Mitchell making bid for re-election as Bryant Mayor

Mayor Larry Mitchell

By Martin Couch

Bryant Mayor Larry Mitchell has been serving his community and state since 1978.

That’s when he was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives and served for 18 years while accomplishing the establishment of the Bryant Revenue Office for citizens to purchase auto tags and drivers licenses. He also worked with the Arkansas Highway Department to start phase one of widening Reynolds Road to five lanes.

Mitchell has been a member of the steering committee that established Bryant's Senior Adult Center, he's served on the Bryant School Board, is a former member and president of the Bryant Chamber of Commerce, and he’s served on the Saline Memorial Hospital board of directors. In addition, he has been a committee member and vice chairman of MetroPlan, been the Executive Committee member of the Arkansas Municipal League, and served as an advisory board member of a local bank.[more]

Mitchell has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from UALR and worked for Alcoa/Almatis for 34 years.

With a list of accomplishments that impressive before he took office, Mitchell has continued to serve the people of Bryant with an open agenda. And during his three-and-half year tenure in his first term as mayor, he has worked side-by-side with city officials in implementing plans to accommodate the growth of the city with success.

"I love public service," Mitchell said. "All my life, I've been involved with it and I enjoy this job."

Mitchell has been married to his wife Sharon, who teaches kindergarten at Bryant Elementary School, for 26 years. They have two children Blake, 24, and Lauren, 21, who is a senior at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He has lived in Bryant for 30 years and in Saline County all of his life. He has also been a member of the First Southern Baptist Church in Bryant for a quarter of a century.

"We have made a lot of progress in the last three and half years," Mitchell said. "We've tackled some issues in Bryant that needed to be tackled and I think the main thing a mayor needs to do is plan for the future.

“In the past 10 years, the city has grown 88 percent to a population of over 18,000 and it's put a big load on the infrastructure system,” he mentioned. “The whole city has been trying to keep up for the past three and half years."

Just last week, Mitchell signed an agreement with the Corps of Engineers to guarantee Bryant 15 million gallons of water a day in the future.

"That's not going to happen in the next two or three years but, in the future, Bryant will be able to pull that much water a year to take it 70 or 80 years down the road so we won't be hunting a water source, and I'm excited about that happening," he said. "Also in the next few weeks we will begin opening bids for a new two million gallon water tank to be built on Highway 5 in the north part of the city. That will increase the water pressure and increase our storage capacity and also there is a possibility through our fire department that our ISO ranking could lower and that means our residents' insurance rates will go down. That’s just some of the benefits we've been looking at."Since I've been here there have been issues with water, of course, and it's been around for a long time," Mitchell added. "It's not me, it's the entire city working together to make this happen and I think we've made great strides."

Another ongoing issue has been the flooding situation in Bryant.

"I know the flood of 2008 when we had the tornadoes, we had in the city approximately 47 houses that were flooded and we went into an emergency situation and did some pretty radical things to get them solved and this past year when we had the wettest year in history, from what I understand, we may have had four or five houses with water in them. That's not saying there wasn't water on the yards, but it was not in the houses," Mitchell said. "We are still working to get better than where we are now north of the interstate. We've spent $1.2 million from Hidden Creek through Sunset Meadows, Forest Cove and over into West Pointe and we've gotten the culvert sizes increased. We haven't gone through to make it pretty, but we are going to do that. However, when you have spent most of the reserves on the other parts, you don't have the money to do the rest with at this time.

“We are waiting for revenues to come in and we're starting to secure that,” he continued. “Hopefully starting in October, a $400,000 grant is going to come through so we can replace the entry way into Forest Cove. I have visited with some people and it's a safety hazard to get a fire truck or an ambulance through there. When we have secured the grant and hopefully, by October, they can actually start construction on replacing the entryway into Forest Cove. It will help a whole lot with our drainage issue and, coupled with that, we have gotten the highway department to move up the replacement of the culvert bridge under Highway 5 sometime next year. It's on their calendar to be done from October 2010 to October 2011 somewhere in that time frame. They are supposed to come in and replace that and it will be a big help in getting that water out of those neighborhoods."

Also in the works is a watershed study throughout the hundreds of acres north of there in hopes of preventing water runoff, which causes the flooding issues.

"We are working with a grant to get that study done," Mitchell said. "If possible it could be a $2 million-plus grant to get those issues taken care of and we did a retention pond in West Pointe that fed into that. We are not through yet. We are still working in those areas."

An important area of progress during Mitchell's term has been street overlay projects.

"I think we've done a really good job on them," he said. "We did a bond issue to do it and we have probably overlayed more streets in the last two years than they've done in Bryant in a long time. It's everybody working together to make that happen. I can't take complete credit for those things, so you can see some of things a mayor does is plan for the future and take care of current issues, but it takes money and time."

At the start of the fiscal year, the Bryant tax revenue base was down over $100,000, but it has improved to date to get back in the "black".

"Hopefully the rest of the year, we can accumulate a little bit more money to do some of these projects," Mitchell said. "What we want to do is give city employees raises. We were worried about balancing the budget, because you have to have a balanced budget, and the city employees were very understanding. Not everybody was happy and I understand that, but I would like, if at all possible, at the end of the year, to try doing something for them, whether it be bonuses, extra days off, or a percentage raise across the board. We have a really good staff and they are deserving."

When Mitchell became mayor of Bryant, he had a vision of what he'd like to see accomplished.

"Honestly, I thought we would be further ahead on the flooding issues than where we are, but it takes time to do the studies and we have hired FTN to do those studies. It takes them time to size the drainage ditches, culverts and all of those things you have to do before you can do anything," Mitchell said. "They want to make sure that it's going to help and not hurt, so you have to go in and have the studies done before you can go to the next step and that has taken some time in some cases. And when you are pretty much out of money, that kind of stops you, too. I was hoping to have Sunset Meadows completed by last year. We've got most of the culverts in, but we need to dress it up and dredge the bottom of the creek. Just to replace the utilities that cross the roads through there is going to be $50,000 and when the revenue is not coming in, that's a tremendous amount of money."

Being mayor of Bryant has been the most challenging public service position that Mitchell has held, he said.

"But I'm always up to the challenge," he added. "I love my job. I have not had a personal agenda on any projects. I have been wide open to the whole city on what needs to be done and how to get it done. When we get it done, we go on to something else and find another challenge."

Why should Mitchell be re-elected as mayor of Bryant?

"I think experience," he said. "Just some of the things in the last three and half years we have accomplished are a lot of where I'd like to be, but I think there are some areas, for instance, where flooding hadn't been addressed in years and years, as well as streets. We have gone out, looked at the water issues and we are addressing those things that have to be addressed and couldn't be put off any longer.

“If you keep Bryant growing like it has, 88 percent in the last 10 years, you can't keep the same water or sewer systems and we have had that type of growth. You have to move forward and in the last several years, we as a group have done that.

"Bryant is a really good place to live now and it's going to be hard to make it shine much more than what it is now," he concluded. "We have been named as one of the top 100 small cities in the United States, we are the second-fastest growing city in Arkansas and the best urban site in the state. It's really hard to top that, but my goal is to top it by working to get all the neighborhoods safe and continue our progress on the flooding issues. The parks system we have is phenomenal and the school system is growing like crazy. We have so much coming here, we have to be prepared for that commercial and residential growth. We have to keep in front of it and stay on top of it, because if you stop, it's almost impossible to get it started again."

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