VILONIA — Tornado-related issues and handing out kudos were the main topics at the Vilonia City Council held Tuesday night.
Mayor James Firestone opened the meeting thanking everyone for the work since the April 25 tornado. City employees, firefighters, police and citizen volunteers worked side by side "day and night" for days, he said.
"I’ve never seen the like of volunteers and the outpouring of donations," he said.
Some were from the area, he said, while many others came from around the country.
"We will never be able to thank everyone," he said.
Other council members also voiced their appreciation as well as acknowledged the work provided by some particular agencies and businesses. For instance, alderman Kathy French touted the praises of Entergy.
On a related subject, Fred Fowlkes, city engineer, reported on the city’s involvement in the cleanup of the tornado affected areas. He said 1,500 loads of debris have been hauled during the past two weeks and there is a limited amount of time left for the service to continue. Equipment has been leased, he explained, and the debris is being hauled to a temporary collection site on Mount Olive Road. The pick-up service will continue until late next week, he said.
"In two weeks, a remarkable job has been done," Fowlkes said. "I thought we would be looking at six weeks. The people have been very cooperative though. We need to spread the word though that it will only be done for a limited amount of time."
A final pass will be made through the areas late next week, Fowlkes said.
"We are picking up all storm debris placed on the street right of way," he said. "They need to have the stuff out there by 8 a.m. Thursday (May 26) morning."
Shingles, sheetrock, insulation or wood removed from houses as part of the repair process but will not be picked up, Fowlkes said. Contractors hired to perform the work, Fowlkes said, should be responsible for disposal at an authorized landfill.
Fowlkes also said he has issued 22 storm damage repair permits for roofs. To his knowledge, he said, three or four restoration companies are being hired to do most of the work. Fowlkes fielded a question concerning "fly by night" companies. He said he hasn’t heard of any doing work in the city or attempting to solicit work.
Also, there was a brief discussion concerning inspection of work. Alderman Joe Maxwell suggested residents should have work inspected by a professional home inspector prior to writing a check. Both Firestone and Fowlkes agreed.
• Fire department — Chief Keith Hillman jokingly told the council the department had only made a couple of runs since the last meeting. The fire department served as the command hub for the tornado relief and firefighters, in fact, worked around the clock for more than a week. On a serious note, Hillman said, the department and fleet did not receive any damage as a result of the tornado.
• The planning commission, Fowlkes said, will meet May 26 with three items on the agenda including a new site plan proposal for building a Pentecostal Church on Highway 64. A final plat for 3 lots at Schultz and Simpson and a re-plat for a small part of land at Seven Points Lake.
• Senior Citizens Center — Firestone said there are damages at the center amounting to about $7,000. A tree fell on a corner; a ridge cap was blown off and there is ceiling damage.
• Parks and Recreation — Firestone said the "park is out of commission." There is severe damage, he said, to the ballfields, bleachers, concession stand and score board. Firestone read portions of a letter from Greg Lewis, recreation manager. He said an agreement has been worked out with surrounding communities to play home games in their parks.
Softball teams are playing "home" games at the Greenbrier softball complex. Soccer teams are playing games at the pee wee football fields behind the Vilonia Elementary School. Baseball teams are playing home games in Conway at the UCA intramural fields and in Greenbrier at the baseball complex. So far, things have gone smoothly, according to Lewis’ letter. Parents, he said, have been cooperative and accommodating.
His letter, however, mentioned the added expense to families faced with driving their kids to Greenbrier and Conway multiple times per week. It was said repairs probably will not be done to the park in time for play this year. Firestone said repairs are over the amount of coverage and it will be a "major project to get it cleaned up." Windstream, he said, is coming in to help with it.
• Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce president Debbie Townsend said the monthly meeting set for April 25, was cancelled due to the tornado warnings. The May meeting, she said, will be a board meeting and the June meeting will be a Business After Hours with plans for networking and reuniting businesses.
• A sewer department meeting is set for 7 p.m., Thursday night at city hall, Maxwell announced. He did not elaborate on the agenda.
Sitting in the audience, Cynthia Cowell, communications specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration, encouraged those in attendance to share information concerning the Disaster Recovery Center set up in the Eagle Shopping Center. Several agencies, she said, are there under one roof including FEMA, the Department of Human Services (where families can apply for food stamps) and the SBA, who provides low interest government loans for homeowners, renters and businesses. She stressed the importance of tornado victims coming to the center. Some, she said, "sell themselves short," by not applying for help.