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Year in Review: 2012 Fulton and Izard County events

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oxford Fire Chief Alan Estes surveys some of the damage on March 11, as vandals disabled fire equipment at the Brockwell fire station. Three Howell County, Mo. residents arrested for the crime were also connected to numerous burglaries and vandalism incidents in Fulton and Izard Counties. [Order this photo]
The year 2012 began with more small communities fighting to keep their rural post offices open. A U.S. Postal Service plan to stem billions of dollars of losses proposed closing 3,600 post offices around the country, including more than 100 in Arkansas' First Congressional District, which covers Fulton, Izard and Sharp Counties.

Residents learned at a hearing in Elizabeth in late December that the postal service had agreed to delay further closings until mid-May, to give Congress time to come up with a plan to deal with postal debt problems.

Congressional action did not take place, but, as 2012 comes to an end, the postal service has backed away from closing more post offices, instead planning to cut back the hours of operation at small post offices including Camp, Viola, Elizabeth and Gepp.

The new year in Fulton County began with a taste of the major drought ahead. On Jan. 5, 2012, a fast moving grass fire destroyed a barn, shed, and carport in Southern Fulton County, the latest in a string of grass fires that Salem Fire Chief Nick Blanton said were related to an unusually warm and dry winter.

There was concern and outrage expressed after news on Jan. 10 that the USDA intended to close 10 Farm Service Agency offices including busy offices in Salem and Melbourne. Congressman Rick Crawford promised to fight to keep the local offices open.

In early February, courthouses at Salem and Melbourne were packed at hearings held by the USDA to collect public comment. Farmers and government leaders firmly and sometimes loudly declared that it made no sense to close two of the most used offices in the state, which had already taken steps that were saving the USDA money. The pleas fell on deaf ears as the offices closed as scheduled in September.

Jan. 11 was the day Fulton County Quorum Court passed an ordinance allowing the Fulton County Hospital to sell its home health care license to a private company for $1.7 million.

It took more than three months for the two parties to reach an agreement and complete the sale.

The $1.7 million dollars realized from the sale allowed the hospital to pay debts that were threatening the hospital's future operation, and give the Ozarks Medical Center, which took over hospital management in late 2011, some time to try to improve finances.

February 2012

In early February, the Melbourne City Council set a special election for April 10 on a proposal to increase the city's sales tax, and use the money to improve the condition of city streets. The tax increase was later approved by voters.

On February 23, Salem got some great news. It had received approval for a $500,000 grant to replace an old sewer line and make some repairs at its sewage treatment plant. A 2010 grant application had not been successful, but state officials invited Salem to re-apply when it turned out there was still grant money available.

On Feb. 22, a group of people met at the Fulton County Fairgrounds to discuss establishing a farmers market to serve the community.

The County Extension Office and local Master Gardeners had discussed the idea, and the good response at the meeting led to a decision to try to open a market by spring.

March 2013

Salem High School Football Coach Sammy Weir retired from coaching and teaching on March 1. Weir spent his life in football as a college and professional player and a college and high school coach. Weir took over the Salem program in 2009 and twice led it to state tournament appearances. Assistant Coach Cody Curtis was named to replace Weir.

On March 5, Fulton County Highway crews and Calico Rock prison inmates began removing the roof of a portion of the old nursing home building on Main Street. Demolition of a portion of the nursing home followed to prepare the construction site where the new jail will be built.

On March 11, the Brockwell fire station was closed after it was discovered that vandals had caused extensive damage to fire trucks and other equipment.

The main station at Oxford and other area departments provided service to Brockwell until the station could re-open.

April 2013

The investigation of the Brockwell vandalism led to charges being filed in early April against two West Plains adults, and a 16 year old juvenile.

The three were charged with numerous burglaries and vandalism incidents in Izard and Fulton County, including a Christmas Day 2011 vandalism spree that caused damage at the Viola Cemetery and several rural churches. They also face charges for numerous similar crimes in Howell County, Mo.

On April 17, the White River Area Agency on Aging served notice that it planned to take over the operation of Fulton County senior citizen centers and programs. WRAAA criticized the long-time provider, Fulton County Council on Aging, for not agressively raising money to expand service to serve more seniors.

WRAAA assured seniors that programs would continue as usual, with plans to expand programs available to them.

In April, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion that the video taping of public meetings has become a "standard way of reporting," and citizens and the news media have the right to tape meetings.

The opinion was issued at the request of State Senator Missy Irvin, after the Calico Rock City Council and Fulton County Quorum Court became the first two government bodies in the state to ban video recording.

Both bodies rescinded their video bans later in 2012.

May 2012

On May 12, two months of hard work paid off as the first-ever Salem Farmers Market opened on the town square.

Five vendors showed up selling a variety of produce and baked goods, and a good crowd turned out to shop and visit. Regular Saturday hours were set for the market, which was in operation until mid-December, thanks to mild weather that helped produce a fall crop of vegetables.

A Memorial Day fish fry marked the start of a fund drive to raise money to buy a rescue boat for the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. The county has had to depend on rescue boats from neighboring counties in the past, and delays in getting assistance in March, when a boy drowned at the Camp Kia Kima Boy Scout Camp, led to the community fundraiser.

By July, enough money had been collected to purchase and equip a rescue boat, which will be in service by spring.

In May, County Judge Charles Willett proposed that a new architect be hired to draw plans for the new Fulton County Jail. The architect which had been working on the project had stopped cooperating with the county, and had not completed needed final drawings, putting the project in jeopardy. Quorum Court agreed to hire the new contractor in hopes of saving a grant and low interest loan which would fund the project.

June 2012

In early June, Matt Ragsdale, a Harding University basketball player and graduate assistant, was named as Mammoth Spring's Basketball Coach. Ragsdale replaced Jeremy Cude, who resigned in late May after leading the Bears to the 2012 Class 1A state basketball championship. Cude left after six years to take the head coaching job at Riverview High School, near Searcy.

After facing a Jan. 1, 2013 deadline and having grant money fall through, Izard County neared completion in June on a badly needed new tower for police and fire communications. The improvements, originally estimated to cost up to $300,000 were done for about $60,000. The tower will be able to switch to a narrow band radio

system as required on Jan. 1.

Ozarka College delivered good news in June. For the second year in a row, it left its tuition cost at $75 per credit hour. Ozarka is one of the few colleges in the country that has been able to forego a tuition increase. Ozarka College President Dr. Richard Dawe credits his board and staff for managing money well.

The News Year in Review will continue next week.

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