It is my pleasure to spend a few minutes sharing my thoughts on what is in store for the City of Van Buren during the coming year. My thanks to The City Wire for this opportunity and I appreciate the regional outlook of its staff.
There are four major projects that top the list for the coming year. Those four, in no particular order, are the completion of the public library; the certification of the Arkansas River levee system in Crawford County; the start of construction of the Rena Road improvements; and the formation of a regional intermodal authority.
The Van Buren Public library was originally scheduled to be completed by the fall of this year, but we suffered a major setback due to a fire. Construction has again started. I think, barring any further setbacks, it will be late spring before we can occupy the new facility. This is a great addition to our community and a major upgrade to our present library.
The Crawford County levees that protect our community from major flood events are currently undergoing inspections and the engineers are nearly complete with the field work and are doing the preliminary analysis. This analysis should be completed early in 2009. The results could run the spectrum from minor corrections of the levee system to a complete rebuild of the levees. If it is the first category, then we will ask FEMA for additional time to get the work complete and there are indications that they will favorably consider the request. If the results show that the levees need new construction, then the cost could be far beyond the capabilities of the local community. The impact on flood insurance requirements in the industrial park will be a major economic hit and something we don’t need, especially during these tough times. We have taken the lead in the state of Arkansas with these certifications and are being held up as a model effort to others. The cooperation between the city and the county has been tremendous. Let us now hope that it pays off.
Rena Road right of way acquisitions will begin early in the year and utility relocation will follow shortly after that. If all goes well, construction on the road itself should begin in the fall. This project has been a long time coming and will be a major upgrade of the current street. This area is a major growth part of the city and this improvement, as well as others we have planned, will position Van Buren for future growth and development as the economy recovers from the current recession.
Forming a regional intermodal authority is critical to our economic development. We need to sit together as a region and look to our future. Again this is not as one against the others, but as communities with shared visions and opportunities. We are in a location that has rail, water, and interstate and Interstate 49 on the horizon. We need to be in a position to take advantage of those resources. I have enjoyed working with other leaders in the region in some preliminary discussion of the regional intermodal concept and am encouraged by the spirit of cooperation we have in our region and look forward to working on many projects that would benefit the entire area.
Like most communities, the national economy will have an impact on our local economy. We have already seen the decline in building permits, both residential and commercial, and we expect that downward trend to continue as the entire nation digs out of the current recession.
We do have two new hotels that began construction earlier this year. One is open and doing quite well and the other is expected to be opening later in early 2009. The construction slowdown and the area layoffs cause us to look at the coming year very conservatively in terms of our revenues. As a city we will continue to provide first class services but will be very cautious with any new expenditure for equipment or staff
There is so much more to say, but I will close with this. While we may be in a modest slow down in regard to capital improvements, my office and the City staff will use this time to plan for needed investments and the opportunities that the future will bring to Van Buren. Again, my thanks to The City Wire for this opportunity and I look forward to the New Year.