Hope City Board hears last night from public about large-scale project ideas
Several citizens spoke at the public session of the Hope City Board of Directors meeting last night in the City Hall’s Klipsch Auditorium. Video of the meeting is available below. 

A questionnaire asking citizens to rate their agreement with the need for several potential projects had been distributed. Most speakers said they preferred that a new fire station be the first priority due to the importance of public safety but several expressed support for an indoor gym with a pool and for upgrades to Northside Park. 

The meeting began in the City Hall’s boardroom with the opening routines of the invocation, the pledge of allegiance and the acceptance of the minutes from the last meeting.  Then there was a brief recess as the board joined the audience of 73 who had already gathered in the Kliipsch Auditorium. A podium with a microphone was set up in front of the stage. For about an hour, individual citizens and one group took turns commenting on what is needed in Hope. 

Hope City Manager J.R. Wilson told the audience, that nearly filled the auditorium’s seats, to fill out questionnaires on its preferences for projects named.  These included a new fire department building, improvements or renovations to its parks, a turfed soccer field, baseball and softball infields, a new swimming pool, a splash pad, renovations of concessions stands, restrooms, or open areas of athletic fields, tennis courts, pickle ball courts, renovated outdoor basketball courts, and a recreational center. The questionnaire also includes questions concerning the manner of collecting taxes to fund projects. The filled-out questionnaires can be returned to city hall. A photo of the questionnaire will be provided below this article.

Wilson said the session would be the first of many the board would use to gauge the public’s interest in particular projects that would be funded by a small raise in the city’s sales tax. 

The first to speak was Marcia White, Vice President of the Hempstead-Nevada County Chapter of the NAACP. She said the first priority was public safety and therefore the new fire department would be first in importance for her, but that there was a need for a soccer field, and then to make up for longtime neglect of the Northside Park as well, where she favored a splash pad to be built. 

Jodi Coffee said she favored a recreation center but also said she supported “any and all” options suggested in the questionnaire. She also specified that the recreation center include an indoor pool and multi-purpose gym in which pickle ball courts could be set up. 

Several coaches and members of the Hope Piranha swim team came to the podium to emphasize the need for an indoor pool. The coaches mentioned the difficulty of the team having to compete with cities where the kids had year-long access to a pool. If that could be provided in Hope, they said, the schools and the college could develop their own teams and swimming as a sport would grow quickly. Exercise programs for people of all ages would also be possible and more of the disabled could take part in that exercise. 

Clay Lance said he hoped for a walking track, but he would also like to have a new fire department building and he would support a raise in sales tax to fund them. He would also support an aquatic center or something else “to show that we take pride, and we’re moving forward.” 

Oscar Rodriguez spoke about the difficulties at the fire department of having to use older equipment and the inability of the current fire department to house larger trucks. He said that the fire that occurred Monday night on East 17th Street could have been put out more effectively with a taller ladder truck to shoot water down onto the house. (City Manager Wilson would say after the speakers finished that the city has budgeted for a new ladder truck.) 

Sylvia Brown, President of the Hempstead and Nevada County chapter of the NAACP said she was gratified by the attendance and thanked those who had phoned people to get them to come but that city leaders needed to find ways to reach those who were not “digitally connected.” She urged that census information be consulted in the process of planning projects. It showed that Hope’s first through fifth precincts are where most youth live.  She asked that the Thrive Hempstead County plan from three to four years ago be consulted. She also urged that the city come together with the county and with other entities to help with planning and financing.  Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and from the Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act should be accessed. 

Judy Watson spoke next of the need for the next project to include the needs of the elderly and disabled population. She favored an indoor recreation facility. 

Hope-Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Anna Powell said she supported all the projects mentioned on the questionnaire. She also said she knew from serving at EDC that quality of life was an attractant for businesses considering locating here and that for so many Arkansas cities, recreation investment was the key to lifting quality of life.  She also mentioned the difficulties with finding a way her son could have swimming lessons here. She pointed to past successes with major projects like Hempstead Hall and the new Hempstead County Courthouse as showing what could happen if people and entities came together. She also said local industries should be spoken to for support in getting their employees to vote. If a sales tax were proposed, Powell said she would do what she could to see it pass. 

Laurie Morrison said she most favored what was on the questionnaire for the kids but would like to see Hope work on all the projects mentioned.  She suggested a priority be placed first on the new fire department and expressed confidence Hope could be made “a very great place to live.” 

Representative Danny Watson recalled working at the current fire department main building in 1977 and knowing even back then that it was “dilapidated.” He said that because of competition from 75 counties and many cities, Hope needed to keep up.  But he told the citizens gathered of the need to narrow the list of their desired projects down. “Let’s be realistic,” he said.  He also said the citizens needed to be mindful of the reaction of many to the three-letter word tax, urging that the amount of the sales tax could be raised if a sunset clause is included in the ballot item. 

John Miller, of Red River Wrecker Service, said he had moved here in 2000 and that he had learned what was possible in the community through his stewardship of the Watermelon Festival Treasure Hunt which donates funds to children attending Clinton Primary School for Christmas. He said he was gratified by how many businesses were represented in the attendance and urged attendees to make copies of the questionnaire to distribute. He said he had learned from his own community involvement that once the effort was made, good things happened. 

Edmundo Dominguez, assistant coach for the Hope Bobcats soccer and cross-country teams said the city had come a long way toward improving its soccer field. He urged city leaders to reach out to Tyson, New Millenium and others for help on its projects and he believed it was time for Hope to become known for more than watermelons and Bill Clinton. 

Marcia White returned to urge that use be made of the many large abandoned buildings in Hope. 

Wilson thanked the citizens for attending and expressing their preferences. In response to those who had mentioned the need for a ladder truck, he said the city was already in the process of acquiring one. He said he would also be reaching out to the CEOs of local industries as was requested.  He also acknowledged that in the work done three years ago under the name of Thrive Hempstead County an indoor recreation center was prominently featured. About the sales tax, he said the city had allowed for two years to pass since the courthouse tax had sunsetted to give the city a breather. 

Mayor Don Still told those in attendance of the need to sell others on the need for a project and the necessity of the sales tax to fund it.  At that point, the public meeting adjourned and the city board resumed its regular meeting in the board room. 

In other business, which the board took on once seated in the boardroom, the board made appointments. Dennis Ramsey was reappointed for another term to the Hope, Water and Light board. Linda Clark and Catherine Cook were reappointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Kim Hollis was reappointed to the Hope Housing Authority. The board is still waiting for the Advertising and Tourism Commission’s choice to either reappoint or replace Charlton Luker after his term has run out. The board would have the choice to confirm the commission’s pick. 

Next, the board discussed an ordinance to raise sewer system rates. Wilson told the board that the ordinance as it is now was not ready to be voted on, that a new analysis was needed that would account for additional revenue not previously considered. So the ordinance was tabled until next meeting. 

The board will be required to raise rates so the city can continue its eligibility for a low interest loan of $3.4 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund Program, administered by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Division. With that funding, the city can start work on a dredging project at its wastewater pond and a remediation project at its landfill. 

Next, the $20,000 contract of the city with the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce was renewed with one new addition, suggested by Director Kiffinea Talley, that the chamber provide twice annually reports to the board. 

A truck was declared surplus by the wastewater department and will be put up for auction.  Fire Chief Todd Clark requested and was granted permission to apply for grants from the Firehouse Subs company. 

In City Manager’s Report, Wilson said the current city engineer was already making plans for a new fire station without incurring additional costs for the city, but that he favored McClelland Engineers for the greatest part of the engineering work, should the board approve a new fire station. 

Wilson also told the board he could invite a representative from the Little Rock law firm of Friday, Eldredge and Clark to speak at the next meeting about options for language to appear on the November ballot for the sales tax needed to fund any new city project. The board approved this.  Wilson also said he could invite someone from Tyson to talk about particulars regarding the city’s involvement in an industrial revenue bond, which the city board would have to approve, to help fund the building of the Tyson hatchery. This was also agreed to. 

In Citizen’s Requests, Sylvia Brown representing the Hempstead and Nevada County chapter of the NAACP, said two days would be set aside for celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. On Sunday January 14, an interfaith fellowship event will take place at Providence Missionary Baptist Church (3576 Highway 278) starting at 3:00 p.m.  Then on Monday, January 15, a parade, commemoration, tailgate and resources fair will start at 10:00 a.m. at Mount Zion C.M.E. Church (819 E. Hickory St.). 

During the time allotted to questions or comments from directors, Director Trevor Coffee asked about efforts to repair an ongoing drainage problem at the Hope Academy of Public Service. Wilson said he had communicated with the state about it and “the state is looking into one possibility, but we haven’t got the answer on that yet” for where the $11,000 would come from for the problem to be fixed. The attitude seemed to be that since Hope had received $400,000 for the project, it could handle that expense. In any case, Wilson said the problem would be fixed, but not until the matter of who would pay is decided. Mayor Don Still expressed frustration that the city could be made to pay for a mistake not of its own making. 

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