Locally, 2013 offers a fresh start and a renewed sense of hope.
The city of Blytheville's IRS matter is taken care of; there is fresh blood on the Blytheville City Council; and there are now dedicated funds available for areas like parks and recreation, streets and police and fire.
Here are a few items to keep an eye on this year in Blytheville.
-- Chemistry of the Blytheville City Council and its working relationship with the mayor. It will be interesting to see how the new City Council works together and tightropes the line of challenging Mayor James Sanders when necessary without impeding potential progress. New City Councilmen R.L. Jones (Ward 3), Kevin Snow (Ward 2) and Tommy Abbott (Ward 1) join two-year seasoned Council members John Musgraves (Ward 3), Missy Langston (Ward 2) and Stan Parks (Ward 1) on the city's legislative board. Abbott was actually in a runoff with Sanders in the 2010 mayoral race and Jones also vied for the position before pulling out shortly before the election. There's a good chance the new Council members will ask questions about issues brought up by the mayor, as Langston has done the last two years. To his credit, Sanders has encouraged Council members to take on a bigger role and, at times, he reminds them of their authority/duties granted by state law.
-- The 2013 budget. The new City Council has less than a month to pass a 2013 budget. Mayor Sanders' proposed budget has been in Council members' hands for more than a month, though there were no budget meetings in December by the lame-duck board that included new Arkansas District 55 State Rep. Monte Hodges, who chaired the Finance Committee. Sanders' proposed budget projects revenues of $19,778,019.63 versus proposed expenditures of $19,687,060.07. Projected revenue is up about $2.6 million from the 2012 budget of $17,132,803.00. Meanwhile, proposed expenditures are up about $3.6 million from the 2012 budget of $16,024,533. Hopefully, once passed, the Council will revisit the budget on a regular basis, something that was lacking in the past.
-- Jail fees. A part of the budget will have to include what is probably approaching $1 million delinquent jail fees bill. Back in May, the county filed a lawsuit against the city for nonpayment of jail fees; Blytheville allegedly owed approximately $600,000 at that point. In October, Mississippi County Judge Randy Carney implored the Council to take action and offered a proposal to settle the matter -- a payment plan of $175,000 down and $25,000 a month to pay arrearages, in addition to the city paying its regular monthly jail bill. Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mike Mosley suggested that Blytheville City Council members become more knowledgeable about the city's finances and allow him to do more research before deciding how to proceed on the jail fees issue. They took no action on the issue last year. This year, the matter will be one to keep any eye on, an important one for both the city and county.
-- Parks and Recreation monies. With the IRS matter settled, the city should be able to spend the $725,000 that the parks and recreation tax is projected to generate in 2013. Council members have plenty of options and an abundance of suggestions on how to use those funds. There's no shortage of needs in the parks system.
-- Street work. The city did more street work in 2012 than it had in quite some time, taking advantage of the infrastructure tax. Blytheville will have even more opportunities for street work later this year when the "temporary" (10-year) 1/2-cent state sales tax for highways, county roads, city streets, bridges, etc. sends a few hundred thousand dollars to city coffers specifically for street work.
-- Finance Director. The Council seemed to kick the can down the road last year when a controversy arose regarding the city of Blytheville's finance director. A meeting never materialized after finance director LaVera Kuykendall's bondability came into question in October because of personal issues in her past. Another issue that came to light at the time, there was a procedural error when she was appointed by the mayor in July of 2011. The Council is required by ordinance to affirm the finance director, though it never voted one way or another on the matter. Specifically, Ordinance 887, adopted Feb. 20, 1973, says the finance director "shall be appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council and may be removed in like manner." City attorney Mike Bearden did say all the City Council has to do is call a meeting and confirm her appointment. It appears Mayor Sanders is waiting on the new City Council to take care of that step.
Other key issues this year could be talk of a police and fire board (or at least rules for appeals by police officers and firemen to the City Council), pending lawsuits against the city, and code enforcement matters, to name a few.
2013 should be another newsy year in Blytheville city government.