Wednesday, October 04, 2006

TOP STORY >>Vote to decide annexation

Leader staff writer

With Election Day only a few weeks away, a group of hopefuls met in Beebe last Thursday night for a strategy session on a second attempt to double the city’s geographical size through annexation. Included in the group were representatives from the city council, the chamber of commerce, the water commission, the city’s economic director, the planning commission and members of the business community.

Essentially, the group has decided to limit its efforts to selling the annexation to the people already inside the city limits.
The first annexation attempt during a special election last summer was a close 382 to 346 with the majority of Beebe voters supporting it. The hope now is that with a bigger turnout in a November election coupled with an effort to win support of city dwellers will make city voters approve it this time.

Marjorie Armstrong, the city’s economic director, along with Leonard Fort, the city code enforcement officer, have been trying to raise $3,000 to pay for mailing brochures about the annexation to 1,600 homes and for signs promoting it. So far they have raised $2,700, so part of the discussion Thursday night was about who else they could ask for money. All the banks have donated to the cause, Armstrong said, as have some of the real estate businesses.

Herman Blackmon, who has been politically active for about one year and is running for the city council, told the group that since he has been campaigning, he has learned that the elderly people in town are the ones who vote, and what they want to see in Beebe is a hospital.

Others want a community center much like those they see in other cities. “If we can get the people inside the city limits to understand that we’re willing to address those issues, the turnout will be a lot better,” Blackmon said. Another selling point for annexation is that a larger population and room for commercial development could eventually make it possible for Beebe residents to shop without leaving home.

John Hayes, chairman of the water commission, said much of the opposition from residents of the proposed annexed areas was because of Beebe water. The water doesn’t taste good and they don’t want it. The proposed annexed area is served by Southwest White County Water Association, which gets its water from the Little Red River through Searcy.

Hayes said Beebe’s well water does not compare favorably, but the looping of water lines that is now underway in the city should make the water taste better. But there should be no immediate concern about Beebe taking over SOWCO water lines, he said. The water commission can’t afford it.

SOWCO hasn’t expressed a willingness to sell and the city ordinance placing the annexation on the ballot doesn’t promise water as one of the services the city will provide. Promised are the services of fire and police departments and garbage collection. The area to be annexed has not changed since the last attempt. It would still double the city’s size, square up its borders and add about 600 new residents.

But some of the proposed zoning has changed. Last summer, all the land along Highway 64 that wasn’t already commercial was to come into the city as residential, with owners having an opportunity to rezone after the annexation.

Some on the council, especially Mike Robertson, the only candidate for mayor, and Janice Petray, wanted the Highway 64 frontage to come in as commercial to keep down controversy later when property owners tried to rezone. To get the full support of the council and to appease property owners in the proposed area of annexation who don’t want to be zoned commercial, the planning commission recommended and the council agreed to bring in the undeveloped property along Highway 64 as far as Davidson Road as commercial and the developed land as residential, unless it is obviously commercial now.

From Davidson Road to the first big curve on Highway 64, where the proposed annexation ends, would be residential.