BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena Mayor George McKee presented his annual State of the City Address at the monthly meeting of Mena City Council on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The Mayor stated the city had an operating budget of more than $4 million in 2016 and said, “Again, a very conservative approach was taken with our budget predictions for the year in order to continue our current level of city services to ensure revenues were available for any unforeseen expenditures or disasters.”
McKee explained that 2016 saw a 1.1% decrease in city sales tax, with county sales tax being down 1.8%. “It feels the decline was due in part to the overall cautious spending in the nation because of the uncertainty of the pending presidential election. And now that a new president is in office, I am hopeful that we will see our local economy get back on track.”
He praised new businesses that developed during 2016 and with a large increase in building permits (112 for the year), he “feels this is an encouraging sign of a healthy economy.” Also attributing to the growing economy is the Beautification Ordinance. The City’s Enforcement Department took advantage of 1,160 hours from community service workers and were able to tear down seven dilapidated houses and are working on another 17 currently. They also made contact with 107 residents for lot cleanliness and structure issues, and wrote 34 warnings and citations for violations of the Beautification Ordinance.
The Mena Police Department had a busy year, increasing their drug arrests, while decreasing thefts and accidents. A 139% increase was seen in drug arrests in 2016, with a 21% increase in DWI arrests, totaling 109 felony arrests and 355 misdemeanor arrests. The department also worked 270 accidents and completed more than 1,500 reports.
The Mena Fire Department saw decreases in their statistics, logging 145 runs of which 75 were fire related, 13 first responder calls, and 57 required stand-bys at the airport. “The numbers in 2016 show a significant decrease from 2015, which is always a good thing and indicates the department’s fire prevention efforts are paying off,” said McKee.
All parks in the city, Janssen, McMillan, and Tapley, have all received improvements throughout the year, including new or repaired benches, cleaning the ponds, and replacing roofs on bathroom facilities. Improvements are expected to continue. McKee said, “Our City parks are great assets to the entire community. They are widely used for family gatherings, church activities, and company picnics, as well as the many large events scheduled there each year.”
The Mayor reported Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport had a good year, with all hangars being currently rented with new construction occurring and all businesses having “steady growth.” The airport employs 250-300 people. Contracts with military branches “help support good paying jobs with benefits to our area,” said McKee.
He also reported that Mena Regional Health System employs 315 people, paying out more than $17.3 million in salaries, wages, and benefits, and is also doing well.
McKee is proud to have completed the Downtown Streetscape project with the addition of street lamps, benches, and new sidewalks and pavers on North Mena Street and praised the downtown area for continuing to thrive. “Many accomplishments were made during 2016 toward the betterment of our City and I am looking forward to 2017 also being a positive year for Mena. We are blessed to live in a remarkable, diverse community with good people, and we enjoy an amazing quality of life with state-of-the-art schools and hospital, a unique airport, beautiful parks, and a thriving downtown.”
He is optimistic that sales tax will increase in 2017, as well as new retail and industrial development, tourism growth, and new job creation. “I believe our City is successful because we work together and have a ‘cooperative spirit’ to accomplish a common goal of keeping our city strong and progressive.”
He concluded, “I am always mindful that it is the people of Mena that we work for, and I want to give my promise that I take the responsibility of your tax dollars very seriously. I pledge to continue to maintain a careful outlook when managing tax dollars. I work for, and answer to, the people because the City belongs to the people.”