Mayor Sally Longo Wilson
Feb 18, 2019
People ask what is the most important thing that we, the elected Osceola leaders, need to be doing. We say “Let’s make Osceola the best place to live.” Surprisingly, we don’t really have to look hard for the answers because the solutions are here now. 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, housing, blight, litter, lack of retail development, high electric bills, shortage of entertainment, and transparency in city government.
Our new goal in Osceola is this, by 2021, we will grow the number of our electric residential customers by 10%. That means, two years from now, we will have increased our number of electric residential customers by 10%, meaning that we will have grown our city by 280 families.
On November 6th of last year, Osceola voters made a statement. We united for progressive change. In Osceola, we hear that cities across Arkansas are envious of our job growth. And we are proud of this. But with that, it is reasonable to expect that our unemployment rate should be the lowest in the state, our population should be growing, our retail businesses should be booming, our quality of life should be improving, our home values should be increasing, and community pride should be soaring. But these haven’t happened. 2019 is new year and Osceola has a new council and mayor. The days of “business as usual” are gone. We are dedicated to putting our residents first.
And in our first 7 weeks, we have started finding training opportunities for our unemployed residents, met with developers for new retails businesses, started a new search for every new grand fund out there, talked with new housing developers, launched an effort to bring every structure up into building standard, began the processes of making every action by this city transparent and met with local industries to position our residents to get hired onto the plethora of high paying jobs that we have right here at our back door.
Our new city leadership is rolling up our sleeves and started to work. We have started action to uniformly, fairly and consistently follow the city’s ordinances. We have embraced the Arkansas Municipal League and are fully utilizing its assistance to help us fully comply with changes in state laws.
In order to improve the lives of our residents, my administration will emphasize the following areas: You will see 6 points of action that we are addressing simultaneously. 1) Utility rate complaints, 2) Public Safety, reduce unemployment, 3) Appearance of the town and condition of our housing stock, 4) Quality of Life, reverse population loss, obtaining grants and other new funding, 5) Transparency in our city government and 6) increase retail businesses
But how are we going to make this happen? Well, we have already started implementing changes in the following six areas.
Electric company satisfaction.
Last month we held the first of our monthly open meetings to hear concerns about our electric bills and discuss improvements in our utility company. And we have another scheduled this week to allow us, the council, hear from our customers. Will are dedicated to researching the problems, finding answers and build better customer satisfaction.
Public safety & lower unemployment rate.
A good way to increase public safety is to utilize new technologies that deter and prevent crime and drug abuse. We have received quotes for a citywide SkyCop project and are currently working on grants to fund these technologies. And earlier this month, we built an avenue of communication between the Osceola Police Department and MS CO Parole office to better asset and monitor new parolees in the area. Regarding unemployment, we currently have several job openings with our local industries and businesses. We have 2,750 industrial jobs in and right around Osceola, and we have 2,800 electric residential customers. With as many industrial jobs as we have households, we should have the lowest unemployment in the state. But in order to reduce unemployment, we need to boost employability. So, we have launched a close relationship with Arkansas Northeastern College, its ANC Works program and its ANC Tech Center.
Appearance of town.
To address the appearance of the town and condition of our housing stock, we reinstated the Community Improvement Commission. This Commission works closely with code enforcement to enforce the International Property Maintenance Code. This Commission has started looking at as many as 300 substandard properties, They will help with issuing warnings to the property owners to bring these properties up to standard or be subject to fines. In preparation of the upcoming Basketball Championship week during the week of Feb 26. The Commission is focusing on the clean-up of the corridor coming from I-55 into town. For instance, the Commission has gotten the owners of the damaged hotel to begin cleaning the damaged area and now, the owner is working to rebuild the hotel. Also, the city is working with a local nonprofit to turn the area behind King Wok into a pocket garden with a mural painted on the exterior walls, benches, brick path, scrubs and a shade tree. The city has adopted a wonderful planning document called the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Our Planning Commission has taken on the charge to evaluate and implement this plan. In addition to the 48 new units at Pine Cottages that will be opening up as soon, we have been approached by a developer who want so build about 20 new single family units, valued at about $140,000 each, that will be for sale to our families.
Quality of Life and grant applications,
The council has appointed OPAR Director Michael Ephlin to also serve as the city’s Grants Coordinator. He and his staff are keeping up with available grants and sharing the information with the appropriate agency so we do not miss out on these anymore. In regards of child care needs, DENSO has approached the city to help organize an effort with other industries and businesses to build a new childcare facility next year. Regarding our expansion of our existing airport, our Airport Commission is meeting at the end of this month with engineers to look over the plans to lengthen our existing airport runway to 5,000 feet. Doing so will enable corporate jets to land here. Our new airport runway will be as long as Blytheville’s and considerable bigger than the one at Manila’s new facility. To help support our local arts, the city is transforming the Coston building into an arts center and is using a $6,700 grant to rough plumb-in new lines. Regarding our courthouse, the new tax election has guaranteed protection of our courthouse to be used as a courthouse for a least the next thirty years. Our Humane Society volunteers and the Osceola High School EAST lab are building a new dog, Bark Park on the north side of Florida Park. News about new restaurants, a fast food pizza chain is planning to come here and a new family-style restaurant is planning to purchase the old McDonald’s building. Regarding some of the flooding and sewer problems of the past, our Sewer department and our Street department have presented plans to alleviate all of these problems. It may take a few months to fix all of the problems but they are dedicated to the making you satisfied. My office has begun a new collaboration with local pastors.
A new city website (www.OsceolaArkansas.com) is currently under construction. Each department will have its own page, will have control over its content and will have the ability to update their own page. Likewise, every city committee is invited to have its own page and even, every council member is invited to have its own page. Regarding transparency in our city government, we will post city ordinances, council minutes and other city documents on the new city website. It is even planned to videotape our monthly council meetings and post them to the website the next day after the meetings. Regarding worries of past business practices, we are fully implemented a Competitive bidding program, we are following purchasing ordinance by not making purchases over $5,000 without council approval and we are requesting information from Legislative Audit to review our system.
“Jumpstart Retail business”.
Retail development, jumpstart incentives for retail, especially a new grocery store on the east side of town. We have asked the Chamber of Commerce to manage an inventory of all available retail spaces and retail lots. To really jumpstart retail business, we must reduce our electric rate for our re tail businesses. To do so will require a savings in our budget of $750,000. Investors have come to City Hall who is interested in two new restaurants, a movie theatre and another new hotel but they cannot afford to do so unless we reduce the retail electric rate.
It is time to sharpen our pencils.
“How to fund these initiatives”.
Reduce expenses, cut out waste and limit spending. Plus we must Apply for grants, Collect of debts and Raise Revenue
Reduce expenses and control spending.
The Blue Oak facility could leave the city with a $121,000 electric bill but a new company is looking to purchase the facility, employ 50-75 employees and we can recoup that loss, we can expect to be able to announce as early as March 30. To help advise us on other funding ideas, our new Finance committee is meeting tomorrow, We will look for more opportunities to reduce waste and put some savings back into our budget. We will look to resolve some unexplained bills and other financial irregularities. Suh as, the city has been paying AT & T $11,000 per month for services that we do not even utilize. End of the year, the former mayor left us with an unpaid debt of $332,000 caused when he failed to pay the county its share of the Plum Point Energy Station’s PILOT Agreement funds for two years. Also keep in mind, that the city employs 129 full time, 19 part time employees and 9 temporary employees. Our total average base salaries are about $5,485,714. When we add the benefits, that amount could come to about $7,131.428. 3% raise to all city employees. We are holding that head count.
Let’s talk about Raising Revenue.
Our local legislatures, Senator Wallace, Representatives Monte Hodges and Johnny Rye are working to pass legislation that will send sales tax back to us, and all cities in Arkansas when purchases are made through internet sales. We also are looking at ideas to help collect through Osceola District Court some of the nearly $1.2 million in past due fines. To help in collecting some of the fines and fees, the Osceola Police Department and District Court can now accept credit and debit card payments. Regarding the sale of the Fruit of the Loom building, even though the contract for the sale of the Fruit of the Loom building defaulted, we are in negotiations with two industries who are interested in long-term leasing of about 1/3 of the building combined, that could bring in over ½ million dollars a year. And a new company is looking to negotiate with us, a Mississippi River shore lease for property just south of the Riverport. That lease could bring in more than $40,000 per year. Regarding unpaid expenses that we have with the county, I have met with new county Judge John Alan Nelson to collect some of the should-be shared expenses and payments between the city and the county for District Court
On a side note, I cannot thank enough our employees and the department heads and our new council members for their hard work during the last 7 weeks. They are helping to reinstate dormant committees and underutilized commissions to create the task forces needed to revive our city and to give our residents their voice in city affairs. To wrap up, I was proud that we had 18 attendees at the ARML Conference last month. We were noted as having more participants than any other city in Arkansas. Currently, our council members are taking nominations to establish our city committee teams, task forces, Commissions and Authorities. And we, your new council and mayor, pledge to provide a progressive and enlightened leadership with innovative ideas and a renewed focus on community growth and sustained citizen pride. If we can continue the same pace that they have in the past 7 weeks, we will accomplish our measurable objective of increasing the number of residential electric customers by 10% in two years.
“We can do this!”
Do we want to fall into this, the first photo or grown into this, the second photo. I believe that we can do it!
Are you in?