Candidates see different paths to engage Booneville’s needs

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

BOONEVILLE – The common theme for the three mayoral candidates in Booneville is a desire to bring more jobs to the city.
Beyond that, however, one-term Mayor Roger Smith, who is running as an independent, Democratic challenger Joe Eaton and Republican candidate Ronald “Ron” Kirk have different priorities for the next four years.
Smith points to several areas that he counts as major accomplishments during his first term.
“We’ve worked with industry to put additional playground area and equipment at city parks on both the west side and east side of the city,” Smith said. “There has been a $55 million expansion at the ACCO plant that retained 550 jobs with the potential for 400 more jobs to be added, and we were able to hold onto the Heartland plant.”
He and other economic development officials also have maintained close communications with Toyota management so that when additional Toyota suppliers are ready to seek a location, Booneville is in a good marketing position.
Eaton, however, believes the city’s need for more jobs for its residents can best be met through cooperative relations among city, county, state and federal government officials.
“I envision having the various boards get together for monthly meetings to be sure we’re working toward the same goals,” Eaton said. “I think better relations with other elected officials will improve the economic outlook for Booneville and the other communities as we align our goals at all levels of government to work together.”
The chance to bring jobs to Booneville would be greatly enhanced if the city took full advantage of all stimulus programs offered by the federal government, Kirk said.
“We have the perfect location for any industry that would want to come here,” Kirk said. He mentioned access to hunting, fishing, quality medical care, the community college, school system and four-lane highways as key features.
“I plan to work hand in glove with Congressman Travis Childers and House Speaker Billy McCoy to see that Booneville gets every job possible,” Kirk said.

Other issues
Smith noted that work continues to develop the Booneville Hardware building as a performing arts center and he has helped recruit a project to turn the old Walmart building into a facility with several entertainment outlets, a project that is already in progress. Under his administration the city has also begun to work cooperatively with the Bay Springs Resort development, which will bring additional jobs to the area.
Also, these projects will improve the city’s attractiveness as a tourism destination, Smith said.
Access for Booneville residents to the mayor and other city officials is important as well, Eaton said.
“It is a pressing concern to give citizens better access to city hall,” Eaton said. “I want to bring the personal touch back to the relationship between the city and the people.”
During two terms that he served as alderman from 1993 to 2001, Eaton said he was instrumental in accomplishing several major projects. The city sewer system was expanded to include residents in the city’s annexed area, an expansion that also enabled more industry recruitment, including Caterpillar. Major improvements at the city park were completed, as well as construction of Kids Town, Eaton said.
A drawback that has kept many local residents from coming into the city to shop and conduct business, Kirk said, is their fear of receiving traffic tickets.
“Our merchants are losing money,” Kirk said. “Where Tupelo writes 30 to 40 tickets a week, Booneville tries for 200. That’s costing us a lot of money for merchants and we’re losing taxes.”

Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.