Members of Leadership Crawford County were challenged Thursday to help make a difference in the communities where they live and work.

During the class session on local government, Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman said communities grow through their leadership.

"Everyone looks at everyone else, asking who is going to take the lead," Feeman said. "Good ideas can go away if no one steps up to become that leader."

Freeman, a Van Buren native serving his final four-year term as mayor, also pointed out the cities in the region must work together.

"We cannot afford to let the Arkansas River divide us and we have to get past Friday night football games," he said. "We have to work together like they do in Northwest Arkansas. There is too much to gain and too much to lose."

Van Buren City Planner Joe Hurst echoed Freeman’s comment during the LCC opening session at the Municipal Complex.

"Leadership Crawford County is integral to the development of the city," Hurst said. "Members of LCC are called on when there is a vacancy on a board," Hurst said. "This group is important to the city, which will rely on you in the future."

Freeman briefly outlined how city government operates before Hurst explained to the class how Van Buren has utilized a 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2012 to revitalize the city by building a new police station and senior inn, a fourth fire station and working to improve the parks system.

Hurst said city parks, along with trails and sidewalks, are important for the quality of life of Van Buren residents as well as integral in economic development.

Hurst challenged the LCC class to think big for the future.

He pointed out one-half cent of the 2012 sales tax is scheduled to sunset in 2019.

"The next mayor and you as city leaders must decide what we want to do," Hurst said. "Do you want another project, and if so, what do you want it to be?"

He said 2019 is not that far way.

"You have to understand if we want things in our community, we have to invest in a tax," Hurst said. "Do we want a swimming pool, an indoor pool facility … these are things we need to decide."

Hurst discussed plans for the veterans park to help revitalize downtown, the need for trails and recent efforts to upgrade city sidewalks.

"These are things which provide a higher quality of life in Van Buren," Hurst said. "You guys are important in getting the message across. That’s how we got the sales tax overwhelmingly passed in 2012 … people coming together and feeling invested."

The local government session also included a tour of the Crawford County Road Department hosted by County Judge John Hall and a roundtable discussion with Hall, local mayors, Alma Public Works Director Mark Yardley and Steve Dufresne, director of Van Buren Municipal Utilities.

The session ended with a trip to the Crawford County Courthouse to visit with elected county officials.