Leader Blues

Monday, March 05, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sherwood starts suit over rates from NLR

IN SHORT: Stedman tells council North Little Rock electricity is costing too much and his city needs a choice.

Leader staff writer

Sherwood has started litigation to free about 6,000 of the city’s homes and businesses from paying the high-rising North Little Rock electric rates.

Mayor Dan Stedman made the announcement during his state-of- the-city address to the council Monday night.
Stedman told aldermen that Sherwood has the second-highest educational and family income levels in the state and boasts the lowest per capita crime rate in central Arkansas.

“There is no doubt,” the mayor said, “that Sherwood can be a benchmark city for the entire country.”

Stedman became mayor in January after Bill Harmon, a 10-year veteran at the position who opted not to run for reelection
North Little Rock supplies electricity to a large portion of Sherwood, and those customers, along with North Little Rock residents, recently saw their bills jump 38 percent.

First Electric Cooperative and Entergy also supply electricity to the city.

“We’ve started litigation to determine our sovereign right to purchase electric service from whomever we choose,” the mayor said.

He said the city had no franchise agreement with North Little Rock. “It has just sort of evolved,” Stedman pointed out.

The mayor said the problem with North Little Rock electricity is that it is not regulated by the state’s Public Service Commission, which oversees rate increases from other electric utilities servicing the city. Since North Little Rock is not under the control of the PSC, “it can raise its rates at any time and as high as it wants,” the mayor said.

Continuing with his address, Stedman said Sherwood finished 2006 with more money in its coffers than it thought it would.
In his first state-of-the-city-ad-dress, the mayor said Sherwood’s revenues for the year were up more than half a million dollars than expected, and that expenditures were $800,000 less than budgeted.

Twelve of the city’s departments finished the year under budget. The district court and hot checks division were just 1 percent under budget, while the computer services department was 12 percent under budget.

Most departments were 4 to 6 percent under their projected expenditures.

The mayor said the extra revenue and lower expenditures created a nice surplus for the city and starts Sherwood off in the right direction for this year.

“With continued cooperation and teamwork, our future could never be better,” Stedman said.

Stedman spent most of his address extolling the positives of 2006, but he also took a look into the future.

“As our first hotel—a Best Western—located near Kohl’s nears completion, plans have been announced for a second hotel to be built on Warden Road near St. Vincent’s North,” the mayor said. “Construction will start later this year.”

Stedman also said that Pulaski County Special School District has committed to building a new $25 million, 200,000-square-foot middle school in Sherwood. The district is currently finalizing the exact location for the new school. Construction is slated to start in 2010.

The council was reminded that Wal-Mart was quickly moving forward with its planned Supercenter off Maryland Avenue and Highway 107. Construction will start this year, and the store will open in early 2008.

Stedman’s other highlights of 2006 included:
- A 25 percent drop in the city’s burglary rate.

- An animal-services department that was able to have 1,100 animals either adopted or reclaimed. A volunteer group, PAWS, raised more than $4,000 to help shelter animals.

- The city clerk’s office issued more than 100 privilege licenses to first-time businesses.

Along the same line, the office of economic development reported that 123 new businesses opened in 2006, bringing more than 1,000 new jobs to the city. Two national call centers—Cardinal Health and FTD.com—brought more than 750 jobs to the city. “And not just jobs, but quality jobs,” the mayor said.

- Sherwood issued 251 new single-family home building permits in 2006.

- The Sherwood Wastewater Utility built a 4,000-gallon per minute pump station on Brockington Road, allowing the city to service 16,500 customers from that station alone.

- The Sherwood Sports Complex was home in 2006 to more than 800 youth baseball and softball players, and another 200 basketball and soccer players.

- The University of Arkansas Lady Razorbacks softball team played its first home game away from Fayetteville at the Sherwood Sports Complex and 2,500 fans showed up to watch.