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Crossett Area Chamber Of Commerce Meet The Candidates Part 2

Today is Part 2 of our “Candidate Conversations”, which is a six (6) part series that began on Friday and ends this Friday. The candidates answers to the leftover questions are presented to you during this series.

Today’s first question is:

Would you support an overall efficiency study for the City of Crossett? Once it is completed, would you work to implement the study recommendations to reorganize and streamline city government?

Dale Martinie:

Efficiency studies are very good and I have had them done numerous times in my career. However, as your Mayor I would not suggest anything like that be done in the near future. We have good programs in place but need to see that they are being implemented according to plan. There will be a period of adjustment while programs and responsibilities are reviewed. As this is done, revisions will be made. Expectations will be set and follow up will occur. These potential changes would be enough to adjust to and improve upon without creating a huge problem for city employees. Efficiency studies are good but are very costly. We will have a very solid and stable information network to pull from to check our performance standards without the use of a study. I will be utilizing very successful city performance from Thomasville, Alabama and will also utilize our neighbors like Hamburg and El Dorado. We do not look to reinvent the wheel or look for something to throw money at. We want to utilize our tax dollars in a positive way so that the tax increases STOP! We should be generating revenue and spending our money wisely. As your mayor, that would be my responsibility and you can rest assured that it will be scrutinized properly.

Sarah Hollimon:

I have mentioned on this social media forum before that asking for outside help can be valuable at times. The timing is very important. Not just because of how costly outside help can be but because we have talent and expertise here in Crossett that has worth. I reiterate that we must use what we have in order to grow our pride.

With that said, I am not opposed to an efficiency study. I would first do a litmus test of efficiency among local opinions. Town hall meetings don’t only cover what the people want to see happen. They can also cover what the people see happening and do not like. As well as what the people see as ways to improve. That’s an efficiency study we can start with.

The second tier of how I would approach an efficiency study would be to put feelers out to see if someone local has experience in these studies and would be willing to donate their expertise. Once that study is complete and we do the work suggested in it, we would move to the third and final tier of how I would enlist an efficiency study: hiring an outsider to look in.

This might come in the form of a state level audit of our finances, an across the board view of our various departments and their logistics and accountability systems, or a look at our infrastructure and what needs fixed now to remain proactive ahead of breakdowns. Or, perhaps all three of those views will be ordered.

There is no doubt that the way Crossett has been operating no longer works for us. Cities evolve just like the times do. What once worked just doesn’t any longer. It is just a matter of being ready for change…positive change in a positive direction. After all, if nothing changes then nothing changes.

David Newberry:

The quick answer to this question is yes, and no. I’ve been involved in such studies from both sides. From my experience you have a group of people come into Crossett, examine everything we do, then make recommendations, according to them, to improve the functioning of the city government. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it can be great, and it can be disastrous.
For example, I want to know the following:
1. Who is this group and what do they know about the efficiency of a city? Do they have personal experience in managing cities? Have they served as the Mayor, the Treasurer, the Clerk, the Police or Fire Chief? Have they served on their City Council? In other words, from where do they draw their knowledge to where they can advise us?
2. We have to consider that any study that is completed will mean possible cuts somewhere, and that is usually with staff. I want everyone to understand that an outside group of people come into our town and recommend we impact the life and family of one or more of our employees. They then leave town and leave the dirty work up to us. I for one do not want to disrupt anyone’s livelihood if at all possible.
3. What is the cost to the city for their services? My thought is that we already have great people in place who work for the City that most likely have some great ideas on how to streamline their job and department. We also have people in our town who have served as employees, City Council members, business owners and other professionals. Let’s draw from their experience and knowledge before we spend a lot of money on an outside group.
I served 25 years ago as a liaison partner with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in an attempt to help stagnant and declining Churches grow. I met with several Pastors and encountered some interesting opportunities. I learned very quickly that the easiest thing in life is to give advice to someone you don’t have to live with. As I met with these various Pastors, it became obvious that (1) I didn’t know the people of his Church or the community in which they lived, and (2) the advice that I would give was based upon my experience in the Churches I pastored, which did not fit their scenario at all. So, I just became a friend to those Pastors and a few of them would call me on occasion to ask advice, which I never gave. I just listened to them vent a few things, then asked what they would really like to see done in their Church and then simply encouraged them to start at that point and see what happened.
So, if the citizens of Crossett believe we need an efficiency study, then I’m all in. Would I make changes based on the study? Yes, but only as long as the people of Crossett were in agreement with the changes. But I sure would like to trust our own people first before we pay some outsiders to tell us what to do.

Kevin Cosby:

In response to having an efficiency study done and implementing the recommendations, I absolutely agree. Having reviewed and assessed numerous jobs and duties with not only GP but Disaster relief companies, I will take an active part in the study. The safe and efficient operation of our various departments and procedures need to be reviewed to ensure effective policies and practices are in place. A streamlined operation is the goal and I’ll help achieve it through a hands on approach. As Mayor, I look forward to serving Crossett. All suggestions are welcome and with an open door policy I will be available to discuss additional improvements. We can and we will. Cosby for Crossett Mayor, August 11.

Crystal Marshall:

An efficiency study would be absolutely welcomed in my administration, and our team would be excited to implement suggested improvements! Improving efficiency and maximizing the taxpayer dollar has been a focus since taking office. Together with our team of department heads and employees we have implemented several changes to improve our efficiency and streamline our processes. This has led to more time availability to begin working on dormant projects such as cleaning up our former Zoo property, Clemmie Wimberly ballpark improvements, Municipal parking lot repairs, worn out sign replacements, painting of rusted traffic light poles and street sign poles and more! We are determined to clean up Crossett and implement all the needed improvements in our town. Another entity helping us reach that goal would be a welcomed partner. We are better when we all work together and together we can accomplish great things for our community!
For more information on what our team has accomplished as I’ve served as your mayor, and previously as a two term councilperson, please check out CrystalMarshallForMayor on Facebook or call me any time at 870-415-0014. I’d love to hear from you and hear your ideas, questions and concerns!

Our second question for the day:

Within our city limits, there are a great amount of houses/properties that are “extremely ran down”, including a few owned by the City of Crossett. Many properties have yards that are unkempt with high grass and weeds, and additionally, some appear to be or need to be “condemned”. What, if any, are your plans for these eyesores in our community?

Dale Martinie:

This is a subject that has been discussed and written about several times through this Mayoral election. It is a definite problem for the citizens of Crossett. As previously discussed, there are well over 100 abandoned properties in the city that need to be dealt with. They need to be torn down or lots pushed up and cleaned. We had good intentions and hired a Code Enforcement Officer that was specifically hired to lead this project. Initially, some progress was made but quickly faded by the wayside. We have to do a better job and utilize our process of notification and then follow up. The property owners of these eye-sores will be expected to take responsibility for cleaning these areas up. None of us want to be home owners or property owners beside these grown up heaps or burnt homes. This is the one thing I have heard more than anything else when speaking to the citizens of Crossett. It didn’t get this bad over-night and it won’t be corrected over night either. However, starting now and holding people’s feet to the fire over such disgusting circumstances will be a win-win for all of us that are proud of our town and what it “WILL BE”. As your Mayor, we will have a successful system in place to rid our town of these despicable, derelict properties.

Sarah Hollimon:

To answer this question, I went back to the print forum in the Ashley County News Observer that included discussion about urban blight in Crossett. My response remains the same:

I think ridding our home of what has become absolute urban blight is key in bringing the morale of the community up. And bringing our morale up is key to what my process as mayor will be toward the overall goal of making Crossett a destination town.

I have approached current city officials on several occasions asking what I can do to help with the unsightly properties that seem to be growing in number. Their answer every time regarded present ordinances that prevent Crossett from dismantling dilapidated structures with overgrown lawns and shrubbery without a lengthy legal process that works against this endeavour.( Let me pause here to point out that ANY time someone in our community steps forward to help we need to enlist that help. Not explain why their help cannot be used. )

To correct this we have to start at the seed of the problem–the ordinances themselves. I will request our city council members rewrite these ordinances in such ways that they work FOR Crossett instead of against us. What good are these ordinances if they serve as roadblocks to progress? What more are we than road blocks to our own home if we have not called for this rewriting already?

Wrapped up in this issue is also unkempt lawns and facades of inhabited homes. We have a large number of homeowners who are not following ordinances regarding unsightly property. Once again, an issue I have discussed with present city officials who tell me the ordinances, when utilized through our county courts, are not being upheld by officials at that level.

If that is the case, I will invite these county officials to Crossett and take them on a tour to show them what their alleged unwillingness to levy proper punishment is doing to our home. I will ask them what we, Crossett, need to do to help make sure our community is being held accountable for its own cleanliness. Because when you work toward a goal and meet it, you feel ownership and will take care of it from then on.

This urban blight is not your problem, her problem, his problem or their problem…it is OUR problem. And WE all need to pitch in toward fixing it. As mayor I will be very willing to lead this cause with a tenacity that will only lead to a better face to put forward for Crossett. Now grab a shovel, and let’s take back our town!

David Newberry:

I counted 108 such properties in doing research for the first question to the Candidates as published in the July 1, 2020 edition of the News Observer. I even paid for an advertisement in the paper giving further detail as to the situation and my solution to fix the problem.
The answer lies in the City/s Property Maintenance Code 11.52.04 that gives reference to the 2003 International Property Maintenance Code. You can download and read this Code on my website: www.newberryformayor.org. The link is at the bottom of the page.
The International Maintenance Code gives our Code Enforcer the “teeth” they need to take action toward all the abandoned and dilapidated houses. To make a very long story as short as possible, it takes money to tear down these houses, especially if they are found to contain asbestos and lead-based paint. I’ve been checking with other cities across our State looking for ways to get this problem remedied without a huge expense to the city. In talking with some of these city employees, it seems that two things are necessary: (1) the people of the town must be behind any and all efforts to remedy the situation because it does cost money, and (2) we cities can ban together and petition he State of Arkansas for potential money, or at least some leeway in the handling of the asbestos and lead-based paint. One of the cities I talked with owns their own landfill and they use the city employees to tear down the houses. This eliminates most of their cost. We don’t have that luxury in Crossett, but we must find a solution that reduces our overall costs.
Another thing we can do is to take over the property from the current owner if they are unwilling to make the necessary changes, then try and give or sell the property to someone who will make the changes. I myself looked at several of these houses as potential remodel projects. The problem is I would have to pay the back taxes on the property, which in all these cases makes the property useless to me. If the Land Commissioner would relax the need for the back taxes (since they aren’t getting any taxes now and won’t until something changes), then it makes the property more appealing to an investor or homeowner.
I guess you could say the problems are many, but the opportunities are great. We just have to choose as a city which way we prefer to go. My idea is to either tear them down and clean up the lot, or possibly sell or give the property to someone who will remodel or rebuild. But whatever we decide to do, we need to get started asap, for it’s only getting worse, not better.

Kevin Cosby:

In response to the unsightly and overgrown properties that are a blight to our neighborhoods, I have a better approach than what we have been doing. First, we will communicate better with the property owner to see what the root cause of the neglected property is. The City process is lengthy and ineffective at the timely removal or cleanup of these properties. Often, the expense of the legal process is not recovered. I intend to work with property owners and incorporate a mix of individuals to assist with the neglected property. We have several local volunteers who are willing to help clean up properties and there are numerous programs that can allow owners to rebuild or tear down the property, depending on the situation. There are usually circumstances that keep owners from cleaning up or tearing down these properties and a simple conversation before notification can result in a better plan for the property and the owner. Instead of threatening to use City resources as a last resort to clean up the property and levy a charge against the owner, we will work to help save these structures and build a better tomorrow. A common sense approach for a better solution. It seems that beautification of our town is the hot point of most residents and candidates, rest assured when a professional landscaper is Mayor, I will make sure we beautify our town. I will use my experience and knowledge to improve our curb appeal to a higher level without excessive expense. VOTE Kevin Cosby, Mayor of Crossett. Early voting begins August 4th.

Crystal Marshall:

Neglected or abandoned properties are compromising the heart and pride of Crossett. These properties are a nuisance for their neighbors and an eyesore to all. The city has made code enforcement a priority, but there is more work to be done. I have learned while collaborating with the Arkansas Municipal League, other mayors, and councilmen, that Crossett is not the only city fighting this issue because the current laws hinder cities from efficiently cleaning up towns. I plan to make cleaning up Crossett a priority, but when addressing this it is important to understand the legal process.
The city addresses these issues in Municipal Code Section 5.04.02-07. First the building official declares a property unlawful. Then notice must be given to the homeowner by a certified letter or hand delivered via law enforcement. This can be difficult, because many properties are owned by non-residents making it hard to locate the owner. If notice is attempted and fails, the notice requirement can be met by publishing an add in the newspaper for two weeks. Constitutional due process requires not only notice, but that the homeowner have an opportunity to be heard should they object. Once notice has been properly given and the lengthy due process satisfied, the city can take action. Demolishing a property requires additional notices such as notifying the ADEQ. Compliance with federal and state environmental laws can add expense. For example, if required, an asbestos test could add $500-$1000. Abatement of asbestos is significantly more expensive, due to the special requirements of removal or disposal. In 2007, the city paid around $4000 to remediate asbestos before the demolition could continue. Then add to that $3500 to $5000 in landfill fees. Another consideration is that certain environmental fees can be waived if the city agrees to not demolish more than one house per block per year. This can be a necessary cost saver for the city, although it slows down a process that so many people want to see move forward.
After the property is cleaned up or demolished, the city can try to recover their expense by filing a lawsuit for a lien against the property, as provided for in Ark. Code Ann 14-54-903. The city can recover their money if the property is sold or when the lien is foreclosed. A second option is to use a procedure stated in the city code that allows the city to recover their money by having the amount added to the county’s ad valorem tax books and collected as a delinquent tax.
Though the hurdles we must jump are extensive, I will continue to work with our council to chip away at these unsightly properties, as we make improvements across town.
My plans going forward involve communication, organization and focusing on growth as we need more revenue and better laws to combat the problem. First, It is essential that we communicate with our representative and senator to keep them apprised of current challenges. It is time for a thorough review of the laws that have been on the books for many years, and we want to work with our legislature and have a voice as they address the changes. Additionally, we should stay in touch with other local leaders facing this issue.
Secondly we should consider organizing a board of council members, business owners, property owners,and professional advisors that meet monthly to specifically address this problem, including the research and communication it will take to solve it. The board would advise the council leading to better local ordinances that will enable fines to be assessed and collected timely.
Finally economic growth and job creation is key. Bringing in more businesses will increase funds available to remedy this problem. I am determined that we will continue to push through the slow process as we fight for a better and more efficient way to clean up our town.

For more information on what our team has accomplished as I’ve served as your mayor, and previously as a two term councilperson, please check out CrystalMarshallForMayor on Facebook or call me any time at 870-415-0014. I’d love to hear from you and hear your ideas, questions and concerns!

Check back in tomorrow, same place, same time, for the next set of questions for “Candidate Conversations”.

Wesley is the owner of South Ark Weather, LLC which owns and operates searkweather.com You may contact him at wesley@searkweather.com

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