On March 31, Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh’s 21-minute-long state of the city address was posted on Facebook.
It’s been roughly a year since the ripple-effects of the pandemic made its way to town and the address focused on the ways the pandemic upended normalcy for the municipality. Last year began with focus on thorough completion 2020 Census. Plans included having groups from Arkansas United visit local industries help workers fill out their census forms.
Census information impacts how much federal money is allocated to municipalities, so a robust count of everyone is always the goal. Those plans had to change because of the virus.
By March, city offices were closed to protect the public and city workers from unintentional exposure. Plans were put in place to keep essential services like wastewater, water, fire, police, and solid waste employees working uninterrupted.
Video conferences became the normal for city council members instead of twice monthly in-person meetings. Additionally, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was delivering a daily update about the virus spread. There was renewed appreciation of the city’s trail systems, and in mid-March Elumbaugh began the challenge of walking every street in Batesville.
He is about two miles away from completing his goal.
Arkansas Municipal League promoted the idea to all cities across the state to do the same.
By April many workplaces encouraged employees to work from home. Elumbaugh pointed out in the monthly police report, accidents went down from 31 in March, to 11 in April, a sign that people weren’t driving as much. Spring events were canceled and the Batesville Advertising and Promotions Commission refunded two months’ worth of lodging taxes back to hard-hit local hotels.
While some municipalities went ahead with work-furloughs and layoffs in anticipation of significantly diminished sales taxes, Batesville adopted a more moderate wait-and-see approach.
It paid off.
Sales-taxes actually increased due to interest in online shopping Elumbaugh reported. “I would like to say don’t forget our local shops in Batesville: Our restaurants, and boutiques; these people have put a lot of money into these things, even though it is very handy to continue to shop online, always consider some of our folks here in our community,” Elumbaugh said.
Several local commercial projects continued moving forward including the First Community Bank’s Operations Center, as well as an expansion at Bad Boy Mowers. Additionally, voters passed Issue 1, which continued financing improvements to Arkansas roads, and the city is collaborating with the county, state, and city of Southside for an emergency lane on Ramsey Mountain.
Although 2020 was a stressful year, the city ended on positive notes with the dedication of Sara Low Memorial Dog Park in November, and the biggest, free Christmas light display in Arkansas as part of White River Wonderland.
The city got the trademark: Christmas Capital of Arkansas. More than 64,000 visitors drove through the light display, while countless others parked and walked through the lights. An estimated 250,000 people viewed the display, putting the troubles of the year aside if only for a few hours.
Elumbaugh thanked the members of the city council and the city employees who committed to moving the community forward in unprecedented times.
Various activities will occur throughout the year as Batesville celebrate it’s 200 year anniversary of the being the oldest, continually-inhabited city in the state. The successes of Batesville are being continually being studied by other communities throughout the state, Elumbaugh said. Leadership teams have visited the aquatics and community centers, athletic fields, and historic downtown to see impacts these programs have on life and business.
While Elumbaugh said he and his wife were fortunate to have only mild symptoms when they contracted the virus, he somberly reflected on the elderly and most vulnerable Batesville residents who lost their lives to the pandemic, as well the health guidelines that prohibited the customary visitation and funeral services for many families and communities.
The pandemic continues, but Elumbaugh lauded the number of vaccines available and the arduous task of vaccination distribution, as lights at the end of the tunnel.