Wednesday, February 06, 2008

TOP STORY > > Storm stalls voting results

By Rick Kron
Leader staff writer

Did Jacksonville vote to annex Gravel Ridge Tuesday evening? As of early Wednesday morning no one knew for sure. Unofficial results are 3,319 for annexation and 1,733 against.

Thunderstorms rolled through central Arkansas Tuesday evening knocking out power to a block or more of office buildings in Little Rock, which included the county office building--the location of the Pulaski County Election Commission.

“We are just sitting here in the dark,” one commission worker said about 9 p.m., almost 90 minutes after early voting and absentee ballots were supposed to be counted and posted on the commission’s website.

Jacksonville voters, who visited the polls earlier in the day drove by yard signs, declaring “Vote for progress, vote for annexation.” Those voting in the Gravel Ridge area saw yard signing asking voters to say no to annexation, and one large billboard near the First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge, a polling site, urging voters to say yes to Sherwood instead of Jacksonville.

Regardless of the official results in the Jacksonville-Gravel Ridge vote, another election on the annexation issue has been set for March 11. That vote, to determine whether or not Sherwood will also annex Gravel Ridge, will be open only to Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents.

If the majority in both elections vote for annexation, meaning both Sherwood and Jacksonville want Gravel Ridge, then just Gravel Ridge residents will vote April 1 to determine the fate of the 2,500-acre rural community of more than 3,500.

Jacksonville tied the annexation vote to the presidential primary elections, saving money and hoping for a large turn out.

Jacksonville passed an ordinance late last year annexing rural community. But when a city goes out and annexes an area, state law requires that the city and the affected area vote on the annexation. If the majority of voters say yes, then the area becomes part of the city. If the majority of voters say no, the area is not annexed.

Once a city announces that it plans to annex an area, other municipalities, which border the affected area, have the right to also annex the area. Sherwood exercised its right, setting up the March 11 vote.

John Hardwick, the new president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, believes the annexation is a good move for both communities.

“It will help us protect Little Rock Air Force Base from any encroachment that could jeopardize the base,” Hardwick said. “It is also a natural growth pattern for us. We have been moving out in that direction for a number of years,” he added.

In an oversize postcard mailed to area residents by the Positive Growth for Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville group, Mayor Tommy Swaim said that Gravel Ridge would benefit from the annexation.

He said the community would have improved public safety with faster response times for police and fire protection. Swaim also said Gravel Ridge would also have improved sanitation services with four times the trash service they now get for $60 less a year.

On the negative side, and not on the mailer, is an increase in sales tax. The tax on prepared food items would go up two cents, and the tax on other items would go up a penny.