent to deliver
- 1 fugitive warrant served
- 4 misdemeanor possession of firearm
- 2 misdemeanor possession of marijuana
- 18 existing outstanding warrants
a) 7 suspended driver's license
b) 8 FTA
c) 3 no driver's license
The morale of our department is very high. Our efforts will continually be aimed for the preservation for the safety and protection of our citizens of this community.
We did have additional saturations and SRT (Special Response Team) checkpoints and traffic stops throughout the year. We did four (4) separate checkpoints. These checkpoints required prior planning and the cooperation of many people. Our most recent checkpoint included the use of the Fire Department for additional lighting and safety. We made five (5) physical arrests including two (2) DWI arrests, two (2) suspended driver's license arrests and on arrest for outstanding warrants from our city. Several drivers were cited for proof of insurance, expired tags, seat belt usage and other violations. These Safety Checkpoints work well only because of the spirit of cooperation exhibited by all persons involved.
Public Service Calls – 24,485
911 Calls – 10,495
Total Calls – 34,980
Traffic Tickets – 2,084
Traffic Stops – 5,087
Misdemeanor Arrest – 536
Alarms – 1,510
Disturbances – 1,981
Building Checks – 7,070
C.I.D. cases – 221
C.I.D. arrests - 98
CID changed its way or presenting cases to the Sheriff's office and the prosecutor such that we can internally track our cases and make sure that no one falls through the cracks.
Our Fire Department assisted with many grant applications that were successful, namely:
1. U.S.D.A. - Rural Development Grant - $ 63,085.00 – SCBAs (Airpacks)
2. U.S.D.A. - Rural Development Grant - $55,706.44 - Community Center
3. U.S.D.A. - Rural Development Grant - $37,474.20 - Police - 12 Awin Radios
4. U.S.D.A. - Rural Development Grant - $27,000.00 - City of LakeView - SCBA
5. SHSGP or Homeland Security Grant - $ 17,000.00 - From County to HWH-Fire Department
Sadly, in spite of our best efforts, we had two (2) house fires that claimed the lives of three (3) of our citizens. We will step up our efforts to warn our citizens about the safe use of heating equipment. It is critical.
Notably, Mayor James Valley started a blog in April of 2008. This website is a journal listing of department head reports, communications from the mayor and other items of interest to the citizens of our community. This blog which is found at http://jfvalley.blogspot.com had over 1100 entries in 2008. This has been a great way to communicate with our community and to help make city government more transparent.
Delta Dreams, the AETN documentary about our city and its transformation, was aired in markets around the nation. We have received calls from a variety to cities and towns. The documentary does a really good job of showing from whence we came and our struggle to improve. I encourage our citizens to get a copy of the Delta Dreams video and review it. Our city was also featured in a book named "1000 Places to Visit (in USA and Canada) Before You Die." We were also visited by a group of Belgium Bikers who stopped by the Road Kill Grill which trekking south from Memphis.
Proudly, our employees built a float for the Christmas Parade and were awarded the Third Place (3rd) Trophy. The Christmas parade was held right here in downtown as part of the alternating locations from east to west sides of town. Our employees also place second place in fund raising for the Relay for Life in April of 2008.
In that vein, our city became the first in Arkansas to declare all of its parks "Smoke-Free!" Various foundations are now requiring grant applicants to pledge to seek a smoke free parks ordinance in order to receive grant funding.
For the benefit of our employees, the city and the idea of fair play, we adopted The Employee Handbook in October 2008. That handbook is available at all times via the internet athttp://mayorjfvalley.googlepages.com/employeehandbook. In the long run, our city and its employees will be better off by having clearing established rules which are uniformly enforced and followed.
We held our second annual Employee Appreciation Day in May of 2008 and our first city wide Christmas Party in December. The citywide Christmas Party was significant in that all departments held a joint party and all employees were made to feel of equal importance.
For the first time ever, we held a community fireworks show in connection with the Gospel Festival on Memorial Day Weekend. Then, for the 4th of July, we had a short musical concert and fireworks show as well. Both of the fireworks shows were sponsored by the A & P Commission and drew visitors from outside of Helena-West Helena into downtown.
While we are proud of the accomplishments of the Cougars and T-Birds, we must also recognize that Central High School Head Football Coach Russell Smith was named Coach of the Year by several different groups of his coaching colleagues.
We are pleased that we have an excellent working relationship with Mr. Ray Woodruff, District Engineer for the Arkansas Highway Department. This council, in 2006, urged that paving be done within our community. Mr. Woodruff and the department granted our request and we had several miles of city street/state highway resurfaced during late 2007. We had some other problems with signage and lane marking and Mr. Woodruff directed that those items be corrected this year.
The Highway Department helped with lane markings and signage on Porter Street and at Beechcrest School. These changes should make those busy intersections more safe for the entire community although the accident records had not been substantial according to the highway department. These changes were primarily proactive and preventative than in response to any bad occurrence.
Our own finances are much better than several years ago. In 2006, we had no city sales tax. However, sales taxes are the primary choice for city governments in Arkansas. These taxes provide an amalgam of city services including police and fire protection, code enforcement, street paving, ditch dredging and general maintenance to name a few things.
We also use fees that are charged by our Water, Landfill and Sanitation Departments to supplement the sales tax collections. Finally, we rely on Franchise Taxes, Property Taxes, Occupational Licenses, Accident Reports, Fingerprinting Charges, 911 Appropriations, Bail Bond Fees, Golf Course Fees, Concession Stand Collections, Building Permits, Vacate Notices and other fees.
Our fee collections were generally up in 2008 compared to 2007. Our sales taxes alone were up more than two million dollars. However, we must discount this by the fact that our collections began in September of 2007 on our city sales taxes. Such a discount would reduce that figure to about one million dollars. Even so, that is positive growth for our city.
Currently, our sales tax revenues are up nearly eleven percent (11%) over January and February of 2008. In our 2009 Budget, our city council passed a measure requiring financial reports on the second meeting of the month. I fully expect that such a requirement will bring broader understanding to all persons concerned as it relates to our finances. I am glad to see how far we have traveled since 2006 when we wrote checks from two (2) different software applications and had other computer problems. I have not forgotten that we got our new software and computers in November 2007. Therefore, 2008 is the first year with efficient financial software for this administration.
Going forward, we have much to be accomplished. Soon, I will be announcing an Ecumenical Summit whereby I will call upon the clergy of this community to come together and discuss ways that we can better partner to benefit the charitable causes we champion including childcare, job training, homelessness, teen pregnancy and high school truancy and dropout rates. With a little coordination, our churches can strengthen one another's causes and reduce the amount of duplication of service offerings.
We must prepare our community for the upcoming tax question on the expiring one-percent sales tax that has 20% of its proceeds dedicated to the Helena-West Helena Phillips County Port Authority. We must determine whether the tax should be extended and if so, under what terms. If the tax is not extended, which services will county government and the various city governments around the county reduce or eliminate.
We must consider a street paving bond issue as part of any tax package discussion. We have many needs in our street department including the paving of many of our streets. We need to approach such a task in a fashion that is fair to all of our citizens. One fair approach would be to assure that the business community's roadways, alleyways and passageways are in good shape and then we move to the areas that are high traffic areas and next to the areas that have had a long standing need for paving.
We cannot forget as we analyze what has transpired in our city that drainage, flood control, flood management and flood eradication is part and parcel of the street department's mission. We have done substantial work in that area but would like to do more. Ideally, the open ditch on West Street should be closed and covered similar to what was done on Valley Drive in 1995. Several other ditches should be covered as well, if the money is available.
We must pursue vigorously the shovel ready projects that we have presented to our federal representatives. We have $14,885,000 in shovel ready projects that include street paving, drainage work, improvements to our parks. We must get the ear of our President who met with mayors of cities with populations greater than 30,000. Our President must understand the needs of small town America.
We must consider immediately annexing the islands contained within the city limits. These residents receiving all city services should be made full citizens of our city. Furthermore, we should consider annexing all of the citizens who receive any form of city service beginning with those receiving water and sewer services. Those citizens pay more for our services because they are outside of the city limits.
We need to have our municipal code updated using the Arkansas Municipal League Codification service or Municode or another reputable firm. It has been three (3) years since our last codification.
We must find ways to work together; to achieve harmony. We must foster an environment where others will want to be. We have to dedicate ourselves to real economic development and job creation activities. We must prepare for the 2010 census which we present our story to the world for the next 10 years. Our educational attainment level is well below the State of Arkansas and other states in the United States. We can immediately impact this fact by encouraging and assisting all persons without high school diplomas to get a G.E.D. This statistic alone will help us in making our community ready for jobs. Employers, Entrepreneurs and Recruiters are looking for a trained worker and we must encourage all citizens regardless of age to at least get a high school diploma equivalent.
In closing, our city is on the right track. Our business community is strong and revenues are trending upward, our employees are well trained and our city government is functioning properly. I am pleased to make this report and encourage our citizens to stay strong and keep the faith.
Stay informed: http://www.valleyformayor.com
Honorable James F. Valley
MAYOR - Helena West Helena
P O Box 248
226 Perry Street
Helena-West Helena, 72342
501-291-1735 Main Number