By Don Hall
If you have driven through the intersection of Fourth Street and Sunset, at the three-way stop, you’ve seen the sidewalk construction. On New Year’s Eve, Mayor Billy Ray Jones talked about about the current, past and future projects planned for Nashville.
The sidewalk project began seven years ago when the Blue and You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas funded a “walkability” study to see how the town could become more pedestrian friendly. That study came back with a four-phase plan for new sidewalks that would make it easier and safer for people to walk throughout Nashville.
Phase 1 is already completed and connects the Nashville School District’s administration office from Fourth Street to the high school. Phase 2 has just begun and will put in sidewalks from the three-way stop at Sunset and Fourth all the way to Walmart. Phase 3 will go from Fourth Street, down Sunset, to Nashville Parks and Recreation. Finally, Phase 4 will install sidewalks from the Hope highway on South Main Street north to the railroad tracks.
Jones said 80% of the cost of these sidewalks is being paid for with grants from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. All four phases have been approved, and phases 3 and 4 will begin as funds become available from AHTD. However, if inflation causes the cost of the project to rise, the city must pay for that increased cost.
Inflation is affecting the city of Nashville in other ways. In order to keep employees from leaving for higher-paying jobs, the city has raised its minimum salary to $14 per hour. With increased employee costs and the growing cost of chemicals, water rates are up by 10%. With increased costs of everything the city pays for, inflation is raising the budget significantly.
Jones says that those in city government have to change their plans based on circumstances. Sometimes those circumstances, while challenging at the time, actually lead to good outcomes. In July of 2019, rain fell so quickly that the bridges on Mine Creek couldn’t pass all the water, leading to wide-spread flooding. As a result of the damage, all the bridges in Nashville have been replaced with bridges that are designed to prevent flooding. In addition, with the flooding of the fire station and police station, those buildings have been rebuilt and equipment replaced, largely with money from insurance, according to Jones.
Nashville’s biggest challenge right now is to attract new residents with better access to housing. In the Nashville area, there are many industries which have expanded their facilities in recent years. It is Jones’ focus to bring more residents to Nashville and help them find housing.
Any mayor has to work with others in city government. According to Jones, the current City Council shares the vision for increasing housing and growing the population of Nashville. Public Works director Larry Dunaway is continuing to oversee infrastructure improvements and construction, and Code Enforcement officer David Riggs is working to ensure that empty or run-down buildings are repaired or removed.
Jones is beginning his 12th and final year as mayor as Nashville. In the time he has served, the sewer system has been rebuilt, the water system updated, the City Park has been improved to a level not seen by other towns this size, a new hospital has been built, the school system has grown and is well funded, and the fire and police departments are in excellent condition with outstanding personnel, facilities, and equipment, he said. The next mayor will find at least four years of projects whose grants are already approved.
“Eleven years ago I made a list of things I wanted to get done as mayor,” Jones says. “We got all of them done and more. Thank you to the residents of Nashville for giving me this opportunity.”