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Top stories of 2013: Area got adequate rain

2013 was the year Paris voters approved a sales tax hike for the first time in more than a decade, that the county got a warning to fix problems at the county jail, that a documentary filmmaker came to town, that the popular History Channel program American Pickers picked the old Smith Hospital and that winter came three weeks early when the area was blanketed by snow, sleet and ice one week after Thanksgiving.

But it was a year-long weather story that topped them all, according to the staff of the Paris Express. In 2013, almost 50 inches of rain fell in Paris and, for the first time in seven years, customers of the city’s water system didn’t have to deal with an extended period of water conservation. The 49.5 inches of rain that fell in Paris in 2013 was slightly above the average of 48.05 inches. The near normal rainfall in 2013 came after the area had 17 inches below normal rainfall in 2012.

In the summer months of June, July and August, the area got rain totals of 4.8, 3.25 and 4.95 inches, respectively. That level of rain during the summer helped keep the area off water conservation, except for a brief, two-week period of voluntary conservation.

“It just rained a lot,” Paris Mayor Daniel Rogers said. “We didn’t have to draw any water from Cove Lake for the first time in a long time. Water conservation wasn’t a problem this year and it has been in the past.”

Here’s a look at some of the top stories of 2013:

Paris Knights of Columbus end bingo: After 25 years, the Knights of Columbus Council 3787 ended bingo games. Competition from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and its scratch-off tickets and the economy were the reasons given.

Sewer repair policy changes: For years, when a sewer line in Paris had a problem, fixing it was the responsibility of the homeowner — even if the problem was under a city street. The Paris City Council changed all that in 2013. Under terms of an ordinance approved in 2013, the city is now responsible for any work done on city streets and the homeowners are still responsible for hiring a plumber to make repairs to the sewer line.

Documentary on Civil War battle is filmed: Students from six area schools participated in filming a documentary about a Civil War battle that too place near Paris. Students from three area colleges and several area residents also took part. Students from Ozark, Paris, Waldron, Scranton, Cedarville schools and Subiaco Academy played people who were involved in the 1863 Battle of Haguewood Prairie, which took place near the site of the Paris-Subiaco Municipal Airport. Students from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, University of the Ozarks and the University of Central Arkansas also took part.

American Pickers comes to Smith Hospital: In February, the cast and crew of American Pickers came to the old, abandoned Smith Hospital in Paris. The History Channel program features pickers or collectors Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby-Cushman and their nationwide hunt for interesting items and antiques. Fritz and Colby-Cushman were in Paris for the shooting. Wolfe was ill and could not accompany them. The production crew spent nearly all day shooting footage while Fritz and Colby-Cushman went through the old hospital with Dr. John Charles Smith, who owns the building. The episode was shown on June 24.

Board, Judge sued by former librarian: Rita Eckart, librarian at the Gattis-Logan County Library in Paris, was fired in May and in July filed a lawsuit in 15th Judicial District Circuit Court claiming her firing by the Logan County Library Board was an act of retaliation in violation of the Arkansas Whistleblower Protection Act, according to court documents. Named as defendants were board members Lynn Wright, Lynda Brooks, Ellen Phillips, Leslie Oliver and Vonda Warren and Logan County Judge Gus Young, an ex-officio member of the board.

Voters approve sales tax hike: For the first time since the late 1990s, voters in Paris approved an increase in sales taxes charged by the city in an August special election. And they did so convincingly. The margin of approval was more than 85 percent. The tax increase takes effect in January. Then, the rate of sales tax in Paris will rise to 9 percent, including sales taxes charged by the county and state. The tax is expected to generate approximately $500,000 a year. Of that, $200,000 will be used to pay for trash pick-up in the city. Residents currently pay $144 a year ($12 a month) for trash pick up. The remainder of the proceeds will be used to finance bonds to pay for improvements in the city’s water and sewer systems. The ballot title specifically limits proceeds from the tax increase to those two items.

County warned about jail: The coordinator for the state’s Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee, has informed Logan County Judge Gus Young that if “continuing problems” at the Logan County Detention Center in Paris are not addressed within one year, the committee may be forced to put the facility on probation or petition the Attorney General to close the jail. Danny Hickman, coordinator for the committee, listed the continuing problems as chronic overcrowding, lack of inmate separation, cell designs that do not meet requirements of state law and a lack of sufficient staffing. In the letter, Hickman said the county jail doesn’t meet minimum Arkansas jail standards.

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