Although economic development and regionalism were themes of Governor Asa Hutchinson's visit to Prescott earlier in the month, there were several other topics of concern for the Prescott and Nevada County residents expressed.
Although economic development and regionalism were themes of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s visit to Prescott earlier in the month, there were several other topics of concern for the Prescott and Nevada County residents expressed.
None other than Citizen of the Year, Howard Austin, for example, confronted Hutchinson about teacher salaries and the disparity between teachers in other parts of the state and Prescott.
“I can remember when teachers not only stayed in the community and taught for their careers, but they would stay in the community, make homes and retire here. Now, they are staying two years and leaving for better salaries elsewhere in our own state.” Austin said.
Austin suggested to Hutchinson that a statewide payscale needed to be implemented for teachers, just as the state has for other statewide positions, so that a teacher in Prescott would be paid the same as a teacher in Benton or Jonesboro.
Hutchinson responded by saying that he has implemented teacher salary increases twice and that he wanted to raise them again. As for Austin’s suggestion on a statewide scale, Hutchinson questioned the cost to taxpayers.
“The salaries would have to be raised at the highest levels in the state not the lowest, and that is going to be expensive,” Hutchinson said.
Teacher salaries in Prescott average around $32,000, while some places in Arkansas, teachers are making as much as $57,000 and $60,000 per year.
Afterwards, Austin said he believed Hutchinson would make an effort to improve teacher salaries in rural areas like Prescott, saying “I think he was sincere, and I think he will do something.”
In relation with education concerns, parts of Nevada County also are lacking in high speed broadband Internet access, and Hutchinson had said bringing high speed Internet into rural Arkansas has long been a goal of his administration.
One Nevada County Justice, Bob Cummings, also works with provider Centurylink, and he said there were issues in providing broadband Internet to parts of Nevada County due to conflicts with Union Pacific Railroad.
Hutchinson didn’t have an immediate answer to the question, but he said that broadband access was a continued priority, and he believed other available technologies could available in the future.
Also, there was a brief discussion of infrastructure as proposed expansions need to account for impact on existing customers and businesses.
Perry Nelson, the superintendent of the Prescott Water and Sewer Department, told Hutchinson that help is need to upgrade and improve public utilities without all the burden being placed on existing customers and businesses.
Hutchinson replied that he is looking to Congress to approve and fund an infrastructure bill to help the states.