VILONIA — With the recent opening of the Vilonia bypass, members of the Vilonia City Council want to stage a Christmas parade in their downtown and they have made a request to another organization to begin work on planning it.
"I might be opening a can of worms, but I think we need a Christmas parade," said alderman Jim King at the October council meeting held Tuesday night.
Chiming in, alderman Skip Cates said there shouldn’t be a problem now closing 64 Business, for a short time now, with the new bypass. Law enforcement and fire department officials in the audience were consulted and appeared to also be in favor.
An informal request, mayor James Firestone asked members of the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce to consider serving as the coordinators of the parade. In the audience, Jill Bonnema, CEO, said the VACC plans to meet Monday night and will discuss the matter. Firestone suggested the parade to be held the first week in December. Yet, a date was not set.
"We need to get the word out to businesses, the school, churches — everybody," King said.
He also suggested monetary prizes for the best floats.
That wasn’t the only bit of informal discussion. Members of a "Museum Brigade," in the audience, were asked to report on the progress of a veterans’ museum that is being established in Vilonia. It was said there are volunteers of all ages, from all walks of life, on the current brigade, serving on various committees operating under a board of directors. For instance, a junior high art class is working on a Vietnam era simulation room for the museum. They will work alongside Vietnam veterans for authenticity. A group, according to Brigade members, is also working on a Civil War display.
The use of a facility has been donated by Vilonia resident Stanley Gordon Jr. Repair and clean-up is underway and it is anticipated the facility will open in the spring. Until then, the volunteer organization will be holding fundraisers, gathering and documenting donated articles and making preparations for the opening.
"We are busy but you will be hearing a lot from us," said Sue Gallahar, Brigade member.
She also issued an open invitation for others to join the volunteer efforts. "We are going to need all the help we can get."
Admission to the museum will be free. However, donations will be accepted. It will operate under the umbrella of the city.
On another note, there was a brief discussion regarding the city’s eligibility, based on the new census, to become a First Class City. Firestone listed a few of the changes that would take place should they opt to change from the current Second Class including bid status requirements. He asked the council to ponder on the information provided and prepare to vote on the matter prior to the end of the year. Firestone said the funding for the city will remain the same under either status.
"Financially, we are in good shape as a town," King said. "If it is not broke, why are we going to try to fix it?"
The only action taken was, the council approved a raise in insurance coverage at the city park to $150,000. The premiums, Firestone said, will increase about $250 per year.
"We took a direct hit out there by the tornado," Firestone said. "FEMA appraised it at $124,000. I think we need to raise it up to at least $150,000."
There was a brief discussion concerning FEMA funding resulting from tornado damage. Firestone said about $113,000 has been received from FEMA.
Referring to it as "sticker shock," Firestone made the council aware of an increase in Municipal League dues. The increase, he said, is based on an increase in population and will amount to $13,659. The matter will be on the November agenda, Firestone said.
Alderman Skip Cates commended the city’s maintenance workers for using the new bush hog to clean up the roadways. He said he has received several favorable comments from residents.
• Fire Department — Chief Keith Hillman said more than $13,000 has been raised as a result of a photography package. The money, Keith said, will be used to form a rescue team. Firefighters, he said, will go to Arkadelphia to train. Also, he said, a trailer has been purchased and will be outfitted for the purpose.
• Planning Commission — Firestone reported a meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Oct. 27, for the purpose of reviewing a replat at the corner of Main and S. Elizabeth.
• Police Department — Chief Brad McNew said he has received a $3,500 grant to be applied toward a lifescan fingerprint system. The machine, McNew said, will make it possible for fingerprints to be forwarded directly to the state police for matching. To finish out the cost of the machine, he said, some money will be taken out of the equipment fund. A total amount was not provided.
• Vilonia Sports Association — Greg Lewis, VSA president, in a written report, said the fall soccer season has gone well and will be finishing up Nov. 5. Firestone said it is anticipated the VSA will present their contract for renewal at the November meeting. An update on refurbishing at the park following the tornado damage, Firestone said lights and poles have been delivered and he anticipates they will be installed in about a week. He also said he has received quotes for repairing backstops, fences, awnings and bleachers. There was also some discussion regarding the purchase of some temporary fence to relocate outfield fences. However, no action was taken.
• Chamber of Commerce — Bonnema updated the board regarding the upcoming Winter Royalty Pageant to be held Nov. 12. This is the first year for the pageant, Bonnema said, adding that pageants are good fundraisers for the organization. She also said more than $10,000 is in a sign account and will remain there until a goal is reached to allow signage posted at entrances to the city.
• Code enforcement — Firestone said 40 building permits have been issued year to date. In the month of August, 18 were issued.
•Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance — Firestone read a letter from the organization, written by Sandy Towles, case supervisor, regarding continued tornado assistance. Three case workers and a case supervisor are handling about 63 client cases, she said. The office, located in the old city hall, is open on Thursdays with Towles and James Anderson of AR Disaster Preparedness and Response, on hand. Clean-up efforts are ongoing, she added. Also, she said, in the past two weeks volunteers have helped to move the tornado damaged trailers and prepare sites for new mobile homes.
The organization has made an application to become a non-profit organization. Until then, Towles said, they have received two $10,000 grants from faith-based organizations to help with expenses. In addition, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Louisville issued a $10,000 grant for operations. Also helping is the United Way and the Faulkner County Salvation Army, according to the letter.