I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas and will have a prosperous and joyous 2013.
On the Economic front, I am glad to report an improving economy for Van Buren County.
The Bureau of Labor statistics most recent monthly report, shows an 8% unemployment rate. At the peak of the most recent recession around late 2010, the rate was close to 12%.
Some hopeful signs are: Most of the people that I have spoken with in the tourism area reported that 2012 was the best year for tourism within the last five (5) years.
New wells for the Natural Gas Industry increased by 15% last year. Also, Southwestern Energy brought in 90 new jobs that will be housed and operated from their Damascus facility.
Ozark Health is completing their expansion which includes expanding the emergency treatment facility, out-patient facility, a full-time MRI, a new lab, and a new physical therapy facility. This improvement is expected to create approximately 40 new jobs. The phase I rehabilitation of Archey Fork will begin in 2013. The Han’s Martial Art group will begin construction of phase I of a 3 phase project during 2013. The five (5) year projection expects this to bring in approximately 140 new jobs. A potential manufacturer is looking at using part of the Volex Building, now owned by the County, for their manufacturing. We should know more in the next few months. I am seeing more smaller businesses being added. According to the labor statistics, that is where 80% of the new jobs are created.
Some highlights in County Government for 2013: In 2012, the budget was kept in balance and a total of $247,000 was added to the County Emergency Reserve fund. An $89,600 grant was applied for and received to repair the outside of the Courthouse on the square. Work will begin in the spring of this year. The election of four (4) new Justice of the Peace. They are: Charles (Chuck) Willard, Robert (Bogie) Bramlett, James Reed, and Gary Linn. Voters, in the general election of 2012, voted to separate the Circuit and County Clerk’s Office. Bobbye Bennett was appointed as the new County Clerk for 2013-2014. In November of 2014 the voters will elect someone for that position. Volunteer Fire Departments, Rescue Squad, Sheriff’s Office, Road Department, and the Education facilities worked together to improve the joint communication system throughout the County. They have met and exceeded new federal guidelines. A total of 426 mobile and hand-held devices were purchased through grants, individual agencies and private contribution. A Homeland Security grant paid for approximately 40% of the total purchased. By working together, we were able to achieve a savings of 40-50% off of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price with volume purchases. For the first time in over five (5) years, Van Buren County did not have to declare a federal or state disaster in 2012. However, we did have the worst drought in recorded history. By working together we were able to keep the amount of fires to a minimum. The Animal Shelter reported in 2012 the amount of animal pick-ups declined 1,000 in the previous two (2) years to approximately 700. Local adoption and more rescue groups from other communities have increased. The Sheriff’s Office reported that during 2012 the Service calls increased by 20% and arrests made increased by 4% over the 2011 data. The Solid Waste Department has attained a grant to replace old recycling bins at the Transfer Station and a new transfer truck was purchased.
The County Road Department had a good year for road improvements in 2012. They hauled a total of 171,452 tons of gravel. Below is the 2012 totals and the 2011-2012 totals.
Items 2012 2011-2012
Tons of Gravel 171,452 328,292
4″+ Gravel/drainage Improvements 61.5 mi 123mi
Asphalt Overlay 8.7mi 39.2mi
Chip & Seal Overlay 12mi 41mi
Total Improved Miles 82.2mi 203.2mi
Total Ft, Colvert Installed 6,031 10,595
Some other items were: A 75%/25% grant was received (75% State/25% County), through AEDC, for building a base and paving Linn Creek Road. The grant will also pay to replace a bridge. Linn Creek Road connects Highway 110 and Highway 65 N.
In the past two (2) years the County Road Department has replaced or made substantial repairs to a total of twelve (12) bridges. There are six (6) additional bridges on the schedule for 2013. We have traded four (4) 2008 Mack dump trucks for four (4) 2013 Mack dump trucks. We have traded off a 1999 John Deere grader, with close to 11,000 hours for a 2011 John Deere grader with approximately 600 hours. We continue to work and meet regularly with the gas companies concerning repairs for roads that their equipment or operations may have damaged.
I hope this gives you helpful information on how your Van Buren County government is operating and how your tax dollars are being spent. I believe that our County’s future is bright and I am optimistic that we will continue to see many improvements in 2013.