State of the City Address
Feb 17, 2020 | Osceola, Arkansas
Our goal this year is the same that it was last year. It is to “make Osceola a great place to live.” Surprisingly, we don’t really have to look hard for the answers because the solutions are here now. Last Thursday was a proud day for Osceola. Governor Hutchinson gave Osceola the “Volunteer Community of the Year Award”, along with Fayetteville, Van Buren, Jonesboro, Fairfield Bay, Alma, Eureka Springs, and Greenbriar. This is a prestigious award that recognizes communities that exemplify the spirit of service by participating in city-wide volunteer initiatives and making a positive impact in local areas of need. Not only was our town honored but, I understand that we ranked highest of all cities. So, to make Osceola a great place to live, we just need to take advantage of what we have in front of us. We have at our disposal all of the tools, all of the opportunities to fix our problems with crime, unemployment, high electric bills, housing, blight, litter, lack of retail development, shortage of entertainment, and transparency in city government.
We, your elected officials, must take the lead in making Osceola a great place to live. It is time for us to work together. That is what the people of the city elected us to do. We must respect different opinions and appreciate each other for what we have to offer. Remember that we are fighting the same war. Our challenge is bigger than one person, but UNITED we can get it done. Remember that we are dedicated to putting our residents first and to treat everyone fairly. To make Osceola the best place to live, I will address 6 points of action.
1) Increasing retail business,
2) Addressing utility rate complaints,
3) Improving Public Safety and under-employment,
4) Improving the appearance of the town and condition of our housing stock,
5) Quality-of-Life; reversing population loss; obtaining grants and other new funding, and
6) Having transparency in our city government
Regarding increasing Retail businesses, we must reduce our retail electric rate. Unfortunately, the council removed the requested decrease in the 2020 budget. I encourage the business owners in town to reach out to their council members and explain the importance of reducing the retail electric rate and the positive impact that this reduction will have on existing and future, local businesses. I have appointed a Utility Committee and I challenge everyone on that committee to put this reduction at the top of your agenda. Additionally, we are embarking on an initiative using our Music Heritage to promote tourism as another method to jumpstart retail businesses. Investors approached City Hall and are interested in building new restaurants and a new hotel but they cannot afford to do so unless we reduce the retail electric rate.
Regarding Electric Company satisfaction, while working diligently, our staff put a strategy in place to improve customer satisfaction, and complaints have dropped substantially in the past year. As promised, we held and continue to hold monthly utility meetings that are open to the public. Doing so allows our customers the opportunity to have their concerns directly addressed. And now we have every customer who is late on their utility payment set up on a payment plan. Most importantly to customer service would be the installation of AMI, or “smart meters,” for all of our electric and water customers. These meters are expensive and sooner or later these costs will have to be passed on to our customers. In the meantime, we continued to be dedicated to researching the problems, finding answers and building better customer satisfaction.
Regarding Public safety & under-employment, a good way to increase public safety is to utilize new technologies that deter and prevent crime. We have approved the purchase of our first set of SkyCop cameras and will start installing four of these surveillance systems by next month. Last year, we hired a new Community Service Officer for those fulfilling obligations of community service from District Court. In order to reduce under-employment, we need to boost employability. Last year, we developed a close working relationship with Arkansas Northeastern College, its “ANC Works” program and “ANC Tech Center.” We will continue our partnership with ANC Works program to continually train our residents. We will also continue building a stronger relationship and engaging more with the Osceola School District.
Regarding the Appearance of town and the condition of our housing stock: I established the Community Improvement Task Force, who works closely with Code Enforcement to implement our International Property Maintenance Code. This group meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month. They suggest issuing warnings to property owners to bring their properties up to standard or be subject to fines. The city has adopted a wonderful planning document called, “The 2040 Comprehensive Plan.” I have asked our Planning Commission to re-evaluate and implement this plan. In addition to the 48 new housing units at Pine Cottages, we have been approached by an industry partner who needs housing for employees that includes upscale apartments and about 20 new single-family units. So, we are starting to grow again.
Regarding the quality of Life and grant applications: We have an active “Grants Alerts Team” that works to monitor currently available grants as well as dozens more on the horizon. This team shares the information with the appropriate agency so that we do not miss these anymore. In regards to child care needs, DENSO Manufacturing has taken the lead with the city to help organize an effort with other industries and businesses to build a new childcare facility next year. To help support our local arts, the city is transforming the Coston building into an arts center by using nearly $300,000 in grant funds. Regarding our courthouse, the new tax has guaranteed its protection for a least the next thirty years – and - last month submitted a grant application to AR Historic Preservation for $250,000 to improve the electrical system. Our Animal Shelter volunteers and the Osceola High School EAST lab are finishing up the new “Bark Park” on the north side of Florida Park.
Also noteworthy, two fast-food chains are planning to come here as well as a family-style restaurant. Regarding flooding and sewer problems of the past, our Sewer and Street Departments have rebuilt pumps to alleviate the overflow problem near the airport. Unfortunately, to fix all of the sewer problems, it will take the building of a new $5.8 million sewer line. We know that there are grants available for these costs. But in order to be given the chance at these funds, the city must start charging our customers according to the new rate survey.
The city's website address is www.osceolaarkansas.com. And the Departments also have their own webpages. Regarding transparency in our city government: We have posted city ordinances, council minutes and other city documents on the city website. Regarding past business practices: We have fully implemented a competitive bidding program, and we are following the purchasing ordinance by not making purchases over $5,000 without the council's approval.
Regarding our budget and reducing spending: One year ago, we projected, a surplus of only $125,538. Then we discovered that the city would have to write-off a $121,000 electric bill from the Blue Oak facility. Also, we had to figure out how to pay $554,000 for a new fire truck and nearly $85,000 for three new police cars. We had planned to use $639,000 of the city’s $1.1 million “savings account funds,” but we held a public finance meeting every month. Our staff worked hard to reduce the expenses and through this hard work and savings, we ended the year with only needing to remove $161,000 of the savings instead of taking more than half of it. This left us with $942,000 in that “savings account” at the end of 2019. I am happy to announce that not only did we reduce enough to purchase the fire truck and police cars but also ended the year with a much larger surplus. I especially want to thank Steve Choals for reducing his expenses in 2019. With his help and similar help from the rest of the staff, we ended 2019 not by the $125,538 surplus that was budgeted - but with a whopping $486,063 surplus. When you think about it, because of our diligence, we created a $611,526 savings for the residents of Osceola.
We will continue to look for more opportunities to reduce waste and put savings back into our budget. For one more year, we are left with a debt to the County of $166,000 because years back, the city failed to pay the county its share of the Plum Point Energy Station’s PILOT Agreement funds. Additionally, the city also continues to pay $27,000 a month on the loan for the $2 million incentive given to Big River Steel. We have 16 months left on that debt. Also, remember a year ago, the city employed 157 full-time, part-time and temporary employees. This year we have reduced that number to 135—a staff reduction of 14%. Still this year, we awarded a cost of living raise to our employees earning under a $60,000 threshold. Early last year, we were informed that the city had not been meeting our grant agreement with the Commerce Department regarding a $1.2 million grant awarded to help build the city’s new $3 million wastewater lagoon. If not corrected, the city would lose $800,000 of the grant and be forced to complete the project on our own dime. After a trip to Washington DC at my own expense and a lot of work by Timmy Jones and Brandon Haynes’ communication with the Department of Commerce, we were given extended time to complete the project and averted the loss of the grant. But keep in mind that the other half is being paid in monthly payments. This brings me to a concern for our city’s infrastructure. We are in a catch twenty-two situation. Five years ago, the city borrowed money for a $1.4 million water line to the industrial park at Big River Steel and the Driver-Grider station. The city borrowed another $3.1 million for the wastewater lagoon and new pump station. Luckily, we received grants of $1.4 million, but our city's Water and Sewer Department is now in debt totally nearly $3.1 million. This debt is calculated in when the authorities calculate our recommended water and sewer rates, in the form of a rate survey. Because of this old debt, the survey recommends a much higher water and sewer rate than our current rates. What the survey implies is that without a rate hike, the City will be unable to maintain our system.
Currently, the city needs a $5.9 million sewer line expansion to address our aging and undersized sewer system. But, since we are not complying with the recommended rate survey schedule, our chances of being approved for a grant or low-interest loan are greatly diminished. It is imperative that the residents understand this quandary. In order to fund this new sewer project, the city must borrow money to pay for the new system. But banks will not give us the lowest interest loan because we owe too much bond debt now. We could apply for grants, but we are not eligible for the grants because we are not charging what the rate study says is needed. And our sewer service will only get worse the longer we go without the upgrade.
In the past years, the city gave away electric power to a few non-profits. This practice has stopped and from now on, contracts for service are required and approved by the council. I am always looking for sponsors to pay for events and activities that the city previously paid for. In 2019, businesses sponsored events that totaled about $5,000. And you can read from the agenda, that we are taking full advantage of grant opportunities.
In closing, I thank our employees, the department heads, and our council members for their hard work during the last year. They are helping to reinstate dormant committees, underutilized commissions and are giving our residents a voice in city affairs. And we, your council, pledge to provide a progressive and enlightened leadership with innovative ideas and a renewed focus on community growth and sustained community pride. If we can continue the same pace that they have in the past year, we will accomplish our goal of making Osceola A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE.
(Osceola, AR) On 2/13/2020, at approximately 3:45 pm, officers of the Osceola Police Department and possibly the 2nd Judicial Drug Task Force were dispatched in response to a complaint of an individual actively shooting on or around Shirley Drive. At least one person was reported wounded and upon arrival, the individual believed to be the shooter was found unresponsive. After numerous interviews with witnesses, the gunman is believed to have taken his own life.
An active investigation continues at this time and more information will be released as the facts become available.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On Thursday, January 23rd, the attendees of the Community Improvement TASKFORCE were treated to a brief presentation by Streets & Sanitation Superintendent, Steve Choals. In his presentation, Choals outlined several goals his department was targeting to reduce the overall carbon footprint of Osceola through a multi-faceted recycling program. Cardboard, glass, and plastics are top priorities.
Students of the Delta school at Wilson have reached out to the City of Osceola HR and Animal Shelter Director Jane Stanford and asked if she might be interested in partnering with one of the Elementary-aged classrooms. The students are looking to explore philanthropy and the use of art to build awareness for local organizations such as the Osceola Animal Shelter. A brief presentation was given so that the students could learn more about the critical mission and funding of the Animal Shelter.
The City of Osceola Animal Shelter is a municipal animal control shelter that works in coordination with volunteers dedicated together to place unwanted animals into responsible homes, return lost animals to their owners and reduce the number of animals that must be humanely euthanized.
Funds provided by the City are supplemented by public donations and grants.
Osceola High School Football Team Day
In a ceremony marked by a near overflow crowd, Mayor Wilson declared 12.20.2019 as Osceola High School Football Team Day in recognition of the 2019 winning season.
The ceremony was attended by the football team, coaching staff, teachers, administrators, and parents.
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Code Enforcement Committee Meeting
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Parks & Recreation Committee Meeting
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Public Works Committee Meeting
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Airport & Utility Committee Meeting
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Police, Fire & Animal Control Committee Meeting
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Finance & Purchasing Committee Meeting