Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TOP STORY >> Council, county at odds

Leader staff writer

An ordinance to allow the county to replace seven worn and dangerously narrow bridges on First Street that lead to a ballpark in Cabot, in exchange for the city helping the county build two roads that could help with traffic congestion in the city, has been placed on hold for 30 days to wait for an attorney general’s opinion about the legality of such a transaction.

Or so the political wrangling went Monday night over one of the most controversial issues to come before the council in many months. In fact, insiders say, the ordinance was tabled because the five votes on the council that would have passed it would not be enough to override a veto from Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, who is openly opposed to the proposal.

Stumbaugh told the council that he has seen no engineering reports on the planned project, and he demanded to know if Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman owns property along the road under construction between Highway 5 and the new Wal-Mart that is included in the ordinance.

“No, I don’t,” Troutman said, adding that his property is on the highway.

“It’s becoming painfully clear to me that the mayor is not even trying to work with the county,” Lonoke County JP Larry Odom said after the meeting.

The ordinance sponsored by Aldermen Odis Waymack and Tom Armstrong says the county will charge the city $75,000 to replace the bridges with culverts, and the city will contribute $400,000 toward the construction of two roads.

One of those roads was started last fall. It will join Highway 5 to 89 West and will provide a route to the new Wal-Mart without fighting downtown traffic, but it will likely not be completed this year without help from the city.

The city had planned to spend $750,000 to replace the narrow bridges with box culverts that would allow the street to be widened into a main artery when funds become available later.

Leading the council opposition to the tabled ordinance is Alderman David Polantz, who asked City Attorney Clint McGue to get the attorney general’s opinion.

McGue’s office submitted the request March 6 to state Sen. Bobby Glover, D.-Carlisle, who made the request to Attorney General Mike Beebe.

Polantz wants to know if the county can legally build roads inside the city or the city’s five-mile planning area that don’t meet city specifications.

He also wants to know if building roads that aren’t in line with Metroplan (which distributes federal highway money) will have a negative impact on the city’s ability to get federal money to build roads.

Polantz also talked during the council meeting about the importance of not leaving the planning commission out of discussions about new roads. The city requires developers to get approval for streets, so why should the city not be held to the same standards, he asked.

However, that question was not one submitted to the attorney general and as the council heatedly discussed the ordinance, it became clear that in addition to jurisdiction, the heart of the debate also includes opposing philosophies about how city road money should be spent.

The five who support the ordinance, aldermen Waymack, Armstrong, Eddie Cook, Bob Duke and James Glenn, want to use the money to fix immediate problems and at least Polantz, from among the three who oppose it, wants to do less now, but do it better.

Sources say those who support the ordinance hope to bring Alderman Jerry Stephens over to their side so they will have six votes in case of a mayoral veto.

Alderman Patrick Hutton has not said he will vote against the ordinance, but he has questioned whether the culverts Troutman wants to install on First Street will be adequate.

Odom, who was instrumental in the construction of the Hwy. 321 bypass around Cabot and who has worked with Waymack and Armstrong to get support for the city and county working together on traffic issues, said after the meeting that Polantz should consider immediate needs and stop demanding the best.

“It’s like having 10 children,” Odom said. “You can’t afford to dress them all in the best clothes, so you suit one of them out real well and let the rest go naked.”

Alderman Duke, who retires this year after about 30 years on the council, is usually reserved, but he became visibly agitated at Polantz’ questions about whether the work Troutman plans for the city will meet state and federal guidelines.
Polantz turned red in the face as he chided Duke for not insisting on the absolute highest standard.

Troutman said the culverts he wants to install on First Street are the same kind the state uses.

He said during an earlier interview with The Leader that the road he is building to Wal-Mart meets state guidelines.
To clear up any confusion about who raised the question of the city helping to build roads, Armstrong told the Leader that when Troutman learned that the city planned to replace the bridges on First Street (the street where the ballpark is located) at a cost of $750,000, he said he could do it for one-tenth that amount.

Armstrong said once he realized Troutman was talking about a considerable savings to the city, he suggested that the city might contribute part of that to help finish the road to Wal-Mart.

Waymack said he added the provision for $200,000 to extend Willie Ray Drive to Davis Road in Austin.
Troutman told the council that he never intended for the county to bear the full burden of constructing the road from Highway 5 to Wal-Mart.

He always intended to at least get help from individuals, he said.

But, he added, the city would benefit much more from the road than the county would.
“You’ll draw enough sales tax in one year (from the new Wal-Mart) to pay that $200,000,” he said.