Like many towns across Southeast Arkansas, Altheimer has fallen victim to population drops and job losses over the past few decades due to the modernization of farming. But a select few are hanging on and working to rebuild their communities to their former glory.
It was such a blooming town, and I am hopeful that it will become just that and more once again. Altheimer Mayor Zola Hudson
ALTHEIMER — One step at a time, putting God first, Altheimer Mayor Zola Hudson has used her three-and-a-half years in office to help bring the city out of despair.
Hudson is no political rookie. She has held several elected positions in the community, including alderman for six years and recorder/treasurer from 2013-14.
It is the first time in Altheimer history that five elected officials have received their certification through the Arkansas Municipal League.
Hudson said that “It’s the love everyone has for the city that keeps it going. In a small community everyone knows everyone, so it’s a family amongst one another. There are a lot of churches in the area and it is a low crime community so there’s a sense of safeness.”
Altheimer is home and, like most who live there, she wants the best for the city of 984 people.
One of the biggest hurdles has been helping the city climb out of debt, and one of the first tasks of achieving that goal has been finding ways to cut back on expenses, Hudson said.
For starters, Hudson and several aldermen have one-third of their annual salaries remitted back to the city. The mayor said it was an individual choice, and those who did not choose to give were not penalized. As of today, they have given more than $19,000 in salaries back to the city.
The cutback helps build the general fund for things like the water, street and sewer services, the mayor said. Three years ago, the city had about $60,000 in its coffers — it now has more than $800,000.
Hudson assured that “there were no changes made for the citizens of Altheimer — everything stayed the same. I didn’t bother the citizens at all. We didn’t do any increases on any of the water, sewer, or garbage bills, nothing like that. It was just in-house, God and wisdom.”
As of May 16, 2017, the city owed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) $314,248, which included federal taxes, penalties and interest for the period Jan. 1, 2004, through December 31, 2006. Capstone Tax Consultants helped the city draft an Offering of Compromise, and on May 16, 2017, the IRS accepted $70,000 with the condition that the city file and pay all required taxes for five years in a timely fashion. The final payment of $55,622 was paid to the IRS on May 26, 2017.
Hudson said that while she is in office, Altheimer residents can expect her to do what she believes is best for the city in an effort to help it grow.
“It was such a blooming town, and I am hopeful that it will become just that and more once again,” Hudson said.
Altheimer’s population peaked in 1980 with 1,231 residents, according to the U.S Census Bureau. And while the 2010 Census counted 984 people, a 2016 estimate says that 869 residents live in the community.
“Four years ago, the city was operating in the black and no one would allow it to borrow federal money for improvements because of outstanding debt. Now, that is all in the past … currently, the city has been approved of the Arkansas Prox Grant in the amount of $45,000 to improve the park facility. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has granted the city $250,000 to renew the roads: part of Second Street, Georgia Street, Arkansas Street, and along Short Front Street,” the mayor said.
The Altheimer Community Development Commission, a new non-profit, has begun an effort to bring new ideas for the city’s growth. And to make residents’ lives more convenient, the city has installed a new drop box for water bill payments, as well as electronic payment options.
Altheimer has been without a police department for the past four years, leaving patrols up to the already-stretched-thin Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. But in order to better ensure public safety, the city has approved a measure to activate their own department again.
They are currently conducting interviews in search of one or two patrolmen and a police chief. There was also a new fire station built in 2016 on Chestnut Street, giving the city one station on each side of the Union Pacific railroad tracks.
Additionally, Altheimer received a grant in 2017 from The Arkansas Economic Development for about $400,000 to replace water lines in some parts of town.
Hudson said her main goal is to restore and retain her city’s young adults because they are the future of the city. She has hopes of getting better homes and better jobs to help in that effort.
“To be placed into office with no money where everything is tight and past due, it was difficult, so I had to ask God, you have to give me the wisdom on how to do it and the faith to believe Him for it,” the mayor said.
“I’m just believing God and true to it because He is faithful. From where we were, to where we are today it is nobody but God. Even before applying for the position of mayor, I wanted to be a working mayor with results and He’s given me results. I look forward to so much more. We are also in the process of consolidating with Wabbaseka and Humphrey for a new water system. The three towns are not strong enough independently, but the recommendation from the state is to work together for a new water system which hopefully will be finalized by the end of 2018.”
Many Altheimer residents, like the mayor, are hopeful for the future of their community.
“I have lived in Altheimer for 25 years, all of my life. I love how my city is filled with the most kind-hearted and hard working people there is to keep the city alive,” said Chelsea Robinson. “I believe the city will definitely have a comeback, as long as it remains debt free and the community works together as one.”
Clyde Thomas, owner of Thomas Groceries in Altheimer, said, “It is a prosperous town and I hope for growth…but I believe that with no support from a city, there will be no growth. Overall, Altheimer is under great leadership as Mayor Hudson has done great things.”