Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

TOP STORY >> Specialist could get axe

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Beebe economic development director Marjorie Arm-strong found out before Christmas that she might not have a job this year.
Beebe Alderman Janice Petray says she wanted to do away with Armstrong’s job last year during budget time but held off out of respect for those who opposed her, in-cluding the mayor and the economic development commission.

But this year, with the proposed annexation that would have allowed the city to grow de-feated at the polls, Petray sees no reason to keep an economic developer, especially considering that the city doesn’t have enough money to budget street maintenance.

Cutting the job Armstrong has held for three years would free up about $70,000. That may not be enough to make many re-pairs, but it would be a good start to-wards saving for those repairs, Petray says.

Economic development is a good idea that Beebe simply isn’t ready for, Petray said. Its streets are dirty and need to be repaired.

“People won’t even move here under these conditions,” Petray said. “We have no money in the street fund whatsoever and we haven’t in years. It would be nice if we had money and could do everything we want to, but we’re at the point that we need to prioritize.”
But Armstrong’s supporters are rallying behind her to make sure she keeps her job.

Last year at this time, members of the Beebe Economic Develop-ment Commission attended a council meeting after they learned that plans to not fund Armstrong’s job were in the works.

Jim Wooten, commission chairman, praised Armstrong’s accomplishments: building a Web site for the city’s new development plan, starting a community leadership training program and regaining the city’s status as an ACE community.
But so far, her attempts to attract even a major restaurant to the area have been fruitless.

“I think Marjorie has tried hard, but right now I don’t think we’re in any position for much development,” Petray said.
Wooten says that what everyone needs to remember is that economic development doesn’t happen overnight.
“Economic development is a long-term effort,” Wooten said. “It takes a long time to see tangible results.”

Although the city council voted unanimously more than three years ago to create an economic development commission and hire an economic director, the only money that has been put into economic development is Armstrong’s salary and bene its and office space at city hall.

It the council takes that away, the commission will be left with no one to take care of the details of economic development and the dream for a better Beebe might not survive, Wooten said.

The council meeting last month, when Petray announced her plan to find money for streets by doing away with Armstrong’s job, was an explosive one.

Mayor Donald Ward was a strong proponent of creating the position and was angered by talk of ending it.

The council must pass a budget by Feb. 1, so Armstrong says she probably has a job at least until that time. Whether she gets to keep it will depend upon how much influence her supporters have over the council.

Wooten said like last year, the commission intends to make sure the council knows how important it is that Armstrong stays.