Spotlight on Independence County - Batesville

February 19, 2007 - Posted at 7:13 p.m.  CST

BATESVILLE-From the outside it might appear the City of Batesville's got a little bit of everything.

"It's the best kept secret in Arkansas.   Who would not want to live in Batesville.   You are close to the river and within an hour of many attractions," said Mayor Rick Elumbaugh.

But Arkansas' best kept secret is overshadowed with problems.

"Actually, infrastructure is huge here as far as growth in our city, and I think without any type of economic development here in Independence County we are going to have to look at our infrastructure," said Elumbaugh.

And you wouldn't think by looking down the main business strip that the infrastructure is in trouble, but commercial business only makes a minor dent in this community.

"I think it's like any city in Arkansas or the U.S.   We are looking at slowdowns and a lot of manufacturing plants actually moving to Mexico," said Elumbaugh.

And Batesville has had its fare share of industrial let downs.   One of it's major plants, Emerson Electric, now known as White Rogers, has gone from 1300 employees down to about 250.   And this type of reduction has been echoed several times, which is a major concern for the county as a whole.

"The cities are involved in the county and without the cities' development the county won't progress," said County Judge, Bill Hicks.

The city of Batesville says they often look to nearby Jonesboro as a model on growth.

"It seems like every six months they come up and you have a new plant of 400 or 600 new employees for your community and that's huge," said Elumbaugh.

The City of Batesville says one thing that would help with economic development, would be an upgrade to their waste water treatment facility which currently has a capacity of zero.

"The problem is it was put in in 1980 and designed for a life of 20 years.   We are now in the 27th year," said Eugene Townsley, the Superintedent of Batesville's Waste Water Treatment Plant.

He says more water is coming in that can be processed, therefore, the plant is unable to remove pollutants before they can be put back in the river.  And that's a concern considering the plant is permitted by the state and must report to them.

"We are regulating the pond levels up and down, and that's the only real controls we have in trying to meet permit," said Townsley.

And considering the plant exceeded permit in January due to excessive rain, a new facility is a must, especially considering how much Batesville needs to attract new industry.

"Right now we couldn't take a large water using industry because of our current capacity," said Townsley.

So plans are underway to construct a new and expandable treatment center.

"It would be readily expandable, with the least amount of interruption and the least amount of cost.   And we looked at a long term plan to accomplish this," said Townsley.

The new water treatment facility would cost between 20 and 30-million dollars to complete, but that's money that would last a long time.

"Based on the design we are looking at, it should give us another 20 years life.   We want something that's expandable and easy to maintain," said Townsley.

And expandability is crucial to the economic development of this area.

"If we had prospects of a new and larger industry coming in and we were getting close to capacity on the new plant.   We would be able to in short order...a year or able to expand to accommodate any industry that would like to come to Batesville," said Townsley.

And as Batesville's Mayor explains, anything that could be done now would greatly benefit the city and the county in the future.

"We still have room for folks to come in here, but as far as building anything new at this point, we are going to have to get our infrastructure up and running," said Elumbaugh.

Which is a high priority on this new mayor's list of things to accomplish.

"I have a huge dream list and I think you are going to see our community step forward and start to progress," said Elumbaugh.

As far as raising money for the new water treatment facility a couple of options include a 1% increase on taxes or a possible rate increase on utilities.

The Independence County Judge also says, the county will do anything it can to help any of it's cities, and says nothing would make him more happy than to bring more people back into the area.

If you have a question, comment or concern about something in Independence County - let us know, just click on the Independence County link located at the top of our home page.

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