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Friday, July 20, 2018, 4:59 p.m.

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Slow and steady

Southside breaks ground for city hall

By Tammy Keith

This article was published July 1, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

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Participating in the groundbreaking for the Southside City Hall are, from left, Joey Sample, City Council member; Vera Byrd, city recorder; Bobby Denison, Vince Gay and Tim Fairchild, City Council members; Southside Mayor Ray Bowman; Mary Bowen, City Council member; and Byron Southerland, treasurer.

Southside near Batesville became a city in 2014, and now it’s getting a city hall as a physical testament to the will of the residents.

“It’s a pretty big deal for us,” Mayor Ray Bowman said.

The Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce had a groundbreaking June 20 on the site at 2181 Batesville Blvd.

The 4,650-square-foot-building is estimated to cost $675,000, the mayor said.

The almost 4-acre piece of land was purchased for $100,000 from Birdie Hill, the widow of Bob Hill, a businessman and basketball referee.

“His widow said he would love it,” Bowman said. “He would be happy to know the city could use it.”

The city paid off the land in 18 months.

“The plan behind all this is to have [the city hall] all paid off in five years. We did it without raising any taxes,” the mayor said. The city hall will be paid for with state turnback money, and it is scheduled to be completed in November.

Bowman said Southside officials are intentionally going at a steady pace.

“We’re doing it in a slow, methodical way,” he said.

The area, which is about 5 miles south of Batesville, incorporated in 2014. Batesville had an election in 2014 to try to annex Southside and block the incorporation, but the proposal failed. The city of Batesville also filed a lawsuit contesting Southside’s incorporation but later dropped that challenge.

In 2015, Southside voters elected Bowman and other city officials.

“There was a high 80 percent that wanted to be a new city,” the mayor said.

“We were part of Independence County before that. Batesville was going to try to annex this area in. Nothing against Batesville, but [Southside residents] didn’t want to be that kind of city; they wanted to be self-sufficient and independent. Everybody decided it was time to do it or not do it. No one was looking to live in a city, but if we had to, we wanted it to be our city,” Bowman said.

“There had not been a new city in Arkansas in 28 years. We had a lot of questions,” he said.

“There was an area of land that wanted to be in the new city but was not allowed to be incorporated,” Bowman said. “After we became a city, we annexed in those people. We started out [with a population of] 2,200, and it put us at 3,900.

“The biggest advantage, … we get [state] turnback money for roads that the county was not getting. Whatever goes to Little Rock, 15 percent goes to cities, divided by population. We’ve done a lot of road work and paving. It’s a big plus for the citizens.”

Bowman joked about the dates he asked his wife to go on the past several months.

“Nothing speaks romance more than asking my wife if she wants to drive down and look at a city hall on a Saturday,” he said.

Bowman said he and council members toured numerous city halls.

“I talked to different mayors and different officials, recorders and clerks. I asked, ‘If you were going to build a new city hall, what would you do differently?’”

He said one suggestion he received was to build a room, like a vault, that would be fireproof to protect records that would be hard to re-create.

Also, Bowman said, he was told, “It’s always easier to build bigger now than add on later.”

“It’s interesting. You don’t think about it — there are not a lot of new city halls to go look at. They were all built 50 years ago or remodeled,” he said. “What we’ve done is try to build something large enough, [with a] conference room, treasurer, recorder, mayor’s office.”

Bowman said he has an agreement with Independence County Sheriff Shaun Stephens to include a room in the city hall for deputies.

“We have a corner of the building with its own private entrance and bathroom — we’re going to do a substation for the whole southern part of the county. The deputies might not be there every day, but they can check in and be there when needed,” Bowman said.

“This area has always kind of taken care of itself; this wouldn’t have worked anywhere else,” he said. “The water department’s been here 50 years. … It became an authority a few years ago, and we’ve got sewer service.”

Southside contracts for police, road work and sanitation. Two volunteer fire departments serve the area.

The Southside School District, which has existed for 70 years, has an enrollment of about 1,700 students. Bowman said the school allowed the city to use an office there to keep city records. City Council meetings are held in the Conference Room of the Southside Public Water Authority.

Southside has six City Council members, a recorder and a treasurer.

“Most of us were born and raised here, and I think all but one of my council members are business people. They understand what overhead does to you. Once you start, it’s hard to put it back in the bottle.”

Council member Mary Bowen said she’s excited about getting a city hall.

“I think it’s wonderful; I think it’s great,” she said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Bowen, who grew up in Southside, said she has owned a beauty shop for 45 years in the community.

She said that in the early 1940s, the area was called Salem; then it was Oil City before becoming Southside decades ago.

“I have seen a big growth and a big change in the Southside area,” she said. “It’s been great, because we as a council have worked for the people and done for the people.”

She said the area is poised for growth.

“It’s going to grow big; everything’s growing south,” she said.

Bowman agreed.

“When I was a kid, I was in the country. … Now we’re across the road from Harps,” Bowman said. “We have Mark Martin Ford and Kia and … tractor dealerships. There’s a new one about to open up. New businesses are wanting to come in all the time.

“We don’t have a lot of taxes; we’re not doing a lot of stuff to hinder growth. Whatever anybody wants, we can do. We’re just trying to go slow and in an orderly way.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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