Tuesday night, Mayor Arnell Willis welcomed his esteemed colleagues on the Helena West Helena council, fellow citizens, and special guests as he presented the city's State of address detailing some major indicators which demonstrate a fragile economic recovery, an update on the city's finances, the top challenges that the city is yet to face for 2013, and the general improvements that are currently being made.
Tuesday night, Mayor Arnell Willis welcomed his esteemed colleagues on the Helena West Helena council, fellow citizens, and special guests as he presented the city's State of address detailing some major indicators which demonstrate a fragile economic recovery, an update on the city's finances, the top challenges that the city is yet to face for 2013, and the general improvements that are currently being made. “A little over two years ago, I spoke to you of a beginning for our city and we have accomplished that against incredible odds and resistance,” commented Willis. According to Willis the new administration has created a transparent form of government, one that is open to the general public with no backroom self-dealing. Willis remains confident as the city continues to streamline city government finance by making hard choices to reduce wasteful spending and paying down inherited debt. “Tonight, I am asking the council to work with this administration to set aside our differences and take the necessary action to speed up fragile economic recovery, spark economical renewal, bring back hope and opportunity in our community for our citizens,” encouraged Willis. Willis explained that during this difficult time period, he has called on the help of a higher power as the division within the city continues to reflect deep, real, and destructive path for the community. “I'm reminded of one of our nation's great presidents who said 'Let the people know the truth and the country is saved,'” commented Willis. Willis explained that often times the good events go unnoticed or underneath the radar due to the steady stream of negative activities going on in the community. “I spoke of new beginnings for our city and we have accomplished that against incredible odds and resistance,” added Willis. Willis touched based on several positive city events that have occurred including two economic development announcements made by Governor Mike Beebe and the opening and expansion operations of Enviro Tech chemical services, Delta American Fuel, Quapaw products LLC and Southern Hardware. Willis explained that currently Amerimax prepares to hire a plant manager and add a third shift at its facility in the industrial park. “We saw the development of Meadowbrook Park subdivision on West Street as well,” Willis added. Willis explained that however, the city is operating under financial stress detailing the chronic cash flow issues making it extremely difficult to pay current bills, make payroll, pay down outstanding debt and pay high repair bills on worn out police cars, sanitation trucks and equipment which needs to be replaced. “We are currently facing $1.2 million in debt right now, all that reflecting our outstanding checks, unpaid bills held by the city clerk, and the loss of revenue to replenish our general fund account,” commented Willis. “Case in point, our city should not be in the business of selling weeks of vacation. This line item alone is a budget buster and I have been unable to get the council to stop this as well as other budget reduction ideas,” explained Willis. Using a power point presentation, Willis explained the trend of the city's on going cash flow problem. Willis explained that the city does not have a strong enough cash position to pay down accounts payable in a timely manner and the unpaid bills held by the city clerk continues to increase year after year. “The reason for our cash flow problem is due to the decline in revenue and our failure to cut expenses fast enough,” commented Willis. Willis explained that across-the-board spending cuts would not get the job done. “We have to put the revenue option on the table and make it an integral part of our deficit reduction and balancing our budget,” commented Willis. Willis stressed that the Willis administration and the council must work together to develop a satisfactory plan to resolves serious financial problem facing the city. “Having a divided city government is the greatest single challenge facing our city in 2013,” added Willis. Willis explained that the biggest factor preventing our community from recruiting industry, balancing the city's budget and reducing the staggering crime rate as well as solving other problems lies at the table. “We must move beyond the blame game to focus on solutions to solve our financial problem. I do not look at you as my enemy, and you must not look at me as your enemy,” commented Willis. Willis provided the council and listening audience with other improvements that are being made in the city including the financial assistance that the Helena-West Helena Police Dept. received from Southern Bancorp, the bullet proof vests purchased by the Phillips County Port Authority and the FEMA grant that was applied for the purchase of a snorkel truck in which the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) will put up matching funds for this purchase. “In closing, I remain optimistic about the future of our city. We may have many challenges ahead of us but I look forward to working cooperatively with the city council in partnership to help our city rebound from this recession without slashing city services. Together, with a common purpose, we can and will build a brighter future for Helena West Helena and Phillips County.