Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

TOP STORY >> Cabot looks to future

BY JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Candidates running for mayor of the second fastest-growing city in Arkansas share their ideas on how to support additional residents and their needs.

Conventional wisdom holds that a city that doesn’t grow becomes stagnant, which is just a step above dying, so growth is good.

If that’s the case, Cabot is in good shape since the latest annual estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau say Cabot is the second-fastest growing city in Arkansas among cities with populations above 10,000.

But with that growth comes the problems of traffic congestion, water and sewer systems that are stretched to the limit and crime – just the sort of problems that come to the forefront in an election year. And here’s what the candidates for mayor say about how they would deal with those problems.

Alderman David Polantz:

“I’ve never lived anywhere that people wanted to live where traffic wasn’t a problem…where the demand wasn’t bigger than the resources. “There’s no simple solution. You’ve got to have a council willing to deal with the complex problems. There’s no fairy dust. Nothing changes over night. You’ve got to have focus, determination, vision and heart,” he said.

Cabot is growing not just because of the good school district; it also is growing because people want to live where they feel safe. Since he has been on the council, he has always pushed for money for fire and police, he said.

Improving the traffic flow is a major issue, he said. The city is working on traffic congestion and it is a little better since the light in front of city hall was taken down and the timing on others was adjusted.

But before any of the $2 million in bond money that is now available for roads is spent, the city needs to decide priorities with a traffic study like the one Metroplan is doing for the city, he said.

Former Alderman Eddie Joe Williams:

“Cabot is growing because of the proximity to Little Rock and the access to Little Rock,” Williams said. “It has a lot to offer that we benefit from. And people love neighborhood schools.”

“But it does present problems and that’s why it’s imperative that we elect a manager. The growth is inevitable because it’s just part of our culture to want to get away from the hustle and bustle. “The solution to growth problems is to plan five or 10 years ahead,” he said, adding that he believes much of the existing traffic problems that have the city in gridlock during rush hour are intersection problems that could be managed better.

Management is the key, he said. With a growing city like Cabot, nothing is stagnant.

“We’ve got to continually manage the problems,” he said.

There’s little doubt that the growth will continue, he said, but if everyone works together it should be possible to retain those qualities that are attracting new residents now.

“If we make up our minds to work together – the city, the chamber of commerce, the schools – we will continue to be a great town,” he said.

Former Lonoke County Justice of the Peace Kenny Ridgeway:

“Growth is not good unless it is under control,” Ridgeway said. “People want a safe and wholesome place to raise their children and grandchildren. “At the top of the ladder is traffic, traffic, traffic, but sidewalks also are an issue and so are water and sewer. “If you’re going to be mayor of Cabot, you’ve got to have a comprehensive plan.”

The city should bear some of the cost of growth, but some should come from the private sector through “reasonable impact fees,” he said.

“A lot of the new homes will be bought by young families. You’ve got to have a plan that covers parks.

“You’ve got to have a plan for keeping costs down. Look at the growth of employees. Is it out of control? You’ve got to keep insurance rates down by working to keep employees healthy
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“The county and the city must start to work together in long-range planning,” he said. “And the mayor needs to be someone with a short learning curve so he can start to work as soon as possible.”

Alderman James Glenn was not available for comment at press time.