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Monday, May 2, 2016

Fulton and Izard County Year in Review: July Through December

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Salem Police Chief Al Roork (right) retired in August after 33 years on the job. Following a community reception, the Salem City Council swore in Shad Overman, a long-time Transporation Department officer, as the new Chief of Police. [Order this photo]

It was unseasonably warm and dry as far back as January. But July was so dry many towns, including Salem, cancelled July Fourth fireworks shows, out of fear of starting grass fires.

Fireworks stands were allowed to sell their merchandise, but were asked to put up signs explaining the fireworks were not to be used until the area received substantial rain.

While county government was trying to prevent fires, area fire departments were busy battling grass fires, many happening despite burn bans. In Glencoe, for example, several acres along Highway 62-412 were burned after a bush hog blade struck a rock, and the resulting spark started the fire.

Other signs of a major drought in July included a plea from Melbourne Mayor Shannon Womack for residents to conserve water. So much water was being used that the city's two water storage tanks were not getting full, causing water pressure problems.

On July 11, Governor Mike Beebe requested a federal disaster declaration because of the drought, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack complied.

As hay crops burned up, area farmers were forced to begin feeding hay they had stored for winter, and begin looking to other states who had hay for sale.


On August 14, a Fulton County resident was arrested after making alarming comments to fellow National Guard members about shooting students and teachers at Salem High School.

Jacob Morley, a Salem graduate in his 20's, confirmed to commanding officers that he had made the comment, and had been searching the internet for booby traps and was trying to buy firearms from other soldiers assigned to his Mountain Home Guard unit.

Morley was later released on bond, but still faces charges of Falsely Communicating a Terrorist Threat.

On Aug. 15 and 16, another event shocked the community. A string of suspicious fires kept area fire departments busy in the Sturkie, Moko, Camp and Byron Road areas.

The fires to a home, two mobile homes, out buildings and fields had obviously been set.

Salem resident Sharon Maguffee was arrested on Aug. 16, and released on bond to seek mental health treatment.

A bittersweet event at Salem City Hall was a community reception for Salem Fire Chief Al Roork, who retired after 33-years on the job.

Roork received a stream of hugs, kisses and handshakes, as Salem residents turned out for refreshments and to wish Roork well.

He did not go far. He immediately started a new job as the Chief Deputy to Sheriff Buck Foley.


There was friction when the when the White River Area Agency on Aging stopped overseeing Fulton County Senior Citizens Programs, and actually started managing the programs. But WRAAA received good reviews from seniors, several weeks after taking over.

Agency employees painted the Salem Senior Center, increased transportation programs and began signing more people up for home delivered meals. It was also planning fund raisers to raise money to pay for program expansions.

A parent angry when a teacher took a peanut butter sandwich away from her Kindergartener questioned Viola Elementary's nut ban to protect students with nut allergies. Many other parents joined the cause and started a Facebook discussion that divided the community. Viola school officials agreed to form a committee to evaluate the ban on food containing nuts to try to calm the controversy.


More than a year after it was closed under an "Emergency Suspension of Service," the Gepp Post office reopened on Oct. 3, under reduced hours.

The post office was one of many rural post offices slated for closing, but the Gepp station was closed because postal officials claimed they could not find anyone willing to run it.

The Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington D.C. heard an appeal from Gepp residents and ordered postal officials to make amends after ruling that they had violated their own rules and policies, and given conflicting explanations of why the post office was closed.

In October, area residents finally started turning their attention to the November election, which including selecting a President and state legislators.

On Oct. 6, Governor Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Democratic office seekers attended a rally at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

Beebe attacked out of state groups who he claimed were spending millions to help Republicans win legislative seats.

After more than two years of work, the Fulton County Rural Water Authority finally lined up $1.3 million dollars in state and federal grants and loans to add a 40 mile expansion of water service toward Viola, Sturkie and down Highway 395 toward Salem. The main problem with the project was fewer than expected customers signed up for the water service.


By Nov. 1, the Salem area was in a tizzy over its Greyhounds football team. It was expected to be good but, under new coach Cody Curtis, the Hounds were great -- 9 and 0 as they prepared for their final game of the season against Cross County High.

With a huge crowd to cheer them on, the team finished with a perfect season, and prepared for the state playoffs.

Curtis credit intense community support for inspiring the team's success.

After a year of frustration, Fulton County Quorum Court passed an ordinance authorizing the county to close on a USDA loan, insuring a new $2.1 million dollar jail would be built.

While voters approved a plan to pay for the jail with existing sales tax money, the county had to fire its architect and hire another to get final plans submitted to federal and state officials.

The November election saw Republicans win enough seats to take control of the Arkansas House and Senate, for the first time since the Civil War.

In north central Arkansas, Republican Rick Crawford won his first re-election bid as First District Congressman, but Democrats were successful in winning State Representative seats.

In Fulton County, Democrats Burton Yarnell and Johnny Moody, and Independent Lynn Guffey were elected to Quorum Court.

In Izard County, incumbent John David Miller was re-elected to Quorum Court, and Bill Savill and David Boren took open seats.

There was a great voter turnout in both counties -- with about 70 percent of registered voters casting votes.

Voters overwhelmingly defeated President Obama in Arkansas, but he surprised many, including his opponent, Mitt Romney, by sweeping to victory in the national vote.


In December, the Fulton County Hospital got some good news. Medicare and Medicaid owed the hospital about $500,000 after under paying it for medical care it provided. The money will help the hospital catch up on about $400,000 in unpaid bills.

Crouse Construction of Harrison won the bid to rebuild one of Salem's main sewer lines and make repairs to the treatment plant. The company will do the work for $316,000, leaving more than $100,000 in federal grant money to do additional sewer upgrades.

Judge Charles Willett breathed a sigh of relief on Dec. 20 after nine companies submitted bids to build a new jail. Two bids were under $2 million dollars, the amount needed to proceed. Work should begin in late January. Tate Construction of Jonesboro was the apparent low bidder, at $1,740,000.

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