Most of the eight candidates for contested seats on the Searcy City Council are not in favor of annexing the “area around the new [Arkansas] Highway 13 expansion,” at least not if the annexation isn’t voluntary.

The candidates speaking during a virtual forum held by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce were asked by moderator Roby Brock, editor and host of “Talk Business and Politics,” what their position was on “annexation of surrounding land into Searcy” and to explain their stance.

The four contested Searcy council races in the Nov. 3 general election are Ward 1, Position 1: incumbent Logan Cothern vs. challenger Kenneth Olree; Ward 1, Position 2: challenger Karen Marshall vs. challenger David Morris; Ward 2, Position 1: incumbent Chris Howell vs. challenger Davis Threlkeld; and Ward 3, Position 1: challenger Tommy Centola vs. challenger Tonia Hale.

Each candidate also has been given the opportunity by The Daily Citizen to expand on their answers since their responses were time-limited.

Ward 3, Pos. 1

Tommy Centola: “Well, I was at the public hearing when that [annexing around Highway 13] was brought up a few years ago and the citizens involved – well, they’re not citizens of Searcy – they are very much against annexation. I don’t see how we can force them to become a part of the city if that’s something they don’t want to do.

“If we need to expand, we need to find ways to expand but at the expense of the people whose land it is, they are very much against it and I don’t see it happening. I am opposed to that. Annexation of the bypass area will put a strain on the police, fire and sanitation departments while not bringing in enough in property taxes to cover these department’s new expenses.”

Tonia Hale: “I agree with Mr. Centola. It is hard to listen to the people who own these properties that they tell you if they wanted to live within the city limits, they would move into the city limits. These people shop local. They spend their money on our city, so we need to listen to their voices and try to adjust to that so we are not forcing them to be in the city.”

Ward 1, Pos. 1

Logan Cothern: “That’s a tough question, but I think that we need to listen to those citizens, or those non-citizens actually, to listen to their reasons why they don’t want to come in. I would like to see part of this annexed, but I would like to see a voluntary annexation, not demand that they do.”

Kenneth Olree: “I would not be for it, either. I think that the people that live in that area definitely do not want it. My understanding is the reason it was primarily considered was to get the population number up to a certain value, above 25,000, so it would increase economic development, and as director of the Waldron Center, I also had an opportunity to conduct a survey with student workers for businesses that had won SBIRSTTR [Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer] grants. From what almost all of them said was having a close connection to the university was key to their being successful in high tech business.

“Instead of trying to annex people, force them into our city, we can grow our city by having a stronger connection to the university and encouraging our graduates to stay here in Searcy.”

Ward 2, Pos. 1

Chris Howell: “Well, I think it’s important to look at. I talked to people out there who are for it and those who are against it. From the city’s perspective we need some quality controls along 13 to control what goes out there, some ordinances that restrict what can be built on 13 to control what happens in the city. I think it’s important to look at all those issues holistically and make the best decision for the city. That’s what I would do if it was before me.”

Davis Threlkeld: “First and foremost, we do need to weigh the pros and cons and the benefits that it would bring not only to the residents that live out there but the additional burden it would bring to the city.

“So, two things to take into consideration; definitely the residents that live out there and their sentiment around that and also the benefit or con against the city if we do annex them. We do not need to force citizens that willingly, by choice, live in the county into the city if it is not logistically feasible, especially if they are against annexation. We need to take a look at the resources and the amenities that the city would then have to provide.”

Ward 1, Pos. 2

Karen Marshall: “I believe that we need to take a little bit more expansive look. When we’re looking at annexation, we’re not just talking about people’s wishes, we’re also looking at the cost that the city is going to incur, whether it’s going to be the cost of new drainage, whether it’s going to be extending the cost of water, trash and sanitation that goes with that and fire that goes with. To maintain our ISO {Insurance Service Office] 1 rating, we have to have a fire station. I think all that plays a part in whether we choose to annex people or not into our city and I do think they have a right to have a say.

“I definitely agree with the opportunities that are available so we can reach that 25,000 mark. I think there are also some ways we can get there. We need to look at the bigger picture not just a single issue.”

David Morris: “The annexation issue when we talk about it, I’m going to use an old political adage, you’ve always heard the expression that ‘some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it and I’m going to stand by my friends.’ And that was kind of a situation I was put in when I was mayor, when this issue came up. Undoubtedly, [it] was one of the hottest issues that we faced while I served as mayor and the packed public hearing that we had at City Hall was proof to that.”

Morris said he agreed with Threlkeld on the importance of the pros and cons being laid out.

“One of the issues that started out was to protect the integrity of the new Highway 13 connector route, where the city had regulatory authority over the new areas that would be within that connector route, where it came into the city limits and exited the city limits. There are areas that are not in the city limits at the present time. That was the main issue then.

“Kenneth [Olree] had addressed the 25,000 population variable for some of our economic development leaders here in town; those were all issues that drove the discretion about the annexation issue. It is a very emotional issue as everyone stated; there’s pros, there’s cons, things of that nature. Where I live out on Holmes Road in the northwest part of the city, we were annexed in 1970, so I certainly understand the issues there and the feelings people have.

“One thing that needs to be pointed out that has not, is it would be a strain on existing revenues of the city of Searcy because it would be a little additional property tax, but most of those people who live in outlying areas still shop and spend their money in the city limits of Searcy so we are garnering the sales revenue. It’s very much of a strain on the city.”

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