In some ways, Mayor Tab Townsell said, Mike Winter was raised to be Conway’s new fire chief.
Townsell made the announcement at Tuesday night’s Conway City Council meeting. Winter’s father, Lewis Winter, spent his career as a firefighter in Conway for more than 30 years, eventually becoming assistant fire chief, which was his son’s position in CFD until Tuesday night.
Winter grew up with his father and the other firefighters at the old Locust Street fire station, which was later reappropriated as the "old" Conway Police Department station and was torn down when the new CPD station was built.
Winter started his career with CFD, rose through the department, and said before the announcement on Tuesday that he plans to end his career here, too. Lewis Winter is retired, but was watching the announcement on TV.
Winter said that former Chief Bart Castleberry’s progressive nature had brought the department forward, and he hoped to continue the trend. Castleberry, now working in City Hall as director of the city’s Permits, Inspections and Code Enforcement Department, interviewed Winter as a new hire in 1995. Castleberry was there for the announcement on Tuesday, and said that he expected Winter to be "the best fire chief Conway’s ever had."
Winter has been working to get national accreditation from the non-profit Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). Now, Searcy has the only CPSE-accredited fire department in the state, and there are less than 150 in the country.
While accreditation does not in and of itself mean a lower Insurance Service Office (ISO) insurance risk rating for Conway, accreditation does involve bringing the department into alignment with what are recognized in the industry as the best practices and procedures in firefighting, which has the natural effect of reducing fire loss and ISO rating.
In a year with a no-frills budget, Major Tab Townsell said in an interview outside of the council meeting room, a major push toward accreditation will have to wait until a way of paying to implement new practices and procedures is identified.
In other business, during its Committee meeting, held before the full meeting, the Conway City Council discussed options for paying for street improvements related to the Central Landing commercial redevelopment of the Dennis F. Cantrell Field airport property. The city will have to complete an I-40 overpass connecting the Conway Commons shopping center to the airport property and provide 4-lane access to both Oak and Harkrider streets by 2017 to meet its contractual obligations to the prospective purchaser and commercial developer, Jim Wilson and Associates, LLC, though the developer has expressed interest in opening the shopping center in 2016. If the street developments aren’t built, the developer would have the option of backing out of the contract.
With two generally fair-weather summer construction seasons, City Engineer Ronnie Hall told the council, the contractual street improvements could be finished. However, the city cannot, using five-year financing to pay for the street improvements (the longest period the city can dedicate income to paying a loan without voter approval) pay for the street improvements by the contractual date.
The council has been presented with options including:
• Refinancing the terms of a 1/8 cent sales tax currently bonded until 2121 to stretch this 1/8 cent’s bond commitment out to 2044;
• Rededicating 1/8 of a cent of the city’s quarter-cent "pay-as-you-go" capital improvement tax to service new bonds dedicated to the central landing street improvements; and
• Using the about-$900,000 that the city receives from the state highway turnback sales tax to finance new bonds.
Several council members said they’d like more information before dedicating to any of the choices or, as Councilwoman Shelley Mehl suggested, any combination or modification of the choices presented by City Hall.
Councilman Wes Pruitt said that before he made a decision, he wanted to see a more detailed development pro forma, which is an independently drafted projection of how the Central Landing development can be expected to perform over over time, taking into account how the development "ramps up" after opening as compared to the city’s initial and ongoing financial commitments as well as "cannibalization" from local businesses similar to those expected to be Central Landing tenants.
No decision regarding Central Landing funding was made during the full Council meeting.