Mayor Kinslow: “State of the City is Strong and Resilient”

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Greenwood Mayor Doug Kinslow gave his State of the City address during the regularly scheduled city council meeting held on Monday evening, March 1 at 7 p.m.

The annual speech by the mayor drew a crowd at city hall. The large meeting room overflowed out into the hallway as citizens came eager to hear the heartfelt address.

Good evening everyone I am thankful that you are here tonight. Every year mayors are required to report to the council the municipal affairs of the city and recommend such measures as may seem advisable within the first ninety days. 

Tonight, I will be reporting the 2021 State of the City.

I would like to thank and acknowledge our City Council AC Brown, Tim Terry, Lance Terry, Rod Powell, Ralph Meeker, Daniel McDaniel, City Attorney Mike Hamby, City Clerk / Treasurer Sharla Derry, and my Executive Assistant and HR Director Danielle Smith.

Finance Director Tom Marsh, Police Chief Will Dawson, Fire Chief Stewart Bryan, Street Director Dennis Goodwin, Parks Director Tammy Briley, Planning Director Sonny Bell, Water Director Tim Posey, Waste-Water Director Greg Cross.

Water Waste-Water Chairman Commissioner John Bailey, Planning Chairman Commissioner Tommy Basham, Parks Chairman Commissioner Joel Goldstein, and Chamber of Commerce Director Bob Purvis.

After many years of service, our Building Inspector/Permit Writer Don Oliver retired and we have hired Hunter Mikles to replace him. Carla Irwin retired from the Water Department after 18 years.

I would like to thank my family and gorgeous wife Pam, who after 27 years retired as a kindergartener teacher.

Every Generation has their test. Our parents and grandparents experienced the devastation of the 1968 Tornado. Once again, we were reminded how the City of Greenwood and its people have a resilient spirit.

I would like to report that the State of our City is Strong and Resilient.

2020 was a tough year economically and emotionally as people lost friends and loved ones. There is only one way to say it, 2020 was a struggle.

I know for myself one of the best parts of being mayor is being able to visit and communicate one on one with citizens from our community, whether playing Santa Claus, cutting hair at Pink Bud, or mentoring elementary students.

Although I miss this part of my job, in the grand scheme of things, they are small sacrifices, which will only be temporary.

We have all had to make adjustments to our everyday lives. Throughout the pandemic, we have learned how to adapt and gained a greater appreciation for family, friends, and our community.

As Amanda Gorman, America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, proclaimed, “While we might feel small, separate, and all alone, our people have never been more tightly tethered. The question’s not if we will weather this unknown, but how we will weather the unknown together.”

Adaptations

We had to make changes to many of our yearly city activities and create new ways to interact with the citizens of Greenwood.

The Chamber of Commerce, Parks, Fire, and Police Departments participated in socially distanced community events including, the East Pointe Teachers Parade, Birthday Drive-bys, Veterans Parade Drive-thru, and the Westwood PTO Christmas drive-thru parade.

For our drive-thru Halloween Trail at Bell Park, a generous donation from Farmers Bank allowed the Chamber to give long-handled butterfly nets to each vehicle in order to maintain social distancing. 

They held their nets out the window as they passed by each station and the treats were placed in the nets. We also did a reverse Chamber Christmas Parade where floats, vehicles, and bands lined up through-out the grounds of the High School, and the families drove past the parade. 

Both events were incredibly successful, people were just happy to be out doing something or anything, and extremely appreciative. 

For the first time since the 1968 tornado, the City of Greenwood was shut down during the quarantine. In order to address this unprecedented crisis, we formed the Greenwood Re-Opening for Business Task Force consisting of business, education, and community leaders.  

Working with the Chamber of Commerce, Greenwood School District, A&P Commission and Economic Development Committee we implemented a “Grand Re-opening” campaign.  Posters, billboards, and banners were hung around town and at businesses as the re-opening rolled out.

Dr. Brandon Chase Goldsmith produced a video series featuring Dr. Lee Johnson and I, providing information on State and Health Department guidelines in order to assist our citizens in navigating the new realities of the COVID pandemic.

The task force received Statewide publicity as we became the first community to produce an organized re-opening campaign. We were officially recognized by the State of Arkansas receiving the Volunteer Community of the Year Award for our civic engagement initiatives.

The Economic Development Committee stepped up in a big way when the city needed them the most.

Therefore tonight, I am excited to announce 5 new members: Joanna Brandt, Sean Lin, Buddy Loyd, Abbie Lejong, and Farrah Shoppach, who will help Greenwood’s continued recovery as we plan for a future beyond COVID.

The city requested and secured CARES Act Funds from the State of Arkansas, in the amount of $351,658.07 to assist and offset the financial needs to the city created by the Covid-19 public health emergency.

These funds financed distanced meetings and telework technologies, PPE, modifications to municipal offices, and most importantly covered Patrol Officer Payroll.

We are thankful to our City Clerk, Sharla Derry, whose technical knowledge help those of us who aren’t as computer savvy, adapt to the concept of Zoom meetings and working from home, which was especially valuable when we had to close City Hall twice.

In order to ease financial burdens, the Water Department discontinued shutoffs during the quarantine. Additionally, they established a water bypass, check valve, which was utilized while James Fork was offline during the recent weather event. 

An unexpected outcome from people staying at home and in-town, actual Tax Revenue Growth exceeded 2019’s revenue by 3%, with City Sales and Use Tax up 16.1%.

Approximately 9% was from online sales and the remaining amount resulted from people supporting local businesses more frequently.

The city closed 2020 with total funds of $13.33 million, which reflects a 30.7% growth versus budget.

2020 was the year for the annual United States Census. I am happy to announce that Greenwood improved its self-reporting percentage by nearly 10% over the 2010 Census and finished far ahead of the entire region and in the top group of reporting cities in Arkansas.

Our census count is not just a statistic it translates into real dollars for our city. Unfortunately, due to delays at the federal level, we do not have our 2020 population totals at this time.

Another count we are looking forward to, Jen’s Kitty Rehab in partnership with University Arkansas Fort Smith will be working to create a census of stray and feral cats. Having an estimate, even of the minimum number, of free-roaming cats allows us to understand the extent of our over-population problem.

This will also assist us in tracking the effectiveness of any programs, such as Trap-Neuter-Return, we implement to reduce the population.

Appreciations

Over the course of the pandemic, we have increased our appreciation for nurses, doctors, and essential workers. While we were sheltering in place, they were on the frontlines facing the virus head-on from hospitals to supermarkets. 

Parents especially learned to appreciate all the work teachers do to educate our children.

The Greenwood School District continues its excellence in education and sports ranking the #1 Best Place to Teach, #2 Best School District, #2 Best Place for Athletics, and #2 Best Teachers in all of Arkansas.

Our student-athletes won State Championships in Girls Cross Country, Varsity Football, Varsity Volleyball, Wrestling, and Girls Basketball. Thank you, educators, for all your hard work during these difficult times.

First responders have demonstrated their commitment to our community during COVID by putting their lives on the line to protect the public. Chief Will Dawson responded to a medical emergency and came upon a son giving his mom CPR.

He rushed to the scene taking over the attempts at resuscitation. Regretfully the patient did not survive and it was later revealed she passed from COVID complications.

In his rush to save her life, Chief Dawson accidentally forgot his mask and had to be quarantined. He and other first responders not only continue to safeguard our city but at the risk of their own personal health and safety.

For example, two officers saved the life of a gunshot victim providing chest seals and bandages to control the bleeding. Officers also dealt with a barricaded suicidal subject with a gun, whom they were able to convince to peacefully surrender. Instead of arresting the person, they sought out alternative treatment through the VA.

Additionally, some of our officers were called upon by the Arkansas National Guard to assist with Domestic Operations in Little Rock. 

Our Fire Department increased their Firefighter 2 certifications from the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress to 92%, a very uncommon but highly recognized achievement for a combination department.

For the 11th straight year, we have been nationally recognized as a Firewise Community and as a “Ready Set Go” community for 8 years.

Last year, our city improved to a Class “2” by the ISO Public Protection Classification Program placing Greenwood in the top 5% of all communities. An ISO 2 Classification will lower individual and business insurance rates, saving our citizens overall around $300,000.

The Fire Department recently celebrated the retirements of Captain Stanhope Wilkinson, Assistant Fire Chief Roger Corbin, and Firefighter Randy Davis. I would like to congratulate Will Robinson for being our Firefighter of the Year.

During the pandemic, our citizens have gained a greater appreciation for our parks and trail systems. These amenities provide people places to go where they can escape to the outdoors and socially distance in a safe environment.

In response to demand, 4 Pickleball Courts were added to Bell Park. And all the phases of the Promenade have been completed increasing the park’s walkability. A new wheelchair-accessible swing, inspired by Miss Kennedy Holland, was added in June.  She raised over $3700 and donated her time to make this project a reality. 

Eagle Scout Dax Lewis completed a trail extension that begins behind the #1 Pavilion and connects to the City Walking Trail. Eagle Scout Trey Smith completed a very large expansion bridge on the upper east loop of the Greenwood Lake Trail System.

A new bench, donated by the Clements family, was added to the City Walking Trail. And a beautiful rock table in the memory of Mr. Fred Kinslow was made possible through local donations by friends and family.

Aspirations

Over the past year, our lives, jobs, and communities have been interrupted by COVID, some more tragically than others. Almost no one has been untouched by the pandemic.

This last week we joined the country in lowering our flags to half-staff in memory of the over half a million people, just in the United States, who have lost their lives. One way to honor them, is through hope, a hope for a better future.

In looking forward, our goal is to become a city that leads the way, through innovation, infrastructure, and a willingness to be open to new ideas.

One out-of-the-box project that was brought to the city by the Planning Department and approved by the City Council is the $1.78 million construction of two solar array sites funded by Scenic Hill Solar, which will provide power to our municipal buildings. Scenic Hill Solar projects an average saving of $67,000 per year.

Even if they do not meet their savings estimates, it’s the right thing to do. We will become an example not only to our community but our region.

The current 2021 City Budget as approved is $13.5 million. Committed capital spending during 2021 is budgeted to be $4.7 million.

A total of $2.4 million in new capital expenditure and improvement costs have been budgeted with $2.3 million in expenses carried over from projects that were delayed due to the health emergency in 2020.

The highly anticipated Highway 10 Spur Sidewalk development, mostly funded by the highway department, and the 10 Spur / Highway 71 stop light are scheduled for installation this year by ARDOT.

Another design that has been in the works that will finally be going up are Wayfinding Signs; one on the west entrance to Greenwood at 10 Spur and another on the east side of town on Highway 10. They will direct visitors to our attractions and educational facilities.

Last year, the Parks Commission approved the purchase of 19 acres to expand Bell Park. A master plan for the expansion, which includes amenities such as a splash pad, skate park, disc golf course, and an outdoor education facility is being considered.

Notwithstanding the nationwide economic slowdown, our Planning and Building Department saw an increase in the construction of Mixed and Multi-Family homes since the City Council approved the R-5 zoning for older areas of Greenwood.

Our city continues to grow even with the limited amount of available land within our boundaries.

One of my goals as Mayor has been to attract new businesses and retain the companies we have.

I am excited to see local entrepreneurs, like The Cup Runneth Over, Rub ‘em Tender, Lead Valley Gun Works, Chilangos Taco Grill, and franchises such as Waffle House open new ventures in our city, especially during the current economic climate.

Corporations are also reinvesting in our community. Subway shut down for several weeks for a remodel but will soon be open with a drive-thru window and Arby’s has plans to do a remodel this year.

Another promising development is the upgrading of older building, which will reinvigorate our town square and downtown business district.

Building infrastructure makes growth possible. We need to plan for and invest in our future. Last year, we completed the 71 Corridor Water and Sewer Project from Liberty Drive to Denver Street and crossing under Hwy 71 for the first time in our city’s history.

This will pave the way for the construction of Fire Station #3 and be a step towards expanding our west side economic corridor along Hwy 71.

On the east side we are widening Mt. Harmony road to add a turn lane that will improve traffic flow at the entrance of the elementary school.

Plans are being finalized to annex Greenwood Lake into the city. The parks department will be making improvements to the boat ramp parking area, installing maps and signage for trails, and adding our first ever public restrooms at the lake.

Now on to my favorite subject, since I came to office, Traffic Relief. The Trey Burgess Memorial Highway is officially listed on ARDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program or STIP, which is a big deal.

During 2020 the Traffic Relief Bond, passed by a wide majority of voters in 2019, was successfully negotiated and closed. Our citizens voted to pay off the Police Station bond and use the funds for traffic relief.

We have now met our obligation of $5 Million to the state, which was a requirement for us make it onto STIP. Currently the highway bypass is estimated at $26 Million, but as we all know with any construction project that can change. However, what will not change is our portion.

Closing Thoughts

One afternoon I came to my office during the shutdown. An eerie peacefulness was in the air, as everyone was sheltered in place and our businesses were closed.

What would normally be the end of a busy school day with the roads packed with parents and students – all was quiet.

I realized how fragile we are as people and how quickly circumstances can change. 2020 has taught us many lessons.

What I learned is how much I love the City of Greenwood and you, our citizens. We are truly, all in this together. We are what make this city.  Without us it is simply empty buildings and roads.

I’m blessed more than ever to serve as your mayor. And my commitment to make our city better than ever was strengthened by the struggles of last year.

Thank you again for letting me serve, and May God Bless Us All.

Mayor Doug Kinslow with Brandon Goldsmith (left), Gabe Hobbs (right) and Jake.

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