Wednesday, February 15, 2006

TOP STORY >> Lonoke looks beyond scandal

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT:The town may be reeling by the recent arrests of its mayor and police chief, but despite his misdemeanor arrest, the mayor is still in charge and says the best is yet to come.

A maze of opportunities and problems face the town of Lonoke, Mayor Thomas Privett told the city council Monday in his state of the city address.

The future is bright, he said, despite a misdemeanor charge against Privett for having an inmate hang Christmas lights at his home and work on an air conditioner, and a bevy of felony charges against Lonoke Police Chief Jay Camp-bell, resulting in his resignation, but Privett said the city was moving beyond those problems.

Privett has named Campbell’s second in command, Capt. Sean O’Nale, interim chief of police and has met with the officers to tell them he had full confidence in them.

“My goal is to build or rebuild trust in this community between the police, the businesses and the residents,” said Privett.
“I’m really proud of our police,” said Privett. “Our crime rate was reduced 25 percent in 2005.”

Growth is brisk at three new subdivisions in the town, said Privett, resulting not only in more property taxes, but an increase in water sales of $40,000.

Lonoke’s new middle school will open next year after the Christmas holiday and the old middle school will be converted for use as a vocational school, perhaps in partnership with ASU-Beebe and for adult education classes, he said.

The four-year-old Lonoke Community Center continues to add classes and plan for expansion, said the mayor.

“The key is money,” Privett said, noting that the city is currently getting $42,000 a year in tower rental from two wireless carriers.

Sales tax revenues were up slightly and bound to increase by about $100,000 a year once the receipts from a new 2-cent hospitality tax start getting to the city park budget, probably in July.

The town’s ballparks are in good shape and getting better under the direction of director Roy Don Lewis, and a state tournament will be held in Lonoke this year, he said.

Thanks in large part to the growth of Cabot, Lonoke’s share of the county sales tax is up as well, the mayor pointed out.
The city expected and budgeted about $272,000 in county takes, but now it appears its share will be about $400,000.
Laster and Laster, a startup local company that invented and manufactures a device to make it easier for truckers to hook up tandem trailers, opened recently and employs about nine people. Eventually it should employ more and generate sales tax, said the mayor.

The Thomas James Trust donated the old Movie Gallery building to the city.

Privett says Cong. Marion Berry and Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor are helping make a new I-40 interchange at state Hwy. 89 on the east end of Lonoke a reality. Privett and others are meeting frequently with representatives of the state Highway Department.

Privett said the town would already have landed one or more manufacturers had they been able to promise a completion date for the new interchange.

Privett said work also had been done to make the land adjacent to that eventual interchange more attractive as an industrial park to potential manufacturers.

The town’s new water clarifyer and repaired aerator are providing residents with cleaner water and saving the city about $150 a day through more efficient operation, he said.

The amount of rust in the water has fallen off from .04 parts per million to a paltry .002 parts per million, he reported.
“We’ve got a lot of balls in the air, a lot on our plate,” said Privett.

“The best is yet to come,” he insisted.