The following is the full unedited text of Monticello Mayor Allen Maxwell’s State of the City report, released February 3.
A year ago I reported that the state of our city was one of strength and prosperity.
Commitment to progress and collaboration by our City Council and community leaders, helped Monticello see growth in population, jobs, and sales tax revenue in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression. A luxury many cities throughout our state and region have not had the opportunity to enjoy.
When I reflect on what is the most important asset in our city, there is no question in my mind that it is found in the very nature of our citizens; our strength of “community.” This “community” is an extremely prevailing and positive force that is helping to make Monticello the next great city in Arkansas.
“Community” is exemplified through the cooperation of our community’s volunteers, civic organizations, church groups, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, and local governments. 2013 saw these strategic alliances work for the betterment of our city. I am happy to report in 2013, several long standing projects were completed and made possible through the teamwork of different groups committed under the uniting spirit of “community.”
Using this spirit of “community,” city government reached out to local neighborhoods to coordinate the construction and completion of the Sadie T. Johnson Community Building in Jordan Park and the new Central Fire Station on the Whaley property.
City government joined forces with the county government to utilize equipment from the County Road Department to construct a public access rail spur in our industrial park; making our area become more attractive to new industrial recruits.
These projects would have not been completed in 2013, had it not been for the strength of our community. Because of their completion, now, our fire/rescue services have a new up-to-date facility to effectively & efficiently serve our citizens.
Now, Jordan Park houses our community’s best quality meeting/event venue in the city; that has hosted over 30 events and generated close to $4,000 since its April 15th opening.
Now, as a result of our city’s industrial park having functional rail access, we currently have two large industry prospects interested in relocating right here in Monticello. My office is working hard with the Monticello Economic Development Commission to secure these prospects and continue to work to make our community attractive to industry recruits; and foster an environment for job creation.
These major capital improvements, coupled with new city park upgrades, and the hiring of community planning staff are testaments to your city government’s comment to the future planning and progress of our community. Monticello is a great place to live, and with proper planning and focus, together we can make it that much better. So I say thank you to our citizens for giving us the opportunity to work for you to improve this city.
With this vision & passion of improving our fair city, 2013 saw several other achievements in city management, where we worked to make city government operate more effective & efficient while not compromising quality of service.
We restructured the city’s finance office, hiring employees with finance and accounting backgrounds, restructuring roles to insure a separation of duties for internal accountability, and formally incorporated the finance office into a division of Mayor’s Office lead by an Assistant to the Mayor for Finance. These changes have helped ensure the incorporation of modern finance & accounting practices in the city’s operations. I want to thank our citizens & customers for working with us during this transition.
Know that this transition has greatly improved our city government’s operations.
In our Solid Waste Department, we began a much needed yard waste collection program, which will yield unique services to the public. The city now offers weekly Tuesday curbside collection to residents wishing to participate in the program. By simply contacting our Solid Waste Department before Tuesday, city employees will collect grass clippings, leaves, and small brush throughout the city. Yard waste collected through our program is processed at the City’s composting facility into mulch and high quality compost; and made available free to the public.
Our Solid Waste Department, also transitioned its residential trash collection to a standardized cart system. This new system greatly improved our city’s trash collection; and allows for greater safety for employees and has reduced costs in trash collection. The Solid Waste Department saved over $100,000 in expenditures in 2013 from 2012. Again, I want to thank our citizens & customers for working with us during this transition. Please be reassured that this transition has saved money and provided a more effective & efficient service.
Over all, due to improved accountability of public funds, City Council was able to adopt a 2014 operating budget that represents a $990,000 decrease from the 2013 operating budget. Again, this was made possible by working to make city government operate more effective & efficient while not compromising quality of services.
The 2014 balanced budget adopted by City Council includes over 30 capital improvement projects, a 90 plus employee workforce, and a $12 million of expenditures all matched with projected revenue.
In 2013 we worked as community to help make our city a better place, and made several decisions that will positively impact our city for decades to come. After several years of research and discussion, we were able to make the commitment to conduct a complete overhaul of our city’s water infrastructure. This $10 million project will include renovating and replacing every meter, the majority of pipes, joint and fittings in the city’s water system. As a result, Monticello will have one of the most modern and efficient water systems in the state.
This project is a massive under taking that will take two to three years to complete. Starting March 3rd of this year, old manual meters will begin to be replaced with high-tech electronic meters that will wirelessly report meter readings to our Water Office. After meters are replaced, new water lines will be replaced throughout the majority of the city. Old out dated and dangerous galvanized and asbestos concrete pipes will be abandoned and new lines will be laid adjacent to streets across our city in phases.
I want to ask citizens & customers to work with us during this project. Laying underground water lines is not an easy or attractive process. It will be a messy process. Trenches will have to be dug in yards to lay the new lines, driveways will have to be disturbed; but please be assured that every yard that will have to be disturbed to lay a line, our contractors will return it the way they found it – including laying new sod or pouring concrete. The city is working with our contractors and UAM’s School of Forestry to utilize new boring and treatment techniques that will be used to save every tree we can.
Also be assured that the need to move active water lines away from beneath streets is a great improvement. For years, the city has been unable to repave or resurface city streets where water lines are placed under the street. The heavy equipment used in street repair damages the underground water lines; creating leaks which in turn cause damage to the newly paved streets. By moving the active underground water lines to beside street as opposed to under the street, the city can begin to repave or resurface streets in great need of repair.
This water issue has resulted over decades from deferred maintenance by the city that has allowed small projects to build into 10 million plus dollar problems due to neglect. This year, I will ensure that, the city will finally address many of similar problems.
Since 2008 the city has known about a potential threat of lead paint exposure to our drinking water at the Burlington Water Tank. Currently, engineering is being done on the structural integrity of the legs of the water tank. These repairs will be completed in this year to allow for the repainting of the tank and ensure the safety of our community’s drinking water.
For several years, the bridge on Jackson Street near the intersection of Conley has had structural integrity issues which have required a limited load capacity. Currently the bridge is unsafe for larger vehicles, like school buses and delivery trucks, to cross it. This year the city will replace the bridge with a more modern wider & longer design that insures the safety of our community and maximizes its utilization.
The city will also address the mold issue in City Hall and the Police Station’s basement in 2014. For decades, due to deferred maintenance and neglect, simple building maintenance has developed into issues that now have compromised the basement’s structural integrity that allows moisture, and sometimes gallons of water, in the basement. This has created a paradise for mold spores. No longer will our city’s public servants, police officers, or emergency response teams be allowed to work under these conditions.
2014 will also see an increase use of technology in city operations to help improve the accessibility and experience for our citizens and customers.
Our Solid Waste Department will begin to use GPS technology to better navigate and develop more efficient routes for its fleet. We hope to save 15% to 20% in waste collection costs over 2014.
On top of utilizing high-tech electronic meters that will also cut operating costs in the Water Department, by the Fall of this year our city’s water customers will finally be able to pay their water bill in the office and online with a debit or credit card.
In 2014 the city will revisit and launch a new community website: monticelloar.org; that will offer more useful content with better navigation and access to information. This site will be designed to be a one-stop-shop for information for our community. A portal for visitors, community members, citizens, and economic development recruits will be available all under one roof.
As we celebrate the 161st year since our city fathers founding our community, your local government not only works to preserve our city’s heritage and values, we will work, as the fathers did, to plan for our community’s future.
2014 will be a year focused on community development and community planning. For the past three years, your city has focused on building our economic development capacity. We have made investments in industry recruitment, strengthened our revolving loan fund for small businesses, developed a business retention & expansion program, and have finally recognized property cleanup as a priority for community growth.
With a strengthened economic development program, it is time we bring attention to building a new community focused plan. Community Plans are intended to be guides for local governments and developers on how the community sees itself growing, and goals to achieving that vision. For Monticello, its development strategic plan was written in 1987. It’s time for a new vision. If Monticello wants to continue to grow, we need a 21st century vision that includes both community and economic development plans for our future.
Beginning January 6, city planning staff started working on such a plan. The planning process is designed to capture the vision of as many citizens as possible. Staff is collecting community survey submissions, conducting one-on-one interviews a wide-spread of community members, and planning community-wide town hall forums in February & March.
The city focus for 2014 will be centered on a theme of placemaking. The goal of placemaking is to cultivate a location where people happen to live and work, into a place where people naturally are attracted to come together and experience community.
Park projects and initiatives already underway include the reconstruction of a city skate park, completing the walking trail at Lake Monticello, and making improvements to the ADA and handicap accessibility throughout our park system to help make the community experience better for every Monticellonian.
I am proud to report that the state of our city is strong; and it continues to strengthen daily as we work together, as a community, to make Monticello not only a great place, but a great place to call home.