At Monday’s Maumelle City Council meeting, Mayor Caleb Norris delivered the State of the City. It follows below.
By Mayor Caleb Norris
Ladies and gentlemen of the Maumelle City Council, department heads, city employees, and my fellow citizens, Arkansas law requires that within the first 90 days of the year I must report to you the municipal affairs of the city and recommend such measures as may seem advisable. This is that report.
As you are aware, 2020 was an election year and four City Council seats were up for election. The City has welcomed two new Council Members: RJ Mazzoni and Doug Shinn. Council Members Mosley and Williams were reelected for another four-year term.
What can I say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? When I last presented the State of the City Report to the City Council on March 2, 2020, I listed many goals and priorities for the year. Only nine days later, the first presumptive COVID-19 case in Arkansas was announced. It’s been said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And COVID-19 threw a mean hook. I have been exceedingly encouraged by the resiliency of the City to face this adversary head on. That is what we did.
Since the start of the health crisis, my philosophy on the City’s role in responding to COVID-19 was to: First, leave health decisions to health care providers, individuals, and the state. The State is best equipped with the proper expertise to give healthcare directives. Second, we needed to ensure that your City government was able to function properly during a worst-case scenario by protecting the City’s critical workforces. In a worst-case scenario, the City would still need to provide essential services, such as fire and medical support, police protection, and trash pickup. Finally, the City’s response was to be aimed at City action and City property; not private action or private property. This is why you may have noticed the temporary closure of playgrounds in City parks but not on private property.
The City made a concerted effort to find new ways to build and maintain our community during these unusual times. For example, the police department began holding “birthday drive-bys” for our youngest residents to celebrate their birthdays and other important events. The City revamped its 4th of July parade to caravan around town and assisted Maumelle resident Derrick Slater in hosting a citywide Christmas Caravan. Another example includes a shift to drive-thru Halloween trunk or treat that the City and City staff held at various City buildings.
The COVID health crisis highlighted the need for the City to modernize, digitize, and streamline its processes to better function in today’s ever-changing environment. One technology we implemented last year was SeeClickFix: a request and work management app and web tool that has strengthened communications between residents and the City by allowing residents to post non-emergency neighborhood issues, such as potholes or streetlight outages. Since its implementation, 492 requests have been created with 437 tickets resolved.
At the 2014 general election, Maumelle voters approved bonds to finance the much-needed remodel and renovation of City Hall. In 2020, construction was substantially completed. The redesign effectively transformed City Hall’s strip-center-style layout to a more practical floorplan providing for a more efficient workflow and additional security. A larger Council Chambers has allowed for more seating. And new technology has allowed for the live streaming of City Council meetings at this critical time.
In 2020, the Mayor’s office welcomed new staff and said goodbye to others. Longtime Special Projects Manager Jack Stowe retired after serving the City for 18 years under three different mayors. Due to budget constraints, the Special Projects Manager position is expected to remain vacant through the end of 2021.
The City has welcomed Sarah Smith to the Chief of Staff position. Sarah brings to the Mayor’s office her expertise in organizational development, collaborative engagement, and passion for Maumelle. Since joining the City in October, Sarah has developed and instituted new problem solving practices to find new solutions, execute those solutions, and communicate them throughout the organization.
Joseph Hardy was brought in as the City’s new Communications Coordinator. You should expect to see some exciting new videos highlighting City services and initiatives. We continue to strive for better communications with residents. Last year, over 151,000 people viewed our content on Facebook. Our peak engagement hit over 51,000 for the virtual fire truck tour, which was a single video in a multipart series designed to let children get a virtual tour of City vehicles such as a police car and trash truck.
Chief Cory Pickard completed his first full calendar year as Chief of the Maumelle Police Department. On a daily basis our officers are under tremendous pressure to enforce the law, and to do so justly and safely for all concerned. As such, training and professional development are vital for law enforcement officers. In 2020, the Maumelle Police Department logged 671 course completions, 307 certificates awarded, and 4,724 training hours.
The Police Department saw a 9% decrease in total calls for service, and arrests were down 33% from 2019 and 47% from 2018 due largely to COVID-19. Traffic stops were down slightly from 2019, citations were down 33% and traffic warnings were up 11%. Sadly, last year there were 16 narcotic overdoses, compared to 10 in 2019.
In 2020, we saw a 14% decrease in crimes against persons: a trend we hope continues. Unfortunately, we also saw a 30% increase in property crimes. The primary cause for this increase was the very large number of unemployment fraud claims reported last year. We also saw a spike in motor vehicle thefts, with 34 vehicles stolen in 2020 as compared to 22 in 2019. Many of these thefts occur when keys are left inside unsecured vehicles, so please remember to lock your car doors and do not leave keys inside cars. Despite this increase in property crime, Maumelle’s property crime rate of 211 per 1,000 is still below the state average of 286 and our violent crime rate of 1.27 per 1,000 is significantly less than the state average of 5.85 making Maumelle one of the safest communities in the State.
The Police Department’s goals for 2021 include: implementation of a new defense tactics training program for officers, accreditation through the Arkansas Chiefs of Police Association, and increased community outreach. On that note, I am proud of the way the Maumelle Police Department assisted local community members in setting up and conducting a demonstration in reaction to the death of George Floyd. This interaction and assistance was in stark contrast to those communities that saw the interaction between law enforcement officers and protestors as an “us versus them” situation. Likewise, I am equally proud of the organizers, demonstrators, and residents that we were able to come together as a community to have their voices heard in a constructive manner. Relatedly, the police department used this opportunity to review and update its own policies and procedures on topics such as the use of force.
The Maumelle Fire Department, led by Chief Gerald Ezell, continues to be a leader in Arkansas with one of the top trained departments in the State. They pride themselves in providing not only EMS and suppression services, but also top-notch Fire Prevention, Code Enforcement, and Fire Education to our residents and businesses.
For the year 2020, 147 business inspections were conducted within the City of Maumelle, resulting in the correction of forty-eight code violations. The Fire Marshal's office continues to do an excellent job of assuring that new businesses to the City of Maumelle are following fire code and are some of the safest places in Arkansas for our citizens and visitors.
The total number of Fire Department responses for the year was up 8.5% to 1,896. Medical emergencies, traumatic injuries, and medical assists made up the largest percentage of emergency runs at 71%. Fire responses consisted of 48 calls for a total dollar loss for buildings of $345,750.
Every Maumelle Firefighter is also a licensed EMT and 6 firefighters hold their Paramedic License, which allows us to provide Advanced Life Support to the citizens of Maumelle quickly.
One goal the Fire Department had for 2020 that has been extended to 2021 is to start an Emergency Rapid Access Initiative, a completely voluntary program where residents can obtain a key lock box that Fire and Police personnel can use to gain access into a person’s home during times of emergency by using an app on their phone. This program would allow our older or less-abled population to ensure Fire and Police can gain entry without having to damage the entry door.
City Clerk-Treasurer Tina Timmons and the Deputy City Clerk worked hard throughout the year to make sure that the Clerk’s Office was able to provide support and services to City Staff and residents during the pandemic, resulting in the same service level. In addition, best practices were sought and implemented in order to have a plan in place during unprecedented events like a pandemic or inclement weather. As part of that effort, the Deputy City Clerk received additional training in order to assist with daily operations of City Hall.
Record retention and organization continues to be a primary focus in the Clerk’s Office. Hundreds of records were added to the archives via electronic storage. Research efforts will continue in order to keep up with efficient ways to protect and maintain electronic files.
The City Clerk is on track to obtain her Master Municipal Official designation. She also completed her third year as an Advisor for Cities of the First Class through the Arkansas Municipal League.
In 2020, City Attorney Melissa Krebs was and remains on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance to law enforcement officers and other city personnel. The City Attorney prosecuted all misdemeanors, traffic violations, and ordinance violations in Maumelle District Court. In 2020, 2,974 new charges were filed in our district court. While bench trials were delayed for most of 2020 due to concerns regarding social distancing, she continued to prepare and submit all discovery files and was able to resolve the majority of pending matters through negotiated agreements. She assisted with the preparation of search warrants and affidavits for numerous felony charges as well. As the only prosecuting attorney for Maumelle District Court, she also negotiated bond or argued on behalf of the State at bond hearings on both misdemeanor and felony charges initiated by the Maumelle Police Department.
The City Attorney litigated or oversaw litigation in civil matters involving the City. In 2020, there was no new civil litigation case filed against the City of Maumelle. The case of Jennifer Corriveau vs. City of Maumelle (4:18-cv-531-KGB), which concerns the method for payment of overtime compensation, remained in active litigation. One eminent domain proceeding was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, City of Maumelle vs. Charles Green et. al. (60-CV-20-195), which has now been resolved through negotiations and closed by Court Order.
The City Attorney provided regular legal advice to the Council, the Mayor, and City employees and commissioners during regular office hours, in the context of regular meetings, and on an on-call basis. She assisted in the preparation of the majority of the 63 ordinances and resolutions considered in 2020. She also remained actively involved in the regular operations of the City, providing counsel on many code enforcement, planning, contractual, personnel and policy matters, paying special attention to the changes in policies and procedures required by the Arkansas Department of Health’s Directives and guidance regarding COVID-19. The City Attorney’s purpose remains to defend and pursue the interests of the City and to assist in achieving its goals while, first and foremost, protecting the rights of its citizens.
The Department of Senior Services, led by Director Nicole Vogler, continues to strengthen our 50+ community through the services provided at the Maumelle Center on the Lake, promoting health and well-being for this population.
Senior Services partnered with Common Thread Church, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Counting on Each Other Inc., Maumelle Charter School, local businesses, city departments, and other non-profits to extend services and activities to Maumelle’s older adults. As facilities closed due to COVID-19, Senior Services staff at Maumelle Center on the Lake served the community by offering curbside service for lunch pick up, essential transportation, as well as virtual and in-person events.
The partnership between volunteers and staff reflect the resilience, unity, and collaborative spirit that the city of Maumelle reliably demonstrates even in a difficult year like 2020. Volunteers assisted staff to develop curbside pick-up for nutritional lunches. Giving older adults access to a nutritional, hot meal. One senior resident said, “I am so happy and cannot be more appreciative to the Center for continuing to prepare nutritional lunches. Since the pandemic began I have not felt comfortable grocery shopping. The meals we purchase are the only food we eat and make it possible to stay in our home.”
Rides for medical appointments and shuttle service within the city of Maumelle continued throughout the year and averaged 65% of capacity from year prior. Many of Maumelle’s riders are completely dependent on the service to attend medical appointments in person and to be able to pick up groceries and prescriptions in Maumelle.
Led by Director Mike Hogan, Public Works, and its multiple divisions including Animal Services, Building/Fleet/Grounds Maintenance, Streets, and Sanitation with their combined workforce of 50 employees, are poised for another industrious year.
In 2020, we saw culvert rehabilitation and drainage repair projects around town as well as street overlay projects on Arnold Palmer and in the Stoneledge area, showing love to both the north and south sides of town. Thanks to an Arkansas State Aid City Street grant of $300,000, we were also able to overlay a portion of Odom North.
The long-awaited Adaptive Traffic Signal Control System, which involves updating the traffic signals along Maumelle Boulevard, has finally been completed. We are seeing better synchronization between traffic signals, but there are still some tweaks and fine tuning needed before we are completely done with this project.
In 2012, Maumelle voters approved the issuance of approximately $3.2 million in bonds to widen and rebuild portions of Crystal Hill Road (and a short portion of Counts Massie Road that intersects it), both of which are within the City of Maumelle. In 2019, we decided to scale the project down from a 4-lane road with a roundabout to a 2-lane road with a median and turning lanes. This was designed to save taxpayer money, but it required a redesign of the road. As you may know, construction has commenced and progress is being made.
As I stated last year, we still need a thorough analysis of the annual funding necessary to maintain or improve the conditions of City streets over the long run. To do this, we need a thorough audit of the condition of city streets, the rate of their deterioration, and the estimated costs of improvement. Currently, the City is soliciting statements of qualifications from consultants to conduct a pavement inventory analysis and prepare a pavement management, rehabilitation, and preservation plan.
Last year the City conducted a study on a potential connection of Country Club Parkway and White Oak Crossing to address a growing traffic concern. One aspect of the study that I’m particularly proud of is the City’s effort to solicit feedback from residents and businesses at the front end of this project. The City’s recent online poll received 1,257 responses and we found that 54% of respondents like or extremely like roundabouts and only 25% dislike or extremely dislike them, with 21% reporting that they neither liked nor disliked roundabouts. The recommended solution was a roundabout connecting Country Club Parkway to White Oak Crossing and Counts Massie. I am proud to announce that the City received a grant of $1.275 million for this project. I am hopeful that construction can begin later this year.
The Animal Services Division of Public Works saw 482 animals enter the shelter and 460 leave through owner reclamation, adoption, or to a rescue organization. In addition to canines and felines, numerous chickens and guinea pigs entered the animal shelter. Maumelle Animal Services’ live release rate for 2020 was 98.1%. There was one rabies case found in a bat in the city, but no human exposure was found.
In 2020, the shelter moved from handwritten reports to digital reports using ASM (America Shelter Manager). This software helps keep things organized on a daily basis at the shelter and provides for better data tracking and analysis.
As usual, the Sanitation Division has been busy over the past year. The new Automated Sanitation Truck we expected to receive last year was significantly delayed and we only just received it in the last couple weeks. We have found that staffing difficulties in the Sanitation Division affects all of Public Works’ operations and short-term personnel shortages in the Sanitation Division require reallocation of personnel from other Public Works Divisions, which in turn puts those Divisions behind. After all, Trash Pickup must go on!
In 2020, Single Stream Recycling amounted to 551.5 tons. Transfer Station staff baled and sold 146 bales of cardboard, 9.4 tons of mixed plastics, 1.87 tons of steel cans, and nearly 28.5 tons of mixed paper.
In total, the sanitation crew disposed of 5,531 tons of solid curbside waste and 790 tons of transfer station solid waste. Curbside yard waste totaled 6,375 cubic yards and transfer station yard waste totaled 2,400 cubic yards.
Public Works, including Animal Services, Building, Fleet, and Grounds Maintenance, Streets, and Sanitation continues to be one of the busiest departments in the City providing vital, yet often unseen, services.
Liz Mathis was brought in as the new Finance Director in July of 2020. Several other positions within the department were also in transition last year, but the department is now fully staffed and working on improving processes to eliminate reconciliation and audit challenges in the future.
The finance department completed the 2017 Audit in early 2020 and is working on the final pieces of the 2018 Audit. 2021 will be the year we focus on catching up, with plans to complete the 2019 Audit mid-year and the 2020 Audit by 3rd quarter. As we move from “catch-up” mode to a normal operating mode, the focus will be on developing clear month-end close processes that will improve the department’s ability to provide accurate and timely financial data to the council, mayor and city staff, and ultimately to have timely audit & annual financial reports.
The process and procedure development underway will be incorporated into our new software as we begin a full ERP software conversion to OpenGov Financials with a target go-live date of January 2022. This platform will move the city’s financial software to a cloud based system and coordinate with the OpenGov Reporting & Budgeting software, which includes a transparency site, putting detailed financial data in the hands of the mayor, department staff, elected officials, and citizens.
The finance department played a key role in presenting a balanced General Fund budget to the City Council this past fall. This was the next step in developing a more strategic budget process to ensure the city is able to continue to provide quality services for the citizens of Maumelle for years to come.
The City’s greatest assets are our employees and the Department of Human Resources, now led by Doreen Mattes, has been hard at work. Facing increasing health, dental, and vision costs, the City engaged the services of a new insurance services broker to help find the right fit for our employees. Before making changes to the plan, we formed, and ultimately adopted the recommendations of an advisory committee consisting of the Department Head and one employee from each of the City’s four largest departments.
What I am about to say is critically important to the City’s future. We are quickly approaching a tipping point where City salaries are insufficient to attract and retain quality employees. In some instances, we are simply unable to fill vital positions. This is probably the most crucial issue facing the City!
Due to budget constraints for the 2021 budget, we were unable to implement necessary salary adjustments despite the fact that all eligible employees received merit or step salary increases. In solidarity with the employees, I personally declined a raise this year as did Council Members Mosley, Mazzoni, Gardner, Williams, Tierney, and Holt. During our budget process later this year, we MUST make every effort to increase employee salaries to remain competitive.
In 2021, the HR Department will onboard and implement a pair of NEOGOV modules: Insight and Onboard. Insight serves as a recruiting module to help accelerate time to hire by centralizing the process of attracting applicants, screening applicants, and making informed hiring decisions while ensuring compliance with federal and state employment laws. Onboard will accelerate the onboarding process by streamlining onboarding tasks, new hire documentation, and new employee training. Built to support the public sector’s compliance requirements, Onboard ensures day-one readiness for new employees.
The Department of Parks and Recreation, led by Director Phillip Raborn, strives to improve upon the services offered to the citizens of Maumelle while contributing to the overall sense of community in town.
The COVID-19 health crises had a major impact on Parks and Rec. The Jess Odom Community Center was closed on March 22, 2020, per State directives mandating the closure of gyms. With strict COVID-19 cleaning and social distancing procedures in place, the Community Center, with guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health and CDC, was able to partially re-open on May 5.
In 2020, construction began on the new splash pad near Lake Valencia. Construction should be completed in time for our kids to enjoy this amenity over the summer. This project, with an estimated total cost of approximately $180,000, is only costing taxpayers $75,000, with the rest of the funding coming through grants and donations from individuals and organizations in our community.
In 2021, Parks and Rec plans to increase the number of programs offered at the Jess Odom Community Center in order to optimize use of the facility and better the services offered to the citizens of Maumelle as well as continue repairs, upgrades, and enhancements to all recreation facilities in order to increase utilization and enjoyment for the citizens of Maumelle.
Last year, the Department of Planning and Zoning, the City, and our community suffered the loss of Jim Narey, who served as the Planning and Zoning Director for 17 years. In Jim’s absence, Scott Grummer served as the interim Director until the Departments of Planning & Zoning and Code Enforcement, Buildings, and Permits were merged, creating a new Department of Planning & Permits, now directed by Scott Grummer. This restructuring has poised Maumelle for strategic progress and planning, created efficiencies, improved interdepartmental communications, and led to the creation of a Planner II position.
In 2020, single family residential housing starts were up 19.7% over 2019 with Ridgeview Trails, Osage Hills & Terrace, Maumelle Valley Estates Phase 18, Country Club of Arkansas Phase 24A and Carnahan Village being the most active subdivisions for new construction
Just as last year, there were eleven commercial remodel permits issued. There were two new commercial construction permits: One for Cypress Cold Storage for a $8.5 million facility and one for the Diamond Park Convenience Store at $1.3 million.
In 2020, code enforcement issued 510 requests for compliance tags, 18 citations to appear in Maumelle District Court, and 21 storm water notices of violation. Most of our requests for compliance were given out for violations regarding fences, vehicle and RV parking, lawn maintenance, yard waste, and signs.
Last year, Planning addressed two land use amendments, three rezoning applications, four site plan reviews, including the new Amazon distribution center and the doubling of the operations at Cypress Cold Storage, five final plats, six replats, one master street plan amendment, and two conditional use permits.
For 2021, a new enterprise-wide software system, OpenGov, will be implemented, which will replace the current iWorQ software being used by Permits & Code Enforcement, and will also add automated workflows for Planning and Zoning applications. This will not only streamline operations in the entire department, but will provide greater customer service through online application submittals and digital submission and review of Plan sets for building and subdivision projects. This online portal will also allow our builders and contractors to set up inspections online, reducing paper waste, and improve productivity for all involved. With the addition of the Planner II position, the department will continue to grow its GIS solutions through interactive web maps for both staff and citizens. Field workers will be able to remotely identify key infrastructure in the city utilizing this ESRI technology, allowing the city to begin assessing and documenting city assets, such as storm sewer locations, outfalls, green space, trails, and much more.
One of the primary goals of the Department of Community & Economic Development, led by Judy Keller, is business retention and expansion. The city kicked off these efforts in 2020 with a luncheon, which included a presentation to industrial leaders by Randy Zook, President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber and the Associated Industries of Arkansas. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic arrived and changed the way everyone did business. While quarterly meetings were no longer feasible, keeping the businesses aware of funding opportunities and resources for personal protective supplies became an important part of business retention. Communication was never more important than during 2020 and it continues to be in 2021.
Fortunately, many Maumelle businesses benefited from federal and state grants that enabled them to meet the rigorous health mandates, aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, and to keep employees on the payroll.
In spite of the challenges, Kimberly-Clark Corporation in Maumelle was successful in completing a 68,000 square feet expansion and Cypress Cold Storage began a 70,000 square feet expansion. Congratulations go out to Kimberly-Clark for celebrating its 30-year anniversary in Maumelle.
Since receiving site certification status through Entergy’s Select Site Certification Program at the end of 2019, there has been significant activity concerning the 119-acre site. The work did not end with the certification. A new ruling became effective on June 22, 2020, concerning Waters of the U.S. On behalf of the owners, our wetland consultants submitted a request for determination to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, concerning five streams and five adjacent wetlands on the 119 acres. Based on the new ruling, the Corps determined that the five streams and five wetlands are not under the jurisdiction of the Corps. The owners also had an Archaeological Phase II conducted on the site. Staff worked closely with the property owners, Entergy’s Economic Development team, and others throughout the year, including prospective buyers.
Another exciting endeavor in 2020 involved the city’s departments of Planning & Permits and Community & Economic Development in collaboration with the chamber of commerce, area businesses and landowners in North Maumelle to develop a visioning plan for the area, located along Interstate 40. The vision plan will help develop strategies for infrastructure needs and will help market the area to developers and other businesses.
In closing, 2020 was a year for the history books. Like most institutions, we faced many unforeseen challenges that radically changed the way we function. I am proud of the resiliency and courage of City employees as they navigated a global health pandemic while still serving the residents of Maumelle. Special accolades are given to police officers, fire fighters, 911 dispatchers, and sanitation workers who were prepared to provide these essential services even during complete shutdowns. We must always remember to be governed not by fear but by reason with the appropriate levels of caution based on the facts known to us.
With this in mind, Maumelle charges into 2021 with optimism, tenacity, and a renewed passion to serve and enhance our thriving community.
Thank you for your time. God Bless!