It has been an eventful past few months for the City of Paris. In July of this year, a storm ravaged the city, downing power lines across the town, and adversely affecting its water supply when power to its main pumping station was lost. But civic leaders, headed by Mayor Daniel Rogers, went into action quickly, restoring much of the lost power to the citizens of Paris within 24 hours, and finished the clean-up and power restoration within a week of the storm’s onset. It was a model of leadership for cities and municipalities to study. And now, the Paris mayor focuses on the next steps in improving the life of Paris’s citizens now and into the future.
Prior to the storm in July, one project that was being studied by the mayor and the city council was the possibility of adding a kids “splash pad” to the Wood Street park. Over the past five to ten years, the park has seen steady development and improvements that have been made. It is a common place for families to gather for fun, recreation, and other family events. Mayor Rogers, speaking of the splash pad proposal, said, “Yeah, we were thinking about doing one (a splash pad) and went through all of the process, the public hearings that you have to have, etc. A lot of the parks in town have been done with 50/50 matching grants, so we were going to try one of those. To get one of those, you have to have public hearings, you have to pass a resolution (city council) saying the city supports it. That’s what I brought to the council in a special meeting in August. The reason I brought to a special meeting in August was that it (the application) was about to expire for this year. In the past, we had been very successful in getting the grants, such as the playground equipment at the park, the lights around the walking trail, the pavilion, the rest rooms, etc.”
The funding, or grant source, was a state agency focused on parks development in Arkansas. Two council members (Baumgartner and Fletcher) attended a Municipal League event and learned of a similar project in Russellville that a company was doing. The two council members were in contact with people from the company that did the renderings for the Russellville project. Mayor Rogers continued, “So, I had them (the company) come here and we looked at renderings that would suit Paris. They came back with a really neat design that I just loved and thought would be great for our public. So, that is what I brought before (Paris city council). The way we were going to fund it was $250,000 out of COVID money (federal pass-through funds to the city) and then we were going to try to get one of these grants (Arkansas parks). We had designed a plan very similar to the size of Russellville. It’s (Wood St Park) a big park and I felt like if we don’t make a big one, it is going to look really small. I think you need something flashy and big to go in the huge park, or don’t even do it. So, we had the meeting, and 50% would come from the state, and there would be no guarantee that I would get it. But we felt good about it; our planning was good, and we were going to use COVID money to pay the balance. And then the storm hit in July.”
The July storm came with an expensive price tag to provide power restoration and clean-up throughout the city. Funds that were once being considered for park improvements had to be redirected to the clean-up. Repairs and improvements to the water pumping station are currently being completed, and the final cost of that project has not yet been determined. So, long story short, the splash pad has been put on the back burner until the mayor and the council are comfortable with all expenses having been finalized and paid from the storm.
The mayor feels like the splash pad proposal would have passed the city council and the application would have moved forward to the state for grant funding consideration. But the unexpected cost of the storm forced the mayor and the council to re-prioritize spending and make sure the costs of the storm were paid first. The mayor hopes to bring the splash pad proposal back in the not-too distant future.
Now, move forward a few months. Citizens throughout the city have experienced problems with their internet service provider, and the mayor’s office has received phone calls from citizens complaining of their service and asking the city to do something to improve service. And after sitting down last week to visit with Mayor Rogers, I think the citizens of Paris are going to be very pleased with his efforts.
Mayor Rogers said, “Other things, I have annexation on the ballot to move the city west, nearly two miles. I think that is one of the steps long term that we are looking at for the city to grow, instead of knowing that every ten years the census is going down. One of our issues is that we are smaller land mass and there is not a lot of areas in the city were someone (new businesses) could come in. Maybe if sewer was expanded at some point out west and some commercial businesses bought property out there, some housing developed there, I think the city would be in a much better place. Maybe not tomorrow, but in the next couple of decades. I really think passing annexation is a big step; we are a little more than four-and-a half square miles (Paris land mass).”
Compared to cities such as Ozark and Pottsville, for example, Paris is half or one third the size. Pottsville was aggressive in their annexation to next door Russellville, and that city is now 13 square miles as compared to four square miles in Paris. The mayor commented, “I have it on the ballet, we just need to vote yes on it (annexation). It could lower taxes for the people of Paris.”
Broad band, or internet service, is near and dear to a lot of people in Paris, and for Mayor Rogers, it is connected to the city’s annexation proposal. “Broad band services would be connected around Carbon City Road. We would fill that group in with high-speed internet service, as well, if that (annexation) comes about. That’s going to be a benefit for anyone in this area. If you want “shovel-ready” projects out there (west of Paris), there has to be internet and sewer services for new businesses to connect to.”
The idea to bring city-provided internet services is one that is a top priority with the city council. “They (the city council) want us to provide internet services like we do power and water. It would be from the City of Paris, and would come on your electricity and water bill each month. I don’t know if we will be able to do that. The other idea is to partner with the City of Clarksville. That partnership would take in Scranton, Subiaco, and Paris. That partnership may be able to run for so long, and then, they (Clarksville) are willing to sign an agreement that at some point, the cities (including Paris) could run it if they wanted to. Their (Clarksville’s) goal is to share the cost of their networks. We can help share in that cost, similar to us selling wholesale water, with Clarksville selling wholesale internet to Paris, basically. Clarksville already has this in place, and the three new communities would help them pay back their costs.”
All of this will begin to take shape in late October. “Logan A”, or north Logan County, will be looked at for any provider who wants to apply to serve the Paris area. Providers can make their own partnership and cost proposals. “We are at a point were we (the mayor and the city council) will make a decision on this sometime this fall; a November or December time frame. We feel like we can hire people, give them a good standard of living, serve our citizens with broad band services, and with our profits re-invest them back into our city for other issues: drainage system, sewer services, or anything else we have as an issue, or even the splash pad idea. It would be very similar in that respect to our electricity services.”
I came away from my time with the Paris mayor very impressed. He has shown great abilities both in times of crisis and in future city planning. And my overall impression is that he is dialed-in to the needs and the input of the town’s citizens.
Regardless of where you might stand on the various issues and ideas of the mayor and the city council, my opinion is that Paris can be very proud of this group for working to improve the city for both present day and future needs and development. RNN thanks Mayor Rogers for taking time to visit with us last week.
Stay with RNN for updates on these and other matters that go before the Paris mayor and city council. Watch for our stories in the RNN Logan County weekly newspaper, and the our online platform at residentnewsnetwork.com.