But Richardson said it’s too early to commit to anything just yet. Some residents see it as an opportunity to follow through on promises made years and decades ago.
“The last thing we want to do is commit to and invest money into a project only to find out that we jumped the gun when it comes to guidelines,” Richardson said. “You can’t guarantee that the guidelines won’t change. And you don’t want to look back and find there’s something that you would have to pay back. Rick Thomas said the written agreement, titled “Promises made to Adjoining Residents by Craighead County Fair Board,” so that his neighborhood off of Clinton School Road would drop opposition to the fairgrounds.
Sewer service was guaranteed to a group of residents 10 years ago. But that guarantee was made by the private Craighead County Fair Association. At the time, the fair board was seeking annexation of land currently owned by Nettleton Baptist Church, 7001 E. Johnson Ave. “We did not want that here,” Thomas said. “We were like every neighborhood in town that did not want the fair (in their neighborhood). The only reason we agreed was through their promise.”
“I’ve had at least five or six people who have contacted me,” Coleman said, adding that some are angry, because they believed they had been promised service as far back as 1988 when voters approved an annexation proposal that doubled the city’s land mass. Coleman said he found that sewer service wasn’t guaranteed as part of the election. City council member Charles Coleman said he’s been approached by several people who believe the city should invest some of the money on providing sewer service to the remaining Jonesboro neighborhoods that don’t have it.
The fair board declared bankruptcy in 2014 and the church purchased the fairgrounds from the bankruptcy trustee. The Northeast Arkansas District Fair has continued to operate each year at the same location. The only exception was 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under the agreement, the residents would pay the first $100,000 of the cost to extend sewer lines to their homes, and the fair board would pay the remainder. At the time, the total cost was estimated at more than $200,000.
Thomas said he knows his neighborhood isn’t the only one without sewer service, noting that the Pratt Circle area of north Jonesboro has been awaiting hookup since the mass annexation. “There are some conversations about cooperative projects – those doors may open – but I don’t want to speak to specifics about any of those,” Richardson said. “The bottom line is, we’re still waiting to see exactly how we can spend it, and make sure that we know how we can spend it before we do,” Richardson said. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, the U.S. Treasury Department explicitly says water, sewer and broadband infrastructure improvements are permitted. But it’s not that simple here, because the city doesn’t own the water utility. City Water and Light was established in 1906 as a citywide improvement district.
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