Bentonville State of the City

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State of the City January 25, 2011
As I start my 2nd term as Mayor, I would like to begin this address by thanking the citizens of Bentonville for their continued trust in me. Too, I would like to thank the City Council and the City’s employees for their dedication and continued hard work in spite of the economic hardships over the last few years. With their continued

guidance, I believe we are well-equipped to further responsible growth…the kind of growth I hope the citizens of Bentonville will be proud of. When I say responsible

growth, I am speaking of fostering a balance between economic development and the preservation of the unique scenic character of Bentonville. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Let honesty and industry be your constant companion.” I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community and to have had the opportunity to participate in the City’s industrious progress over the last four years.

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The City’s staff, along with other leaders in the community, are working hard to keep Bentonville a wonderful place to live and thrive. 2010 was a stellar year! It was a year marked most significantly by the City’s expanded recreational opportunities for its citizens. The City opened three new parks, each unique in its offerings. And, the Parks and Recreation Department is now offering a full range of affordable sports and recreational programs for children and adults. These last few of years have

seen a tremendous growth in the number of family fun-filled events in and around the Downtown Square. The grand opening of the Ice Rink at Lawrence Plaza over the holidays was truly Norman Rockwellish. Then, right before Christmas, we

received news of a magnificent gift. The Walton Arts Center’s new 2,200 seat theater will be built in Bentonville. The biggest news of the year was the planned opening

date of Crystal Bridges Museum of Art on November 11, 2011.

Sales Tax revenue grew by 14.6% in 2010. This followed the only recent year of decline for tax revenues, when 2009 saw a 10.7% drop. Since 2002, the city's tax revenues have grown at an average annual rate of 6.1% per year. The City’s 2011 fund balance requirement is $8.5 million, an increase of $300,000 compared to the 2010 fund balance requirement.

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For the third year in a row, the City continued to maintain its employee headcount at 385 full-time employees. The prudent management of personnel through attrition and retirement allowed the City to bring on several new positions in 2010 without affecting the overall headcount. These new positions were added in areas where we are experiencing rapid growth. This allowed the City to continue to develop and expand programs and services without additional expense to taxpayers.

Bentonville’s total development activity showed a modest increase of 6% over 2009. In 2010, total number of items presented to our Planning Commission was 117. Once again, the bright spot was in the single-family residential sector. 2010 totals for the single-family residential sector indicate a 17% increase in permits and a 17% rise in valuations over 2009. The Planning Department conducted over 2,000 code enforcement inspections and 8,712 building inspections while administering 812 building permits, also a 17% increase. The 411 certificates of occupancy represent a 30% increase over 2009. Of the building permits issued, the highest increase was 31% for commercial alterations. Unfortunately, the total valuation of almost $96 million represented a 46% decrease from the 2009 valuation of $169 million.

Like I said earlier, the Parks and Recreation Department had an outstanding year. Gilmore Park, Orchards Park and Ernest G. Lawrence Plaza all opened in 2010. Growth in our parks and recreation programs has been overwhelmingly supported.

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Gilmore Park, adjacent to the Downtown Trail opened on April 3rd, more than 200 local residents came out for the Grand Opening and the Easter Egg Hunt. On July 4th, the City officially dedicated Orchards Park. It is now home to the summer concerts series and the City’s Annual 4th of July fireworks display. More than 3,000 people attended the inaugural Orchards Park Concert Series. The Rink at Lawrence Plaza has been a huge hit. On opening night, more than 1,500 were in attendance for an ice skating exhibition by the Arkansas Figure Skating Association. Hours at the rink were extended during the holiday season. Demand has been so phenomenal; we’ve extended the season to Valentine’s Day.

The new Memorial Park Tennis Complex opened for public use on December 16th. This $1.5 million dollar project was a cooperative effort between the Bentonville Public Schools and the City of Bentonville. This facility will be home to the

Bentonville Tiger High School Tennis Team. In consideration of use for these courts, the Public School System deeded several properties to the City, including the four ball fields behind Elm Tree Elementary and the Old Tiger Stadium property which will become a future park. This is a good time to thank the Bentonville Public

School System for their generous donation and to say the City is pleased to have this opportunity to provide a home for the Bentonville High Tennis team. This, I think, is also a fine time to mention and congratulate the Bentonville Tiger Football team on their undefeated season and 7A State Football Championship win.

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With a generous donation from the Walton Family Foundation, Park Springs Park received the first phase of a major facelift. The first part of the project was

completed in October 2010. The gift of services, valued at $160,000, provided for the renovation of the trail and creek enhancement. This project will continue into 2011 with future improvements including pavilion and restroom improvements, landscaping and a new playground structure.

In 2010, the Parks and Recreation Department began introducing new recreation programs to the community. More than 1,000 youths and adults participated in a new comprehensive recreational soccer program. Last year, more than 4,000

children and adults participated in the City’s sports and recreation programs. Approximately 32,000 patrons utilized the pool facility during the summer season. Reservations were processed for 494 special events in our parks that served over 17,000 parks patrons.

2010 City utility accounts grew 4.3 % over 2009 to 18,954 separate accounts. For the year, our meter reading team read 426,214 meters with an accuracy rate of 99.94%! With a strong commitment to customer service and professionalism, our Utility Billing group processed 173,668 payments totaling $70.8 Million. Approximately 20% of our total customer base now utilizes the Bank Draft option.

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The City’s Recycling and Solid waste program has been operational for three years. Although 2010 total recycling tonnage was down from 2009, the program continues to be successful in keeping thousands of tons of material out of our landfills.

The City’s Electric & Engineering Department continued its goal of reducing overall costs and electricity usage. Our in-house staff helped reduce City expenditures by installing electric at Orchard Park, installing lights along 8th Street West, Highway 72 East, the new Downtown parking lots and the new Tennis Court parking lot. After reaching agreement with Carroll Electric, the staff finalized the takeover of electrical service for the Brightwood subdivision. The City’s Engineering team continues to

save our City thousands of dollars by completing many projects “in house” versus bidding projects out to third party providers. Recent projects include both the technical design and complex construction of new electric substations.

With the new Arkansas Trauma Grant, the Fire Department was able to implement a new high-level paramedic skill called Rapid Sequence Intubation (RSI), which holds great potential for saving lives in critical circumstances. With these funds, the

department purchased an automatic CPR machine which will aid in the saving of lives after cardiac arrest. The New World Systems dispatching software now allows staff to input responses in on-scene time and other operational status benchmarks

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with the touch of a finger to the computer screen. Radio traffic is greatly diminished and tracking the Department’s response and operational times is much more accurate. 2010 was another record-breaking year for the number of emergency responses. The Fire Department staff answered a total of 3,394 EMS runs, 519 Fire and Hazmat calls and 451 other type calls for a total of 4,364 calls for the year as compared to 3,759 total calls, an increase of 16% over 2009. The City had no loss of life due to fire in 2010. The Department’s public education programs reached over 10,000 children and 3,600 adults. The fire safety trailer, originally acquired as a FEMA trailer and later remodeled by firefighters, is used extensively for fire and smoke safety demonstrations.

2010 resulted in many changes and improvements in the day to day operations of Bentonville’s Police Department and the Bentonville Emergency Communications Center. Many of these developments were the result of the February 2010

implementation of New World Systems operating software. In the Communications Center, this new software system has streamlined call taking and helped Dispatchers improve both officer’s safety and public safety with items such as Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), Integrated Arkansas Crime Information Center (ACIC) returns, and Automatic Fire Department tones. The system has also greatly improved Specifically, the Automatic Vehicle

information and records searching capabilities.

Location function has allowed Dispatchers to quickly determine the location of

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available units and efficiently direct resources to calls for service. Integrated ACIC and improved search functions allow for faster information flow and the ability to gather previous call history and background information that may be vital in emergency situations.

On the street, Mobile Dispatch Terminals (referred to as MDT’s) were also installed in all patrol and detective vehicles. These MDT’s make it possible for Uniform Division officers to stay aware of the status and location of other officers. Likewise, mapping functions available with the MDT’s have improved the efficiency and safety of first responders by providing street layout information. This, combined with AVL functions, allows for better planning and positioning of resources when responding to higher risk calls. Additionally, the capability of mobile field reporting, has sped up the reporting process and allowed officers to spend more time on the street and less time in the office.

Record keeping at the police department has also been impacted by these changes. In particular, these innovations have further eliminated the need for excess paper records. With these changes, the Records Division can better serve the public with increased record searching capabilities and more easily retrieve reports and documents. Likewise, the Criminal Investigation Division and the Property and Evidence Section have also benefited from these 2010 improvements. Streamlined

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case assignment procedures for detectives, and a greatly improved ability to create detailed case files, and search departmental records have likewise benefited the investigative process.

Despite a steady number of calls for service, 2010 was mostly devoid of crimes or incidents that might cause great concern for the community. In fact, 2010 marked

the resolution of two very important missing person cases. Likewise, nine months of diligent effort in one of these cases resulted in the arrest of two suspects for Capital Murder.

From the perspective of the public, several changes and improvements at the Bentonville Police Department were also accomplished. These improvements were related to the facility itself and resulted in notable renovations to the front lobby and the Community Room, as well as the exterior of the building itself and public entrance to the building.

During 2010 the City’s Legal Department prosecuted 2,285 criminal and traffic cases, with charges ranging from speeding violations to DWI and battery. The Department also prepared 85 ordinances and resolutions, processed 3 annexations and facilitated 11 real estate transactions. Regular meetings and consultations with City officials and staff provide top quality legal service and risk management to the City.

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The Bentonville Public Library continues to grow in popularity and in the number of programs offered to our citizens. Since its opening in November of 2006, the library has had 1.1 million visitors. More than 282,300 visits were made to the library in 2010. More impressive, children and teens read 16,176 hours during the Library’s Summer Reading Program held this past June and July. Bentonville’s Library

services for children was instrumental in the City’s presentation to the National Civic League as supporting criteria benefiting youth and children and helped the City achieve All-America City Finalist status. In 2010, the Library asked for and received a $5,000 dollar literacy grant from the American Library Association and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation plus a $500 dollar grant and an early literacy computer station from the AR State Library. Over 20,000 children attended free children’s programs in 2010. The Library was the recipient of over $52,000 in cataloged gifts and almost 6,000 hours of volunteer time. A first-ever, Bentonville Public Library Strategic Plan was prepared and completed by library administration and presented to City Council. Covering 2010-2012, the plan focuses on four priorities: growth and development, differentiation in the community, organizational efficiency and financial viability.

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In 2010, Bentonville Library staff focused on programs and services that celebrate community, diversity and education. It hosted, for the first time, a United States Naturalization Ceremony and a Military Appreciation Day. The library continues to offer multicultural programs such as: a monthly Spanish Language and Culture workshop; a weekly Chinese Language Lessons for families; special world languages storytimes; and monthly bilingual storytimes.

The Public Works staff oversaw the City’s first wastewater flow to the new NACA facility which opened on November 29th. Bentonville is currently diverting 300,000 gallons of wastewater to the NACA plant each day. And, an additional 1.5 million gallons per day will be sent to NACA in mid 2011. Two sewer lift stations in

Bentonville were taken out of service as a result of the wastewater flow being diverted to NACA. The Wastewater Department is currently operating and maintaining 53 lift stations. The City continues to take a leadership role in expanding relationships with Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville and Siloam Springs to form the NW AR Intergovernmental Working Group on Water and Wastewater Discharge Issues (IWG) to form regional support and combine efforts to monitor and challenge EPA’s TMDL processes. The City is steadfast in its challenge to EPA’s unfounded TMDL for phosphorous on Town Branch. The EPA established a 0.1 mg/L TMDL for phosphorus on Town Branch July 15, 2010 following official notice issued in April 2010.

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Public Works Maintenance, along with Parks and Recreation continued to utilize a temporary labor agency to provide seasonal labor which again allowed much more flexibility and efficiency as compared to hiring seasonal employees directly. The Department was able to adjust the number of people needed on a given day to accommodate work load/projects, replacements and substitutes, and scheduling for weekends/events. The City’s ability to select employees based on experience & expertise while constantly adjusting to meet needs resulted in expanded services to public. The Public Works Maintenance staff completed the front landscaping,

including a new sign and flagpole, at our municipal cemetery. Additionally, staff removed the overhead utility lines along the cemetery frontage on SW F Street, creating a clean appearance to the cemetery. They also planted over 400 trees last year; this includes plantings at Orchards and Gilmore Parks, Lawrence Plaza, the new tennis courts, the new parking lots, and Tiger Boulevard.

The Composting Facility had another successful year providing a beneficial use for biosolids and green-waste. Two compost give away events were conducted for the residents of Bentonville resulting in approximately 2,800 cubic yards of compost being pick-up by Bentonville citizens.

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The Public Works Director and the Airport Advisory Board oversaw the completion of the southern runway turnaround at Bentonville’s Municipal Airport. This project extended the runway length by 345 feet and provided an area for aircraft to safely execute a turn around at the isolated southern end of the runway. This project resulted in a significant increase in transient jet traffic and subsequent fuel sales. Fuel sales are reported to be up over 200% since completion of the runway. Additionally, a 2-inch overlay of the entire runway was completed. The overlay project transformed the well-used runway into a smooth and efficient surface that dramatically improved safety.

The Transportation Department completed an extensive and impressive list of initiatives. To name a few, the Department completed construction of 8th Street West, 28th Street/Olive Street Overpass, Highway 72 project, Bright Road Drainage project, Moberly Right Turn Lane addition, Phase 3 of the Downtown Square Enhancement project, NE “F” Drainage project, and completed designs on Main Street South and East Central projects. Additionally, the staff began survey and preliminary design on the 8th Street project, including the interchange. The Transportation staff

constructed 1,200 feet of sidewalks, improved 2 miles of City drainage ways, striped 5 miles of city streets, laid 150 tons of asphalt to repair road surfaces…resurfacing almost 4 miles of City streets.

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For the very first time, Bentonville was the recipient of the 2010 Volunteer Community of the Year Award. The Award is co-sponsored by the DHS Division of Volunteerism, the Arkansas Municipal League and the Office of the Governor. The City, with the help of 45 organizations, reported 10,614 individuals gave 163,672 hours of service to our community. These hours are valued at more than $3 Million and represent a generous gift to our community. Recently, I accepted the award from Governor Beebe on behalf of all the volunteers in our community.

Born from this recognition, I have decided to initiate an Outstanding Citizen Award Program. We have created this program to recognize those that go out of their way to help others. Our hope is to hear about the good deeds of those living in the City of Bentonville…hear of the outstanding generosity of a teacher, a community group, a teenager, athlete, community leader, or soldier; the list is endless. Information about the program will be listed on our website first thing tomorrow morning. Additionally, brochures and nomination forms will be available at City Hall.

2011 promises to be a memorable year. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open its door on November 11th. 21C Hotel will break ground and numerous new restaurants will open in the downtown area. Without a doubt, we will have visitors from all over the world making their way here to attend Crystal Bridge’s grand opening. At the site dedication several years ago, Alice Walton said, “My hope

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is that Crystal Bridges will become a special place for all who visit, and they will see first-hand why this site and this region are so extraordinary.” The opening will be an economic win for every city in Northwest Arkansas. More important, it will be a source of pride for everyone who calls Bentonville home.

The City’s resources are healthy and strong; primarily in its nearly 400 employees committed to professionally serving the citizens of Bentonville and second in its finances. Finances that are sufficient to fund the critical public safety, utility and quality of life amenities that make our City a special place to live and work – the State of the City is sound!

Thank you and may God continue to bless our City and Northwest Arkansas.

Mayor Bob McCaslin City of Bentonville

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