JP Michael White addresses Manila Council

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mississippi County Justice of the Peace Michael White addressed the Manila City Council, along with Justice Fred Fleeman. They shared facts about a proposed new courthouse, combining the two county seats in Mississippi County.

Mississippi County justice of the peace Michael White addressed the Manila City Council at the July meeting.

"It is the largest and most complicated project I have ever been involved in since I have served on the Quorum Court," White said.

He said Mississippi County is one of 10 counties out of 75 counties in Arkansas with two county seats. Mississippi County has one courthouse in Blytheville and one in Osceola. The Courthouse in Osceola was built in 1912 and the one in Blytheville was built in 1919.

White talked about the need of a new facility. He went on to say the historical buildings are beautiful but are costly to maintain.

"It is something almost daily," he said.

He talked about the drop in population in the county with 82,000 recorded in the 1950 census and less than 50,000 in the 2010 census. Manila is one of the few towns increasing in population. He said population in Blytheville is 16,000 and Osceola has 7,000.

"With the drop in population, the number of Justice of the Peace members were reduced from 13 to 11," he said.

Discussing the two county seats he pointed out Osceola is more geographically in the center of the county but Blytheville has more population.

"It is emotional for both towns," White said.

He said Osceola passed a resolution to give $250,000 to renovate the Osceola Courthouse if it is made the only court seat.

"We have measured space, and the combined footage at both courthouses in use is 35,000 square feet," he said. "The dream courthouse would be 70,000 square feet."

He said looking at the middle of the road, quorum court members came up with a 56,000 square foot concept for a new courthouse to meet the county needs.

He talked about the lack of security at the present courthouses and the lack of storage areas.

He said it takes a majority of the vote to change a county seat. There has to be an exact site and a clear title.

"The county owns seven acres on the corner of I55 and Highway 61," he said.

He said an estimated cost of the project is $18 million. Funding has been discussed with USDA offering a low interest loan but the county will have to have a guaranteed payment system to present.

"We hope we can do so without raising taxes," White said.

White said he has been working on this project for 10 years.

"Call me if you have any questions," White said.

He again emphasized no one was in favor of tearing down the historical buildings.

"A new roof will be put on the Blytheville Courthouse at a cost of $350,000. The Historical Society will pay $250,000," White said. "The Osceola Courthouse heat and air went out. We will fix it. We will not abandon either building."

Justice of the Peace Fred Fleeman, chairman, commended White for the work he had done on this project.

"Michael serves the court well, the county well, and his district well," Fleeman said. "If we can't combine our courthouses under one roof, the county will continue to struggle. We need to do this. I really hope we as a county can come together and see this thing through."

Mayor Wayne Wagner thanked Justices White and Fleeman for the information and their service to the county.

Mayor Wagner said police officers Logan Knight and Drew Byford offered resignations as both are planning to move out of the area.

"They are good officers and we hate to lose them," Mayor Wagner said.

The council voted unanimously to accept their resignations.

All council members, Steven Milligan, Linda Donovan, Donnie Wagner, Wendell Poteet, Jason Baltimore and Dale Murphy were present.

Following an executive session, the council accepted the resignations or retirement of five fire fighters, John McGuire, Wes Sandusky, Kelly Fields, Logan Knight and Drew Byford.

On the recommendation of the fire chief, the council accepted Jeremy Bennett and Thomas Mason on the fire department.

The council voted to hire Wesley Sandusky at the rate of $25 a month as a special consultant with the department to train fire fighters in extrication.

The council voted, on Police Chief Jackie Hill's recommendation, to accept the addition of two new officers, James Littlefield and Chris Hill.

Littlefield and Hill were introduced to the city council members.

In other business:

*Mayor Wagner said the cost of the new senior center has been estimated at $500,000. He said they will be looking at funding and ways to cut the cost. "They are giving us a basic price for a basic building," Mayor Wagner said.

*Mayor Wagner said the food bank building is coming along. It will give a lot more space. The council voted to rent the building for $100 a month with a vote of 5-0 with Councilman Linda Donovan abstaining.

*Woody Townsend with the Manila Pilot's Association gave an update on the construction of the executive hangar with an Aug. 14 completion date. He also said a 3,000 gallon fuel tank will be installed once the sticker arrives. A paving overlay project at the airport work will begin soon funded by a 100 percent grant.

*The council approved an ordinance approving the hiring of family members when necessary with all council members and the mayor disclosing all relatives employed part-time or full time by the city to be attached to the ordinance and updated semi-annually.

*An ordinance was approved to list all assets above $3,000 with an expected useful lifespan of at least three years.

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