Haskell mayor Metroplan leader for 2014

By Wayne Bryan Published January 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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HASKELL — Jeff Arey, the mayor of the Saline County city of Haskell, was recently named president of Metroplan, the regional planning support organization for more than 25 communities in four counties of central Arkansas.

The organization aids

communities with long-range planning and development projects, helping to secure federal funding for local community development.

“It’s required for communities in Saline, Grant, Pulaski and Lonoke counties to be members of Metroplan to be eligible for federal funds for transportation needs and other main city functions,” said Arey, who has been a member of Metroplan since he was first elected mayor 16 years ago.

“I am extremely honored to serve as board president for 2014,” he said after his election was announced Dec. 20. “I was vice president last year. My main duties will be to lead the meeting of the board and head the meeting of the executive committee.”

Arey said the executive committee, made up of the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, meets when negotiations are underway between jurisdictions among the four counties or with the state for special projects.

“Metroplan staff have helped Haskell by providing planning maps and other technical assistance,” Arey said. “They have been instrumental in helping our planning commission, especially with creating a comprehensive economic development plan and subdivision regulations.”

He said Metroplan also helped provide data when the city redrew the boundaries of the its four wards.

“They tracked growth in the community and helped make sure the council positions fairly reflected the current population in the community,” Arey said.

The new president said Metroplan made an “aggressive effort” in 2013 to create a long-range plan for central Arkansas for the next 20 years.

“I hope to see that completed this year,” he said. “The whole idea was to get the public involved in what they wanted to see developed in their communities during those years.”

The proposed update to the long-range plan, called Imagine Central Arkansas, is coordinated with Jump Start, an effort to target sustainable development

and redevelopment plans for five neighborhoods in the region, including Old Town Bryant.

The program is linked to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Arey said Haskell residents have something in particular they want to see from the new plan.

“Haskell, like many communities, wants to see ways to get around without needing to drive when your destination is only a block and a half away,” the mayor said. “They want to be able to walk or bicycle to work if possible and see more parks and other quality-of-life projects near their homes.”

Arey said Haskell residents want more sidewalks.

“You can accomplish all kinds of major projects for a community — in the past 16 years, we have built a sewage treatment plant that doubled the city’s capacity, along with big road and drainage projects — and people won’t see a change,” Arey said, “but if you add sidewalks, citizens take notice and thank you for doing the best project ever. It changes the activities of an area. People can walk around their neighborhood easier and safer and visit with their neighbors.”

Metroplan is also working on trail projects that would link communities. One of these is to combine existing trails and proposed trails into a system that would run from North Little Rock to Hot Springs.

Another development project Arey and and the Saline County Economic Development Commission are working on is a proposal that the new regional veterans home be located close to the Arkansas Health Center in Haskell. The location has received high marks from a site-location committee, but the mayor said he has not heard of any action on the proposal since November.

Arey has said before that the city of Haskell supports the plan and would welcome the veterans home to the community. Haskell city officials have offered to waive water and sewer improvement fees for the project and would locate a new fire station near the facility.

Arey’s term as Haskell’s mayor ends on the last day of 2014, and he has already announced that he will be a candidate for Saline County judge in the March primary. He has not ruled out running for mayor again if he is not selected as a candidate for county judge.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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