Dining Dialogue: Mayor Jordan’s tough first term

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 97 views 

It’s only now at the beginning of his second term that Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan is not having to manage through a series of crises or controversies.

Shortly after Jordan took office following his November 2008 election, a major ice storm hit the city and brought with it more than $6 million in damages. Prior to the ice storm, Jordan was attempting to deal with a significant revenue shortfall brought about largely from the rapid deflation of a Northwest Arkansas housing sector bubble.

“The economy had tanked, we had a budget we couldn’t make, and then one of the worst natural disasters to hit the city landed on top of us,” Jordan explained. “We did the payroll one day under the only working light at city hall.”

The city did not have a natural disaster emergency plan, so Jordan and city department heads focused on three areas: help facilitate restoration of power and water; clear the main roads; and clear roads to the hospitals.

The ice storm was easy compared to an economy that delivered poor sales tax revenue for about 22 months. With sales tax revenue accounting for about 62% of the city budget, Jordan and the city council instituted hiring freezes, suspended pay raises, cut gas purchases and avoided buying vehicles and other major purchases unless absolutely necessary. Despite cutting about $800,000 from the budget, the city also pulled $1 million out of a reserve budget to survive 2009.

Jordan praised the council for working together during that tough 2009 cycle.

“Not only then, but I’ve been a very fortunate mayor in that I’ve always had a good working relationship with the council,” Jordan said.

The budgeting cutting and focus on spending control continued into 2010. In 2011, collections began to improve, but not enough to ease up.

“I can remember we had to cut a coffee fund. That may sound like a small deal, but it saved us about $15,000 a year,” Jordan said. “The staff was wonderful, just wonderful, to fight through this. Every department found cuts they could make.”

While he would have preferred to not have experienced almost three years of tight budget controls, Jordan did say his office, the council and department heads implemented cost controls and processes that will likely remain in place during good budget years.

“Sometimes you just find better ways to do things when you are doing that (cutting costs),” Jordan said.

During 2012, the city was able to restore many pay raises, especially among fire and police departments. However, the 2012 budget is smaller than the 2009 budget, according to Jordan.

“We have brought most city employees back up to the market rate. We’re still working on catching everybody up, and everyone will get their pay raise before I do,” said Jordan, whose base is $108,000 a year.

During the budget struggles, Jordan and the council were also working through controversies related to parking changes in downtown Fayetteville and along Dickson Street.

“When you ask people to pay for parking who weren’t paying, I can tell you they won’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling for the mayor,” Jordan said.

The plan wasn’t necessarily Jordan’s idea, but he and members of the council saw a need for a parking deck to serve the Walton Arts Center and the businesses along Dickson Street. A plan was approved in July 2010, and implemented in August 2010.

After complaints from many Dickson Street business owners, the city altered paid parking times. Jordan said he monitored hospitality tax collections from establishments on Dickson to see if the parking was hurting business. He soon saw the collections were averaging 8% increases.

The widespread complaints narrowed to sporadic complaints, with many of those coming from car owners who had a bad experience at private parking lots with which the city had no control.

“This eventually settled down, … and now we can float bonds for a parking deck that many people have talked about for years,” Jordan said.

During the 2012 election, in which Jordan sailed to an easy re-election, the parking issue was thought to be a problem for Jordan.

“Many, and some in the media, were saying it (election) would be about paid parking. But what I was seeing was that people really wanted stability in government. … The people I talked to were interested in jobs and money management and not increasing taxes,” Jordan said.

A key focus for Jordan in his second term is to prepare Fayetteville for future growth and to improve residential connections to public schools by “building a lot of sidewalks.” But sidewalks will be a small part of the infrastructure construction. City plans call for several road improvements – Van Asche project, Zion Road, the “flyover” road near the Northwest Arkansas Mall, just to name a few – designed to improve traffic flow around the city.

“We’re going to do more infrastructure in this city in the next three years than we’ve ever done,” Jordan predicted.

Jordan, 60, is not willing to talk specifics about his mayoral future.

“I’ll just be 63 then, so we’ll see,” Jordan said when asked about running in 2016. “I’ve got some years left. I’ve certainly not ruled that (running again) out.”