BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena Mayor George McKee gave his annual State of the City Address at Monday night’s City Council meeting. The growing trend of the speech was that all city departments showed great numbers and increases during the year.
He began, “Council members, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, citizens of the City of Mena, I am pleased to present to you the “State of the City” report for the year of 2014.”
He went on to say that in 2014, Mena City Council approved an operating budget of $3,887,000.00. McKee said, “It was another challenging year for cities across the country; however, I took a very conservative approach with our budget predictions and I am proud to say the City ended the year with a strong bottom line.”
Revenues from City and County Sales Taxes again showed growth in 2014. City sales tax was up 1.29% over 2013 and the County sales tax revenue was up 1.45% over 2013. “I feel these are solid indicators that our local economy remains sound. Most cities can’t say this,” said McKee.
McKee also said that numerous new businesses were opened in 2014 including: My Fair Lady Boutique; Adora Bella Salon & Spa; 71 Diesel; Mena Chicago Pizza; Hair & All That Jazz; the Ouachita Center at RMCC; Mena Medical Associates; Indoor Flea Market; Terry’s Service Center; Shoe Craze; Paisano’s; Liberty EMS; the Open Door Salon & Spa; Peaches Wholesale; Z’s Safe & Secure Storage Units; and the Bomb Shell Beauty Salon.
Mena also launched a new city website at: www.cityofmena.org. The mayor encourages everyone to visit the site.
In 2014, there were 5 building permits issued for new residential construction; 52 permits for residential additions/remodels; and 2 permits for new commercial construction for a total of 59 building permits for the year. Other permits issued included 52 for plumbing, 53 electrical, and 35 HVAC permits.
The increased number of permits for 2014 suggests there to be an upturn in the construction industry for Mena.
Giving a report on the Enforcement Department, Mayor McKee said, “The Enforcement Department is always kept busy answering complaints and enforcing the City’s Beautification Ordinance.” In 2014, 25 warnings and 9 citations were written for violations; 5 dilapidated houses were torn down and 20 others are being worked on; a total of 124 contacts were made relative to lot cleanliness and structure issues, with assistance from community service workers; 8 alleyways were cleared of brush and debris; and, numerous right-of-way easements were cleaned.
Mena’s Advertising and Promotion Commission’s mission is to promote our community and oversee the expenditure of funds collected from the Mena A & P tax. The tax revenues are split 50% to be used for advertising and sponsoring festivals and events in our area to enhance tourist visitations, and the other 50% is to be used to assist in the development of Tapley Park. McKee explained, “Our A & P tax collections were up about 1% in 2014 which reflects signs of a healthy tourism trade.”
In addition to promoting Mena in statewide and regional publications; printing and distributing a Mena brochure, the Commission also organizes several very successful festivals and events throughout the year for our area such as the Lum & Abner Festival, the July 4th Fireworks celebration, the downtown Rod Run car show and dance, and the Christmas Festival.
With the support from the Mena A&P tax, Tapley Park has shown growth, hiring a full-time Parks and Recreation Director, Nathan Fowler, and a full-time maintenance employee, Scott Sharp. “Tapley Park continued to improve, grow, and affect the lives of area youth and their families in 2014,” said McKee.
McKee stressed that emphasis at the Park is placed on youth sports such as soccer, baseball and softball. The Soccer Association hosts a spring and fall season each year with 12 teams of over 100 kids each season playing on the fields at the park. Approximately 400 kids participated in the Mena City League baseball/softball program last year with 33 teams from Mena, Acorn, Oden, and Mt. Ida.
Other improvements at Tapley Park included additional hot-mix applied to various needed locations around the flag pole and soccer fields as well as the purchase of a computer, lawn mover, equipment trailer, and field conditioner.
Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport saw an increase in the number of planes coming to the facilites in 2014. Several airport businesses saw increases from 20-25 percent of growth in their business volumes.
McKee explained some of the reasons for the airport’s increases as: more military planes from the Army, Navy, as well as the Air Force arrived at the airport last year for repairs and lower fuel prices led to increased general aviation as a result airport businesses were doing well in 2014. Many airport operators hired new employees with some having a 20% gain.
A complete overhaul of the airport’s Master Plan was accomplished with comprehensive planning and photos to meet Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements. This plan should take the airport well into the next 25 years for future planning. A 90/10 matching grant in the amount of $250,000 was received from FAA to conduct the Master Plan study with the 10% matching share being paid by the Arkansas Department of State Aeronautics.
The Airport Commission has contracted to replace the edge lights on runway 17/35 with new state-of-the-art LED lights (the old lights have been there since the 70’s). The south end of taxi-way Bravo is being repaired and upgraded to accommodate heavier aircraft and substantial renovations were made to one of the older City-owned hangers to bring it up to standards and it is now being rented to Mountain Airframe. McKee reported that all hangers at the airport are now occupied. Airport Manager, Will Robbins, and Danny Thrailkill will be meeting with FAA at the end of March to discuss current and upcoming projects.
The Mena Fire Department responded to 103 fire related calls and 10 first responder and rescue calls last year. With the ever-increasing number of military contracts being awarded to airport businesses, stand-by assistance calls grew to 56 in 2014. A total of 169 runs were logged by the department for the year.
Other Fire Department activities for the year included: 17 smoke alarms being installed during the year from the “Smoke Detector Awareness” campaign started in 2012; twenty-two business inspections were completed during the year, and the City received two grants last year to assist with purchasing rope repelling rescue equipment for the Fire Department. $1,000 was received from Western Arkansas Planning & Development District and $2,000 was received from the Elks.
McKee said, “Fire Department personnel are always at the top of their game when it comes to training.” Last year Mena Firemen received: 1272 hours of certified training from the Arkansas Fire Academy, the National Fire Academy, and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, and 789 hours of in-house training for a total of 2061 hours of training. Additionally, 1 new fireman was certified under the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting program. “I want to remind the community that the tornado sirens are tested every Wednesday at noon,” said McKee.
Mena Regional Health System (MRHS) had an operating budget of $25.7 Million. They paid out $15.8 million in salaries, wages, and benefits, had a net revenue of $27.8 million, and had a net income of $1.4 million. There was $3.8 million of uncompensated care spending in 2014. MRHS had 7,567 total inpatient days; 335 births; 9,322 Emergency Room visits; and had 298 full, part, and PRN employees.
Mayor McKee reported that the healthcare industry continues to change from volume-based to value-based services with major reimbursement cuts. Value-Based Purchasing programs are based on clinical outcomes, patient experience, and process of care and efficiency. MRHS has also implemented streamlined claims processing and denial management processes.
MRHS provided over $43,000 to 10 MRHS employees to further their education in the health field. They continue to serve as a model facility in their class with Quality scores above the 90th percentile and high patient satisfaction scores. They also continue to participate in Hospital Engagement Network for focus on quality improvement and improved clinical outcomes.
MRHS added 2 full-time physicians in 2014. Dr. Richard Eccles (internal medicine) and Dr. Steven Luker (family practice).
The hospital has had significant improvements to their infrastructure. A new computerized air handling system was installed, which will result in electricity savings.
MRHS also moved physicians into Mena Medical Associates Physician clinic office space in September. “This new 10,800 square foot medical office building can house 8-10 physicians for our community, and will serve as office site for specialty physicians seeing patients in our community and allowing for consolidation of all providers in one location,” explained McKee. Also, the Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Unit completed a remodel project with new flooring and furnishings.
Boosting their technology, MRHS achieved meaningful use with hospital electronic health records and implemented an Electronic Health Record system in all Physician owned clinics; installed 64-slice low-dose radiation CT-Scanner; and purchased a new nuclear medicine camera for imaging studies.
“The Lum and Abner Festival and the Christmas Festival were once again very popular large events held in Janssen Park in 2014 and attracted thousands of visitors to our area. Also, the Mena Polk County Chamber of Commerce hosted the first annual Ouachita Fall Festival in Janssen Park in October last year which gave us another opportunity to showcase our beautiful park,” beamed McKee. He explained that various other church activities and community events, such as Easter egg hunts, Wheel A’Mena, and the Talimena 13.1 Run & Relay were also booked at the parks each year. “Many of the Christmas figurines were restrung with new LED lights; some upgrades were made to Janssen Park’s electrical system to assist with the growing needs of festival vendors; and improvements were made at the McMillan Park Swimming Pool with the replacement of the 80 foot pool drainage system,” McKee stated.
Officers of the Mena Police Department completed 1065 reports, made 425 arrests, and worked 280 accidents in 2014.
Mena Police officers and staff received training in 2014 from the University of Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute, Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, Arkansas Crime Information Center along with various other state and federal agencies. Veteran officer Dolores Hutchinson retired in March of 2014 and new officers hired during the year were Steven Stout and Brady Whisenhunt. Officers from the Department presented several public awareness programs to local pre-schools, civic organizations, and churches and sponsored a reserve officer training course in April of 2014 with full student occupancy. Three different law enforcement agencies were represented in the class. Students from the class became members of the Department’s Auxiliary Unit and 1,642 hours of service were donated/ volunteered back to the city.
Continuing their commitment to community service, the Mena Police Department partnered with several local businesses to publish Drug Free, Safety, and Educational books and materials to be distributed to students, parents, and civic organizations. With the support of several area sponsors, the Mena Police Department published a 2014 MPD calendar.
Police Chief Jimmy Doster retired on December 31, 2014, after seven years of service to the Mena Police Department. Brandon Martin was appointed as the new Chief.
“The Department is asking everyone to “LIKE” the Mena Police Department Facebook page,” said McKee.
The City of Mena Animal Control Department answered 1,416 calls for service in 2014, and 454 animals were picked up. The Mayor reported that 188 City pet licenses were issued last year; 398 pets were adopted out; 29 animals were returned to their owners; approximately 2,517 hours of community service workers were utilized in the Animal Control Department; and a new metal storage building was purchased for use at the animal shelter last year.
The Mena Street Department began the year of 2014 by finishing the clean-up from the December 2013 ice storm. Extra contractors were hired to assist the Department and 1,613 large truck loads of limbs, trees, and other storm related debris was hauled away.
Other projects completed by the Street Department during 2014 included an area on South Mena Street was dug up and replaced with concrete after a large box culvert storm drain underneath collapsed causing damage to the street; two 42” culverts were installed on Abner Avenue; three 36” culverts were replaced on Averitt Avenue and the street surface was repaired with concrete; debris was cleared from underneath the Morrow Street bridge; corrected several drainage tiles on Dallas Avenue that were damaged by the May 2013 flood; 176 loads of debris was picked-up during the Annual Spring Clean-Up; and, roughly 87 loads of brush and limbs were hauled in the Annual Fall Clean-Up. Also, a new flail mower was purchased for the Department last year.
“Approximately $400,000.00 was spent on the hot-mix program last year with some major streets, such as Church, Hickory, Magnolia, Petros, 7th, and 9th receiving overlay. Also, just over $100,000.00 was spent on the City’s sidewalk improvement program,” reported McKee.
During 2014, Mena Water Utilities installed 7 new water hydrants, made 27 water main repairs, 146 water service repairs, and 25 sewer main repairs. Additionally, utilizing $270,000 of the special county sales tax, over 1 mile of sewer line and 13 manholes were replaced in the area of Oak Grove Avenue. Five new employees were hired during the year and Mena Water Utilities also completely changed out their water meters and installed a new meter reading system. The wastewater treatment plant had no lab violations during 2014 and the standby generator at the Irons Fork Water Treatment facility was replaced at a cost of $79,000.
Mayor McKee ended the night by saying, “I am looking forward to 2015 being a positive year for Mena. I am optimistic that our sales tax revenues will continue to be up over the year before as we have seen in the past. However, we all must continue to work together to strengthen our economic base through increased retail and tourism trade; industrial recruitment, and downtown revitalization. I believe our City is successful because we have a “cooperative spirit” from all citizens who have a common goal to keep our community strong and progressive.
“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 the City’s budget. I work for and answer to the people because the City belongs to the people.
“The Mayor’s office is open to everyone and I always welcome your comments, concerns, and suggestions.
“In closing, I want to express my appreciation to all City employees. I am very pleased with the accomplishments made during the year because of your dedication and hard work. Teamwork is what makes every organization run smoothly.
I also want to thank the elected officials, the City Council, and all volunteer boards and commissions for your efforts in making Mena a great place to live.”