Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TOP STORY >> Issues for trio key to victory

Leader staff writer

Answering a second round of questions from The Leader, the candidates in the Sherwood mayor’s race — Mayor Virginia Hillman, Don Berry and Doris Anderson — shared their thoughts on a new library, establishing a standalone school district, economic development and more.

About the Nov. 4 vote on a proposed 1.3-mill increase — roughly $200 per year for

the owner of a $150,000 home — to fund the construction and furnishing of a new library, Hillman said, “It’s a ballot issue. It’s a choice of the public. My vote counts as much as another person’s vote. We all have a vote, and I would encourage people to exercise their vote on it.”

If voters approve the tax for a new library, the mayor continued, the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) would appoint a committee to run public hearings on its design, location and other details. The public would be asked for their input at those hearings, and the city would not administrate that project, she noted.

But Sherwood does have an appointed representative, Mike Berg, on the CALS Board of Trustees, the mayor added.

Hillman also said she wasn’t involved in the council’s decision to move the election from a special election date to the general election date.

The current Amy Sanders Library, built in 1989, has not room to expand, doesn’t have enough parking and has run out of room for children’s programs, the mayor continued.

While the city owns the building and pays its utilities, CALS furnishes the library and pays the staff’s salaries, she said.

Hillman continued, “There’s a possibility that (CALS) may not continue, in the future, maintaining our library, if we’re not willing to make improvements to the building…We’re getting a very good service for our citizens with CALS operating that library, and we are not financially able to operate our own library in the manner that they do. Those are just some things to consider, not a scare tactic.”

Berry said he was pleased with the date of the election being moved.

But, he noted, “Like nearly every single private citizen of Sherwood, I have no idea what the library envisioned by CALS and our library proponents will be like or where it will be.”

Berry said he fears twice as much will be spent on a library that is just like the one in Jacksonville. “We need to be creating an attraction that makes Sherwood a destination. We need to be raising the bar,” he said.

The candidate questioned whether citizens want more than a library, such as a knowledge and technology center that ties a CALS-operated library into a site that shares space with local middle, high and vocational school programs.

He also wondered if the city could partner with the Museum of Discovery to have an attraction that includes interactive learning exhibits.

Anderson said she is opposed to the current city administration’s effort to increase property taxes and real estate taxes as a way to fund facilities and infrastructure.

“There are urgent needs and issues that the city should address, and priorities must be set. An unbiased citizen survey would reveal issues that matter most to the people of Sherwood, and that should direct the city’s actions. Ask the people what they want,” she concluded.


All of the candidates support the Sherwood Public Education Foundation’s effort to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District and form a standalone school district.

Hillman said she had been involved since the get-go, attending every meeting of the foundation’s committee.

She said the foundation had already acquired a feasibility study showing it’s financially feasible for Sherwood to have its own school district and that the city detaching would not significantly impact the racial balance of PCSSD.

The federal desegregation case settlement approved by all parties in January allowed Jacksonville, which had been pushing to detach for 30 plus years, to break away from PCSSD. But it halted other detachments until after PCSSD is declared unitary — desegregated.

Now that Jacksonville has voted to detach, Sherwood faces another obstacle. A state law requires that the school district being detached from have at least 15,000 students.

PCSSD won’t have that when Jacksonville takes up to 4,500. Any proposed school district must have an enrollment of at least 4,000 to detach.

But supporters of a Sherwood school district have approached legislators to amend the law to allow their detachment after PCSSD is declared unitary.

Hillman said, “We’re going to continue working. We are closer than we’ve ever been. Now, we’re still a ways off, but we’ve made great progress.”

She has a lot of faith in the foundation’s diverse, appointed committee and its co-chairs, former PCSSD administrators and teachers Linda Remele and Beverly Williams.

Hillman also emphasized the importance of being involved in schools now.

“I have had a lot of educators comment to me that they appreciate the support that I have, that I give to the public school system,” she said.

The mayor volunteers at Cato Elementary School on Wednesday mornings, reading to kids as part of the Our Kids Read tutoring program.

Hillman added that she has encouraged city employees to spend one hour per week volunteering at local schools. “In my time here at the city, our chamber has also become more involved. We’ve all become involved in education, and I’d like to think I’ve had a part in that. Good schools make good business and vice versa.”

Berry agreed. He said, “The No. 1 determinant to a viable and economically growing community is for that community to have local control of its public school system.”

Berry said he has said that since 2007 and supports the following:

 The foundation’s first objective of working within the plan for PCSSD to achieve unitary status.

 The Jacksonville/north Pulaski community’s campaign to begin its school district.

 The foundation selecting interim school board candidates, vetting them through aldermen and working directly with the next governor and the state Education Department to make sure the candidates are appointed when the time comes.

 That interim board shadowing the Jacksonville/north Pulaski interim school board to “school themselves on the issues Sherwood will encounter next.”

Berry continued, “We have much work ahead of us to get to that great day when we have local control, but that day will be here sooner than we expect. That’s when the really hard work begins, but the reward to our community, to our school system staff and to our future — our children — will be justifiably achieved.”

Anderson said, “I support local control of schools, and would support a Sherwood school district.”


Hillman said, during her term, the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce and the city worked in collaboration to hire an economic developer. “That partnership is working very well for the city. I think that is very evident.”

In the last few years, new businesses that have come to Sherwood include, but are not limited to, Custom Aircraft Cabinets, TeleTech, CVS Pharmacy, Mapco, Buffalo Wild Wings, On The Border and Ace Hardware.

A Harp’s grocery store is slated for Gravel Ridge and there is a new 5,300-square-foot retail at the North Hills Shopping Center, and Whit Davis is opening a store on Brockington Road.

The mayor continued, “We are positioned for growth. We have a lot of undeveloped property to the north that is very attractive for growth.”
She noted that the first phase of a residential development near Oakdale and Brockington roads includes more than 80 homes with the project eventually slated to bring more than 800 homes.

That development will include a 10-to 15-acre park with a fishing lake that developers have agreed to donate to the city, Hillman said.

She also touted work that is underway to build a park in Gravel Ridge on Glade Road off North Valley Drive, which intersects with Jacksonville Cutoff.

Hillman said the property was eventually donated and the city didn’t have to pay back taxes on it. Getting that deal was a long process, she noted.

The mayor also said the city has received a $30,000 grant to build the park. Workers were installing playground equipment there a few weeks ago.

And another park is underway at the Stonehill Subdivision off Brockington, Hillman added.

Berry said, “The most critical component of economic development is in having a quality, trained, technologically-oriented workforce available. I don’t support enticing businesses to an area with tax breaks or other financial perks.

“If we have money to spend as a city or region, we need to focus on our young people and attracting young people from elsewhere to come here for the opportunity we provide them,” Berry said.

The candidate said that starts with strengthening the school system to produce high-quality graduates.

Berry continued, “Sherwood has the oldest demographic in central Arkansas. We need to change that, not only to grow, but to protect the future of our existing citizens and their property values.”
He would like to see technology, information technology and aerospace companies in Sherwood in addition to other light industry.

“We don’t need to import all our businesses. Our smart people here, our new graduates, can be the innovators and incubators of our future growth,” the candidate said.

Anderson said, “Sherwood has outstanding opportunities for growth and development. The economic development partnership with the chamber should be continued.

“A strong alliance with regional and state partners would increase visibility of Sherwood as a strong candidate for prospective businesses, employers and developers. Markets, restaurants, hotels and destination shopping centers are needed the meet the expectations of today’s consumers.”


Hillman said, “One of the greatest strengths that we have is our potential for growth. Our new motto is ‘close to the action, far from the noise.’ We are an attractive option for people.”

She counted the implementation of automated trash pickup and curbside recycling among the accomplishments of her administration. The mayor noted that the trash trucks would be paid off this month or next month.

Hillman also said the city hired more police officers, adjusted their salaries to better compete with other agencies, increased the percentage of streets being overlaid and annexed Gravel Ridge with 73 percent of its residents voting to join Sherwood instead of Jacksonville.

The mayor was also proud to announce that the Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that usually does not endorse candidates, has endorsed her.

Hillman then touted the Roundtop filling station restoration project, an effort funded mostly by grants and donations.

Berry said, “Sherwood’s main strengths are its people, its location and its untapped resource – land.”

Anderson said, “Citizens and city employees are the strongest advocates for Sherwood, and the city’s most valuable assets.”

She continued, “Sherwood has a strong sense of pride, community and volunteerism; and we should capitalize on that.

“Sherwood citizens give thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours to charitable efforts because they care. Community spirit and fellowship run deep. Sherwood firefighters are overwhelmed by support during their ‘fill the boot’ efforts for MDA and ALS,” Anderson said.


Hillman said, “We have always been…very dependent on sales tax.”

The mayor said the city should diversify its revenue streams.

She touted the council’s recent vote to levy franchise fees on utility companies and said bringing in more new businesses would help.

Another option for Sherwood would be to charge more for services. But, the mayor said, “There’s got to be a balance between what they cost and what people can pay.”

Hillman concluded, “We’ve done well with what we have.”

Berry said, “(The city’s) weakness is a malaise brought about by a perspective that we are just a bedroom community. Leadership has let opportunities pass, such as the North Belt and not taking the lead on establishing an independent school system sooner.

“We cannot be a follower any longer. Sherwood must lead, and we have the talent and the room to grow to be the top destination for business and residential growth north of the river.”

Anderson said, “The salaries of city employees should be reviewed and compared to other communities. Adjustments for competitive salaries to keep trained and experienced employees may be necessary.

“The loss of police officers and other city employees to other cities and counties for better pay and benefits is detrimental to the city.”


Hillman said, “The mayor’s job, part of it, is the day-to-day operations of the city.”

She noted that Sherwood has very capable employees and department heads.

The mayor said, “We are the touch point” for citizens to have their needs addressed.

She said, “That’s what we’re here for.”

Hillman also said discussion of impact fees ended in January 2012, when the council tabled indefinitely the ordinance adopting them.

Berry said impact fees are charged to developers for the capital infrastructure needs that the city and citizens would have to pay for otherwise.

The candidate said that makes sense to him but continued, “Is there an adverse impact of these fees making Sherwood developments more costly? Perhaps, but consider this: If developments come with functioning attractions in a community well designed and a city resourcing itself to grow and become stronger for all citizens, including those in mature Sherwood and developing Sherwood, that is a good story to be telling businesses that consider moving here.”

He also said the city should consider all aspects of how impact fees may help Sherwood grow without burdening residents or funds being pulled from existing programs to pay for new infrastructure.

One of Berry’s final thoughts were that leaders must listen.

The candidate said he would obey the law, uphold ordinances, integrate the fire districts into a city program and serve as Sherwood’s “freedom of information officer.”

Anderson doesn’t support impact fees because they increase the prices of houses and development and are passed on to new homeowners. “Keeping home prices affordable and competitive with other communities is important in helping Sherwood to continue to grow,” she said.

Anderson continued, “A safe city is the No. 1 priority of every city. Without a safe city, you do not have neighborhoods where people want to live, work, shop and participate in community activities.”

She said, “There are infrastructure needs that must be addressed. Road repairs, drainage issues, added sidewalks, curbs and gutters, city beautification and parks and recreation are some areas that should be addressed through budgeted and planned programs.”

The candidate noted, “Basic needs must always be addressed first. The city has spent thousands of dollars on master plans, and these need to be reviewed to move forward with some of the recommendations in those plans. Master plans should help guide the city to address other deficiencies.”

Anderson said every department head should give an oral report at each council meeting and city offices should be open for business at times that are convenient for citizens.

Sherwood should also publish a directory on its website and make online services available so that businesses and residents can interact with the city government, Anderson said.

She concluded, “People need access to city leaders. We all should communicate and work together for Sherwood.”