Mayor Bart Castleberry discussed his first 45 days in office and revealed some of his future plans while addressing the Kiwanis Club in Conway.
Castleberry said his first decision as mayor — appointing Jody Spradlin as chief of the Conway Police Department — was an easy one.
“I’m very big on promoting from within, especially when you have the people in-house who are capable,” he said.
Shortly after taking office in January, Castleberry asked the city council to cancel a public hearing and table indefinitely an ordinance regarding the creation of a stormwater utility that would have added a fee to Conway Corporation customers’ bills to address flooding issues in the city.
“We’re actually looking at streamlining some job duties within the city, within the street department, to concentrate on some of our drainage issues. Before we ask to put a tax on stormwater, I thought we would try that first,” Castleberry said. “We may have to come back to that if this doesn’t work but they voted to let it go for right now. We’re going to see if we can come up with a better plan.”
Flooding is a big issue, Castleberry said, and pointed out the city needs to look at improving the levee on the Arkansas River.
“We have a tremendous investment as a city with the airport out at the river,” he said.
Perry County received federal funds and are in the process of fixing the breach on its side, which Castleberry said Conway will need to do as well.
“The breach has been on their side for a number of years. Every year when we flood, flood waters have gone to the Perry County side, which was farmland and didn’t hurt anybody,” he said. “But they are fixing that breach now, so if there’s a breach on our side, not only would it put our airport under water but it would put Wal-Mart about 3 feet under water and the water would go all the way to Jim Stone Elementary. It’s incumbent on us as a city to start looking at federal funding to get our levee shored up.”
Castleberry also discussed street projects and repairs, which he announced as a priority during his campaign.
He said the city will have more money to put toward street repairs over the next seven years than it has had in previous years when state money was set aside to construct new roads such as Central Landing Boulevard.
“We have about $30 million of street repairs that need to be made. We normally put about $400,000 handily into street repair [each year],” he said. “We’re getting some state turnback money for 10 years — $1.1 million [per year]. The first three years of that went to Central Landing. Now we’ve got seven years remaining.”
The city will put $1.5 million per year for the next seven years toward street repairs, he said.
The city will also start striping streets again, he said, pointing out the last time the city striped streets was six years ago.
“We’re going to stripe one quarter of the city annually. It will take us four years to get caught back up but then we’re going to come right back around and start at square one again. It’s an ongoing process,” he said.
The striping will begin on College Avenue, likely in the next few weeks. After all of Ward 1 is striped, the department will move on to Ward 2, then Ward 3 and finally Ward 4, he said.
Castleberry hired Aaron Knight to head up the Information Technology (IT) department and said they plan to “make the city user friendly” by streamlining the process potential developers go through.
Under the current system, developers have to take their plans to each city department individually. The developers then take those plans back to their contractors to make any required changes before bringing them back to each department for final approval. Castleberry said the process takes 90-120 days.
“Hopefully we’re going to have a system up and running in the very near future where you just send us a PDF that goes to everyone at the same time. They make their corrections, send it back to you and your design professional and you send it back to us. We’re looking for a 21-29 day turnaround,” he said.