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Jonesboro’s crepe myrtles staying dark for holidays

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Jonesboro officials have decided to forego putting lights on the city’s crepe myrtle trees for the town’s holiday display this year. They said the city could not afford to pay as much as $3,500 to install a temporary power supply system to light the trees.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Jonesboro officials have decided to forego putting lights on the city’s crepe myrtle trees for the town’s holiday display this year. They said the city could not afford to pay as much as $3,500 to install a temporary power supply system to light the trees.

Every Christmas, the City of Jonesboro decorates its downtown area with several lights, bows, and wreaths for the holidays.

Every Christmas, the city puts lights on its crepe myrtle trees on Main Street, as part of the festive display.

This Christmas, however, the trees will remain dark, because of a lack of a power source to keep the trees lit.

The power source previously used is now gone, because it was damaged, and it would prove to be too costly to bring in a temporary power system just for this holiday season, Jonesboro Public Works Director Joe Nettleton told members of the city council, on Monday. He explained that it would be difficult to come up with the money for a temporary power system when the city’s finances are tight.

“My recommendation ... would be to forego lighting the crepe myrtles this year for the simple fact that we’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of about $2,500, to $3,500,” Nettleton said. “And that’s something that’s going to lay there for about a month before you snatch it back up.”

Nettleton offered to proceed with contracting out the work for a temporary power system, if councilmembers wanted him to do so, but they came to a consensus decision to let the trees stay dark this year. Mayor Luther Maddox echoed Nettleton’s recommendation. Like the public works director, the mayor cited budget issues as the reason behind his position on the issue.

Earlier this fall, the city council narrowly approved the re-institution of a city millage rate, just to cover a deficit in Jonesboro’s 2011 budget.

“I cannot see the city, in the shape it’s in now, spending [approximately] $3,000 just to light those lights for three to four weeks,” Maddox said.

Councilmember Pat Sebo, who was against spending money on a temporary system, cast the lone voice of hope that “Santa” could visit Jonesboro early, however. She put out a request at this week’s council meeting for individuals, or businesses to donate money to buy a temporary power system for this year’s holiday season.

“Maybe there’s some benefactor out there that would be so kind as to help us light our trees, because they love them as much as we do,” she said.

Nettleton explained that the power cables used to provide a power source for the trees in recent years have become “cut up” due to wear and tear. He added that the city is in negotiations with Norfolk Southern, who owns the property where the trees are located, to get the rail road company’s permission to install a new, permanent, underground power system for lighting the trees.

The public works director estimates that an agreement will be reached between the city and the rail road company before the beginning of 2012, however. Maddox said the rail road company has outlined 27 policy variances that the city will have to address before a new, permanent set of power cables can be installed near the trees.

“They wanted pretty much everything but the first born of all the councilmembers,” the mayor said. He added that attorneys for both sides are working out the contract issues.

Nettleton explained that both sides have to review proposed agreements multiple times to make sure any changes to the contract’s language is acceptable to each party.

“We will bury that cable,” Nettleton said. “There’s no doubt in my mind, but it’s just going to take a little while.”

The city’s public works leader said he “hates” that the crepe myrtle trees will not be lit this year, adding that he feels “they look really, really nice” when lit. But, he offered a crude solution to prevent people who might be saddened by the development from seeing the lack of lights on the trees.

“If you go by there, just look the other way, so you don’t see them,” he said.

The situation concerning the lighting of the crepe myrtles is the latest twist in a year where the trees have made media headlines. In late spring, city officials revealed that Norfolk Southern wanted them to cut down more than 100 of the trees, because of safety concerns. After much posturing and negotiations, the rail road company agreed to reduce the number of trees that had to go, to just over a dozen crepe myrtles.

“I think our crepe myrtles need some rest [because] they’ve been through a lot this year,” said City Councilman Wallace Norrington.