Friday, April 03, 2009

TOP STORY > >Son charged in murder

Leader staff writer
A suspect has been charged in the first murder in Beebe in more than 17 years.
Jeffery Likes, 39, was charged Thursday with one count of capital murder in the death of his mother, Nancy Wiggs, 59. The mother and son lived together at 401 Lee Lane in the Fetcher addition.

Wiggs’ body was found in her home at 6:22 p.m. Tuesday after a neighbor reported that the door appeared to have been forced open.

Likes was arrested on unrelated charges Thursday morning after being detained in Missouri by members of the Kansas City Police Department’s fugitive division.

Capt. Rich Lockhart, spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department, said acting on a tip from Beebe, police officers arrested Likes without incident at the Kansas City International Airport and held him until police detectives from Beebe arrived to question him.

Two detectives from the Beebe Police Department and one White County deputy drove to Kansas City on Wednesday to interview Likes, who appeared in court in Kansas City on Thursday morning and waived extradition on charges of probation violation for a non-violent offense in Pulaski County.

Beebe Police Chief Wayne Ballew said Friday morning that Likes was taken to the White County Detention Center Thursday evening where he was interviewed and charged with murdering his mother.

No details about the murder have been released. Both Ballew and Prosecutor Chris Raff say revealing the details of the crime could jeopardize the investigation.

Ballew said Thursday afternoon that an autopsy was being performed by the state Crime Lab, which is also examining other evidence collected at the scene.

TOP STORY > >Ruling on deseg will benefit city

Leader senior staff writer

In a clumsy, slow-motion tango—two steps forward, one step back—the Pulaski County Special School District is a step closer to unitary status, a prerequisite to Jacksonville getting its own school district.

That’s because a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis Thursday upheld U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson’s ruling that a showing of “good faith, substantial compliance,” is adequate to rule the Little Rock School District unitary—desegregated.

“The decision is a hallelujah thing,” said Will Bond, who as state representative for six years worked hard to set the stage for unitary school districts and a Jacksonville school district.

“The districts have not negotiated in good faith,” he said. “I hope it can be negotiated. The studies that have been done and the data—anybody with an objective view would say it’s better for all the students for Jacksonville to have its own district.”

Little Rock, PCSSD and the North Little Rock School District have been locked in an expensive embrace under court supervision for decades.

After seven years on the case, Wilson told lawyers in a Thursday- afternoon telephone conference that he was recusing from further involvement.

Both the North Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County Special School District had petitioned Wilson for unitary status. But the judge had refused to begin hearing those motions until the appeals court ruled on the Little Rock case.

The federal district clerk’s office Friday announced that the case would be assigned to District Judge Brian Miller.

“This should expedite the process,” said Daniel Gray, vice president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization.

“It should remove barriers to a Jacksonville school district. It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Bill Vasquez, PCSSD board member representing much of Jacksonville, said he hoped that now the board would set boundaries for a stand-alone Jacksonville district, then excuse the residents within those boundaries from making payment to satisfy an $81 million second-lien bond being considered to finance new schools in Maumelle and Sylvan Hills.

Jacksonville will then have to build or remodel its own schools.

“It’s morally right,” Vasquez said.

Sam Jones, the PCSSD attorney for de-segregation issues, said the district had filed its own motion for unitary status with Wilson in October 2007. But Wilson had placed it aside until the Little Rock appeal was finished.

Jones said the next step is up to the new judge.

He said while a lot remained uncertain, “finally having received a decision on the Little Rock petition clearly advances the ball.”

He said any settlement at this point, whether “global or confined to Jacksonville detachment” would have to be approved by Miller, the new judge.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Mike Wilson, a Jacksonville businessman and lawyer who has been active for many years promoting a Jacksonville district and also the new Lighthouse Charter School in Jacksonville, due to open in August.

He said a standalone Jacksonville district is still years away and speculated that the public charter school could “serve as a foundation of a new district.”

John Walker, representing the Joshua Interveners, could petition the 8h Circuit Court of Appeals for a hearing by the full panel or could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but it doesn’t seem likely he would be successful, according to chief Deputy Attorney General Justin Allen.

“It’s more of a contract issue than a constitutional issue,” Allen said.

“We could be a couple of more years, but the enchilada is done.”

The state has been trying to negotiate an end with the three districts to the 20-year desegregation agreement, but the districts were insisting upon full desegregation payments from the state for seven years. The state had offered about half of that, Allen said.

The state desegregation money split by the three district totals about $60 million a year.

TOP STORY > >Hopefuls: Jacksonville’s mayoral candidates share their views with The Leader

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville residents have a variety of candidates to pick the city’s next mayor from – they’re young and old, insiders and outsiders, experienced and inexperienced, male and female.

In all, six candidates are trying to replace Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is in his 22nd year as mayor and is retiring July 1, after he decided to resign from the post and end his four-year term set to expire Dec. 31, 2010.

The candidates in the special election, to be held Tuesday, May 12, are:

Beckie Brooks, 68, married a Jacksonville native and has made the city her home since 1964. The couple has two sons and six grandchildren. Brooks operates her own real estate company.

Tommy Dupree, 71, is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. He has been in business in Jacksonville since 1963, primarily developing and building residential and commercial property. He has three children and eight grandchildren.

Kenny Elliott, 56, is a native of Jacksonville and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District. He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Gary Fletcher, 54, has been an Alderman in Jacksonville since 1978 and is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Randy “Doc” Rhodd, 46, is the president of the Family Motorcycle Ministry. He is married and has four children.

Jody Urquhart, 36, is married and has one child. He is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville and is district manager for Arkansas Farm Bureau.

The Leader asked each of the candidates to answer questions about themselves and their vision for Jacksonville. The questions and their answers appear below.

Leader: Why do you want to be mayor?

Brooks: I want to be mayor because I want to see this city more alive and growing.

The people in this community are our greatest asset. We need them engaged and involved in shaping the future of Jacksonville.

We are facing a number of major issues: the school situation, the hospital/medical community crisis, the strangulation of the southeast section of the city (the Graham Road crossing needs to be open), untold empty buildings and parking lots across the city, meeting the housing and transportation needs of our aging community while maintaining facilities for our young families, and we must always be aware and working for the best interest of the air base.

I believe we have the wisdom, experience and knowledge within this community to address and solve these problems and I want to be a catalyst to pull that wisdom, experience and knowledge together to once again make Jacksonville the place people want to call home.

Dupree: There are some issues that are extremely important for the betterment of the city that none of the other candidates have addressed.

Elliott: I am running for mayor because I love Jacksonville. Jacksonville has been good to me and as mayor I look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens of Jacksonville. I feel that I have the experience, leadership and dedication to lead Jacksonville. I will commit all my resources to provide a high quality of life for our citizens, military and businesses while striving to have clean, safe, orderly growth and change.

I believe we must be progressive with a plan for where Jacksonville wants to be in five years and 10 years.

Fletcher: I want to serve as mayor of Jacksonville simply because I love my city and want to lead her into developing her full potential.

I want to see her become the greatest place to live in central Arkansas. I want prosperity for her citizens. I want them to feel safer. I want them to feel excited and proud of the quality of life here in Jacksonville. I want to build upon the foundations in which my predecessors have laid. I want to carry out that hope that is deeply embedded within us as a community to achieve success in our business community as well as in our personal homes, to bring us together with a common vision and purpose to preserve the hope that our children can receive quality education in order for them to compete successfully in our world, and to strengthen our air base in its mission as well as in its relationship with our community.

Rhodd: So we may take back our city and make it a safe place to raise our children.

Urquhart: I believe it is time for someone new with a fresh set of eyes and a strong sense of community pride and commitment.

As mayor I want to work for everyone throughout our community. I want to see opportunities provided for more of our citizens to be involved which will ultimately build their confidence and more future leaders for our home town.

We have to clean up what we have and develop a long-term plan to rebuild people’s confidence in our city. I constantly hear people say, “It’s time for new blood.” I am that fresh new blood, that fresh new beginning.

I am that guy who is trying to break the old mold and give people hope for a brighter future.

Leader: What experience qualifies you to be mayor?

Brooks: The experience of having never held an “elected” or “appointed” political position, while at the same time being an active, involved taxpaying member of this community together with years of multi-tasking as a wife, mother, homemaker, teacher and retail business owner, all give me a unique perspective of the needs of our community.

Since 1977, I have actually made my living selling Jacksonville to people who have a choice of living here or in our surrounding cities. A Realtor must keep abreast of the community, must know community resources and must know where to go to get answers to assist the public in solving a problem and following up to make sure there has been a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Dupree: My involvement in the overall development of Jacksonville working with the water, sewer and street departments, as well as the parks department, has given me a thorough understanding of the needs in those areas.

With my degree in business, which included finance and economics, along with my experience in managing companies and personnel, I feel my background is broad and varied enough to qualify me for the position of mayor.

Elliott: My experience as chairman of Jacksonville Planning Commission, chairman of Pulaski County Planning Board, city council, Arkansas Municipal League Executive Committee, National League of Cities Information, Technology and Communication Committee and experience working with Little Rock Air Force Base, state legislature and congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., make me the most qualified candidate to lead Jacksonville. My leadership and dedication to the community has been recognized by serving as Jaycees president, Boys Club president, vice mayor, Arkansas Municipal League vice president and being selected as Jaycees International senator, Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame and LRAFB honorary commander.

Fletcher: My life experiences more than qualify me to serve as mayor of Jacksonville. I bring a business approach to the mayor’s office. Through over 35 years as a subcontractor and general contractor, I have developed skills that range from labor to acting as boss, developing such skills as running construction projects and working within a budget.

I have also had over 30 years of experience in the workings of local government, serving as alderman of Jacksonville since 1978. I have helped spearhead projects such as the traffic light at the James Street overpass and introduced ordinances like the drug paraphernalia ordinance, which later became state law. I have served the mayor’s office as vice mayor over the past two administrations.

With a blend of both backgrounds, I feel qualified to serve the citizens of this great city as their mayor.

Rhodd: My personal knowledge of our city and the problems that plague us.

Urquhart: My basic qualifications to be mayor are: I’m a registered voter, I’m a home owner, a taxpayer and 115 registered voters signed my petition. The final true qualification will come after the Jacksonville voters speak.

To prepare myself for leadership, I have taken on many different roles in our community and opportunities at work.

I am serving in my seventh year on the Jacksonville Wastewater Commission as secretary. I am in my second term on the board at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, currently serving as treasurer. I have been an officer in the Jacksonville Rotary Club and the Jacksonville Lions Club. Serving on the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club board is the most rewarding, because of who our customers are.

I am also a graduate of LeadAR, the premier leadership-development program in Arkansas hosted by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Most importantly, I love our city and I believe in the citizens of our fine community.
Leader: What will be the first thing you do as mayor?

Brooks: My first tangible project will be the development, production and distribution of a small-business directory for Jacksonville. This directory will be provided to each household, paid for by the city and will give type, name, address and phone number of all businesses in Jacksonville that have paid a privilege tax for 2009.

When people are aware of what they can buy in Jacksonville, and know where to find what they need, I believe our citizens will buy in Jacksonville.

At the same time, I will establish an advisory board of citizens who hold no elected or appointed positions in the city or county to review and critique my programs as well as some of the present city practices.

Dupree: The first thing I would do as mayor would be to have a meeting of all department heads to be brought up-to-date on matters concerning their areas.

Elliott: I will see that existing projects such as police and fire training facility and LRAFB education center are completed in a timely manner. I will establish a housing committee to develop a plan to improve housing and address aging housing such as Sunnyside Addition. All programs in the Economic Recovery Act will be reviewed to make sure we are taking full advantage of any funding available to address housing, public safety and other special needs.

Fletcher: Due to the timing of taking office during mid-year, it will be important to maintain stability in the departments in order that city services continue in the positive way our fine employees and department heads have committed to in the past. Getting a firm grip on the finances of the city, as to money is spent and committed. Also, to see how the tax receipts are coming in and closely watching how the overall economy is affecting our local businesses.

I would start our administration in the early weeks through building and strengthening our relationships with those on the air base, school district, Metroplan and various boards that are in the decision-making process that affects the areas important to Jacksonville.

I would meet with department heads and discuss our goals for their departments and the city as a whole to make sure we are all working toward the same overall goal. I would also work with them to put together the 2010 budget, which will begin soon after taking office. Meet with various boards and commissions, especially planning as to future annexation and the strategies to move forward.

The first few months will be a time of laying ground work for the projects that I feel are important to our citizens and city such as Graham Road, school system, developing an active and valuable line of communication in Washington, D.C., to promote and grow our air base. The remainder of 2009 will be to finish the work started, putting into place the mechanism for future projects that promote growth, stability and prosperity. To work toward a stronger relationship between the hospital and our doctors if that is not accomplished within the coming weeks.

We must preserve this relationship for the quality of life for our community as a whole.

Rhodd: I will address the Graham Road crossing.

Urquhart: My first order of business on my first day will be to meet with the city’s department heads. I will want a report from their departments so that I can evaluate their needs. We will need to begin making plans to work together to move forward as a team and build trust between us.

Leader: What are the most pressing issues facing Jacksonville and how will you work to solve such problems?

Brooks: I believe the most pressing issue facing Jacksonville at this moment is the possibility of losing our medical community to Sherwood. I do not think the citizens have forgotten that we lost 2,000 undeveloped acres near the base and Gravel Ridge to Sherwood. We certainly do not need a repeat performance with our local doctors.

Without our doctors, it is hard to imagine how our hospital can survive for any period of time, not to mention the hardship that traveling out of Jacksonville will create for our citizens, especially our seniors. The city does not need to be left with owning the hospital, the clinic in Cabot, medical offices on Marshall Road, the medical offices in Crestview and the medical complex in question with no doctors.

I have requested from both Cong. Snyder and Sen. Lincoln’s offices a copy of the federal regulations that dictates how rents are determined in local hospitals. Hopefully, there will be other options for establishing the rent rate when federal rules apply. It is possible this issue will be brought to a successful resolution by election day. Certainly, we all hope so; however, if it is not,
I will make every effort to bring the two sides together.

I learned in the Vertac battle when the federal government has the city backed in a corner, engage the hearts and minds of the people in finding a solution, unite the people and fight for what is right and best for all concerned.

The unresolved issue of our own separate school system is a major concern. This must continue as a high priority for our city. No matter what else our city does, it will not grow and prosper to the max with the present school situation.

Other pressing issues include continued recruiting and retention of new business and industry, and reopening of the Graham Road crossing. We must continue to be proactive in meeting the needs of our senior citizens and always be vigilant concerning the future of the base.

Dupree: One of the most pressing issues is work toward establishing a pubic-safety commission with the police, fire and medical departments under it. I would work with the three departments to create this and would bring the issue to the city council for approval.

Another issue is the completion of work on Hwy. 67/167, which includes widening and interchange improvements. This can be done by advanced planning with completed plans being readied for construction so when infrastructure money becomes available from Washington, Jacksonville will have a good chance of obtaining funds.

A third issue would be encouraging the expansion of the city through annexation along Hwy. 67/167, Hwy. 161 and Hwy. 294.
Elliott: I believe our future depends on the quality of the educational system in Jacksonville. I am committed to doing everything I can to improve the schools in Jacksonville. I will support the Jacksonville Education Foundation in working to have a Jacksonville school district with good schools and a safe environment to educate our children. I will work with Little Rock Air Force Base on completing the LRAFB Education Center, which will provide excellent opportunities for our citizens.

We must work on economic development to sustain our existing businesses, attract new businesses, restaurants, and jobs as well as to fill the vacant buildings in Jacksonville. I feel the city and chamber of commerce need to work together to support our businesses and maintain a business-friendly environment.

I will encourage community involvement to improve the image of Jacksonville and develop community pride. I will establish a volunteerism committee to use the many resources we have in Jacksonville.

We must work to see that our citizens have quality medical services in Jacksonville. I will work with the hospital board, and hospital and medical clinic to keep hospital and health care professionals in Jacksonville to provide quality health care.

Fletcher: The most pressing issue facing Jacksonville is the need for an independent school district. At this particular time, the situation is held up in court.

However, I would like to meet and develop a relationship with the new school superintendent. Coming together without the past baggage will enable us to discuss the common goal of what is in the best interest for every student in the current Pulaski County School District. My purpose will be for us to find a productive way to help our city move forward in this downtime. One way is seeking to give our community some freedom under the school board’s authority to start the process of making plans for new schools.

Doing small things such as this will add up to be big steps when the time comes for us to be released.

Rhodd: Job losses are our most pressing issue. I would work hard to bring jobs to our city and improve our economy.

Urquhart: Currently the most pressing issues we have in our community are getting our own school district, securing the future of the hospital and medical clinic, and cleaning up the appearance of our city.

The schools have played a vital role in the decline of our community. Over the past 20 years, young families have given up hope on being able to give their children a quality education in the schools we have here in Jacksonville. In most cases they chose to move out or just pass us by. The mayor and the city council must take a more active role in getting Jacksonville out of PCSSD.

A quality health care system starts at the clinical level and builds up through the hospital. We must all work together to change the perception of our hospital and secure the future of our medical clinic. I believe we need to find common ground with our doctors on the rental agreement so that we can meet their needs for clinical space and they can meet our needs for a locally owned, quality health care system. It will take all parties working together willing to give and take.

People’s first impression of our community should not be dirty. We must change that perception.

I believe we must start in our neighborhoods and move throughout the city with a new spirit of cleanliness. If people would work together in their neighborhoods to clean up their own properties and hold others accountable for not, a real change could be made. The city must continue to be there for support and enforcement.

A large percentage of our home inventory has turned into rentals and I believe the landlords should also be held accountable if the renters are not taking care of the property being provided to them. After all, these properties are suppose to be investments just like the owner-occupied properties and a bunch of parked cars all over the yard leaves a bad impression on anyone looking for a new home.

Working together as a community, we can accomplish these issues and focus on anything new that comes along. These three issues currently hold the key to future growth for the city of Jacksonville.

Leader: What will you do to make Jacksonville more appealing for people to want to move here?

Brooks: To make Jacksonville more appealing for people, we must enlist the help of our citizens. While health, education and transportation issues are being resolved, we need to remember that first impressions are important to newcomers. I would encourage a quarterly pick-up, cleanup and spruce-up campaign in the entire community so that we can all enjoy a more beautiful Jacksonville.

Again, community involvement is necessary. Our city employees do a great job, but they need the help of the citizens to keep Jacksonville clean and beautiful.

Our city is probably one of the most multi-cultural cities in Arkansas. We have the resources in our diverse citizens to enhance educational and cultural development throughout all age groups in Jacksonville.

Dupree: I will continue to promote “Keep Jacksonville Beautiful” projects. My feeling is first you have litter, then trash, then crime. I would establish a public safety commission to have more stable police, fire and emergency medical departments. Safety and security is important to people where they reside.

I’ll work on getting Hwy. 67/167 completed because good roads with safe driving conditions are vital. At the present time, people are driving through the Jacksonville area to try to avoid the 67/167 corridor. I’ll work on expansion and improvement of the Jacksonville park system, which will bring in people to use the amenities that the city offers.

I’ll support the creation of a north Pulaski school district as well as assisting efforts by any private schools or higher education institutions to further the advancement of learning. Good schools are important to people where they live.

Elliott: Our city needs to enforce or improve city codes and support Keep Jacksonville Beautiful to have a clean city. As mayor, I will see that the police and fire departments have the resources needed to reduce crime and provide us a safe city. I will ensure the city receives our fair share of COPS funding and Justice Assistance Grants.

Fletcher: Aesthetically speaking, there is a fine line between maintenance and manicured. People do buy what is appealing to the eye. We need to identify these things and areas of our city that distract and correct them.

We also can build on the positives that we already possess. I would love to see a thriving downtown area with a park-like setting that would entice people to want to spend time there. The appeal of Jacksonville will be a key in my administration that will determine my success as mayor.

I want to make Jacksonville a place people consider when looking for a place to retire. This will include addressing the issues that are important to senior adults such as personal safety, a clean community, health care facilities, recreational opportunities, transportation, shopping conveniences, eating establishments and affordable, well-desired housing.

I would also like to see more neighborhood parks in which young families can spend quality time. Neighborhood parks are also great in developing relationships with neighbors, which helps to promote a strong sense of community.

Rhodd: I’ll work to make Jacksonville a more productive city, one that stands out among other cities.

Urquhart: We must focus our attention as a community working together with one voice to get our own school district.
The voters of Jacksonville have always come together when there is an issue or need that we can fix ourselves. Our state-of-the-art library is the newest example of that collective spirit.

Partnering with Little Rock Air Force Base to build a center for higher education is another example of coming together to add appeal to our community. However, none of these projects will hold a candle to what a locally controlled school district would do for adding appeal to this great city.

When people go looking for a new place to live they have one question, “How are the schools?” The appeal comes when a community puts children first in education. I will work tirelessly to unify this community behind one common goal: a district of our own for our children and our grandchildren.

Leader: What will you do to make Jacksonville look more appealing especially related to the landfill at Jacksonville’s entrance and the abandoned stores at the Graham Road crossing?

Brooks: I will appoint a landfill oversight panel to ensure that Waste Management is held to the standards presented at the March 6 Jacksonville City Council meeting. Those standards address, but are not limited to, ADEQ’s requirement for Waste Management to implement a landscaping plan for both sides of the highway and the initiation of Audubon Society of Arkansas and Waste Management’s pilot plan for habitat restoration, including wetlands for Two Pine Landfill.

The wetland development would consist of habitat as well as nature trails and educational facilities. In addition, the daily covering of garbage with six inches of soil, landscaping and monitoring wells will ensure maintaining Two Pine Landfill to the highest standard. We also need long-range assurances that our waste rates will be stable.

Opening Graham Road will in itself solve the abandoned store problem in that area. I would also encourage the city to provide some start-up help, hopefully through grants, for those willing to undertake the rebuilding of the blighted area.

Dupree: I will continue to work with the Keep Jacksonville Beautiful organization and work with Two Pine Landfill operation concerning the landfill to keep the area as appealing as possible.

Elliott: I want to upgrade signage and landscaping at the north and south entrances to Jacksonville and work with the state Highway Department to install lighting along Hwy. 67/167 through Jacksonville, including the Vandenberg and Redmond Road exits. I will work with the owners of the landfill to improve the appearance and make it less visible from Hwy. 67/167 and Hwy. 440.

The Audubon Society has plans for a habitat-restoration project for the Two Pine Landfill.

I will work to see what kind of state or federal programs and funding are available to improve the area around the Graham Road crossing. I will ask for increased police presence to help this area.

Fletcher: It is unfortunate that the landfill is at our front door. One option for disguising and possibly hiding the landfill are green screens, which are created by planting types of trees that grow fast and thick.

I believe the management of the landfill is interested in being good neighbors and will be open to recommendations on how to improve the appearance of the landfill.

Rhodd: A nice wall around the landfill would be a good start, and opening new businesses on Graham Road.

Urquhart: We need to work with Waste Management to encourage them to put together a plan and show our community their intentions for returning the land to its natural beauty and usability. I have heard they have a plan and I believe they need to spend some time and money showing us what to expect.

Leader: What will you do to open the Graham Road closure and bring the businesses back to Jacksonville that were forced to shut down?

Brooks: My first efforts to open Graham Road have begun and will not stop regardless of the outcome of this race. Numerous citizens have asked me who really closed the railroad crossing — was it city hall? Was it Union Pacific? Was it Metroplan?

Exactly who made that decision? I don’t have the answer, but the answer is out there.

I do believe that had I been on the city council for the duration of time two of my opponents have served, I would have waged an open campaign to restore the crossing. Yes, the cost may have been $4 million, but have our citizens been given an opportunity to decide? If necessary, would this have been a good place for our tax dollars to have gone?

Once again, citizens have to become involved. A few have tried, but it will take more than a few and it will take someone willing to fight to get this done. As stated earlier, I fought the fight during Vertac, and I will fight again for our city and our people.

Once we win the battle and open the crossing, again I will encourage the city to help bring back the businesses that were shut down.

Dupree: I would appoint a task force of three people from the city council who were involved in the closure to see what can be done to reopen the crossing.

Elliott: I have given this subject considerable thought and feel that the safety of school children and all citizens of Jacksonville are best served by the Graham Road crossing remaining closed. The following information supports my decision: In the application for the Main Street overpass it states that the Graham Road crossing would have to be closed. The project was approved and funded based on this application and the safety issues regarding the closing of the two crossings. The project would have been in jeopardy without closing the Graham Road crossing. Jim McKenzie with Metroplan has told the city that we could be responsible for the federal share of funding ($3,445,925) if we tried to open the crossing and it could hurt our chances of any future funding. The railroad has said that they are trying to eliminate dangerous, at-grade crossings and it is very unlikely they would ever allow one to be opened once it is closed.

The fire chief and police chief have stated that the crossing has not affected their response times to emergencies but has improved response times because they do not have to wait on trains. Chief Vanderhoof has said that the standard route would be the overpass. The overpass made a safer access for children to Jacksonville Elementary School.

Fletcher: Ever since I have been involved in politics (1974), this area of our town has felt disconnected from the rest of Jacksonville due to the location of the railroad tracks. The hope of the overpass was to correct this issue as well as stimulate the economy in business and home values. However, just the opposite has taken place.

Most businesses on Graham Road have been shut down and boarded up. This area has a rundown type of appearance. In order to change the rundown appearance that has resulted from the closing we must determine what the best option is for bringing this area back to life.

Two possible options include either reopening the crossing or possibly redesigning the foot of the bridge to make Graham Road more easily accessible.

I pledge to be sensitive to the needs of the people affected by the closing by working closely with those who make the final decision and developing a strategy that benefits the entire community.

Rhodd: I would reopen Graham Road and bring life back to that business area. That would be a plus for Jacksonville.

Urquhart: I am truly in favor of seeing the railroad crossing at Graham Road reopen. I believe we will need to put together a group of people to develop plans for revitalizing that very important part of our community.

We must understand it will take time to accomplish a complete turnaround in that area. I know we can do it working together.
Leader: How will you work with LRAFB? What relationship do you now have with the base?

Brooks: My commitment, support and appreciation to Little Rock Air Force Base is two-fold. As the mother of a paratrooper dropped from a C-130 into Panama in Operation Just Cause, I understand with my heart and my mind the mission of our United States Air Force and the personnel stationed at LRAFB.

The air base is the lifeblood of our city and much of the region of Arkansas. The impact of the retired community of military people as well as the active force assigned here is vast and is essential to the future growth and development of Jacksonville and central Arkansas. This impact is not only economic, but educational and cultural as well.

My relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base is through the local chamber of commerce, where I serve on the military/government relations committee and through my individual experience of dealing with incoming and outgoing military families as they buy or sell homes.

Dupree: I would continue to work along with the chamber, staying in contact with the Department of Defense and the Pentagon, as well as our congressional delegation in Washington for whatever needs the base may have. Also, on trips to Washington for lobbying purposes at the Pentagon, I will also lobby with the National Guard at their offices in Washington.

Through my past work with the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, the Sertoma Club, Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society and other organizations, I feel I have a good rapport with the base and its personnel. I have also provided books on the history of LRAFB to the Arkansas Air National Guard and regular Air Force Base personnel.

I would continue to promote goodwill between the community and the base.

Elliott: I will continue to work to maintain a good relationship with LRAFB and work with our congressional leaders to secure the future of Little Rock Air Force Base. I am very involved in base activities as an honorary commander and member of LRAFB Community Council.

Fletcher: I will be a great advocate for Little Rock Air Force Base. As one who greatly admires our heroes who sacrifice so much that we all may enjoy freedom, I especially am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity as an elected official under a great democracy.

I am aware that this privilege comes at a cost that our men and women in uniform pay in sacrificial ways that many times may cost them their lives, not to mention the sacrifices which are made by their spouses and children.

I will fight to support the growth of our base, to make sure our congressional delegation are constantly made aware of equipment needs, service personnel and the needs for family support.

Rhodd: I would encourage them to be part of projects and schools in our area, as well as keep open communications with the leaders of the base. LRAFB is a big part of our city and their input is just as important and necessary as the next guy.

Urquhart: I understand the military having served in the United States Army Reserves. The basic principles I apply to my everyday life I learned in the Army: duty, honor and country. It is these three principles that are visible in my commitment to Little Rock Air Force Base.

I have been an active member of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council for the past five years. I have served as chairman of the Chamber/Base Golf Tournament for the past four years, growing the tournament each year.

In 2005, Gen. Schatz recognized my dedication to the mission of Team Little Rock and appointed me to serve as an honorary commander for the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron. I continue to serve as an honorary commander emeritus today.

The mission of Team Little Rock, “Combat Airlift,” is a major key to the continued success and growth of our hometown.

Jacksonville must continue to work to provide services and opportunities for the families of the men and women who come to train on LRAFB from 28 different nations around the world. I will continue my support and dedication to the men and women that train on our base.

I will continue to work with congressional members to ensure the strength in mission and support of Little Rock Air Force Base.

I will continue to encourage every citizen in Jacksonville to support the mission of Team Little Rock.

EDITORIAL >>Lincoln’s bill for billionaires

We like our senior United States senator, Blanche Lincoln, but we would like her a lot more if she did not feel compelled every time that her re-election approaches to throw a lifeline to the scions of vast fortunes. Here’s what we mean: This week, she and Sen. John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, got the Senate to pass a resolution pledging to give some $250 billion of tax relief to people who inherit huge fortunes.

The giant giveaway to people who need it least will almost certainly be scrapped in conference with the House of Representatives so that the country will be spared this unfair and deficit-producing bonanza for the exceedingly rich and Senator Lincoln will have cemented her favor with the people who are important when you are raising a treasury for re-election.

We understand why she does these things, but we wish she were not obliged to do it.

The Lincoln-Kyl resolution raises the inheritance assets that are exempt from taxation from $7 million to $10 million and would lower the top tax rate, which applies to those with truly stupendous estates, from 45 percent to 35 percent. Senator Lincoln issued a statement explaining her reasons: “We are in a recession and this relief to those who inherit small farms and small businesses would help struggling families keep the business or farm and over the long haul create new jobs as these heirs spend the tax savings on job-creating investments.

“These are the people who, if we reform the estate tax, will invest in their business and create more jobs rather than spend capital on protecting their families from a 55 percent tax burden should they die,” the senator said in a statement yesterday.
The traditional name for it is trickle-down economics.

Here are the facts:

Not one family estate in America — not one — will pay 55 percent of the estate into the federal treasury. The average effective tax rate on the tiny handful of estates that are subject to any tax at all is less than 20 percent, which is lower than what the average working family pays on their income. Remember, most of the assets subject to the estate tax are unrealized capital gains on investments and would not be taxed at all if there were no estate tax.

Contrary to the assertion by Senator Lincoln and those who have campaigned for years to end the century-old estate tax, farms are not being liquidated to pay estate taxes, an urban legend that will not go away. Under the existing parameters, an estimated 140 estates in the United States would owe any tax in 2011. Senator Lincoln cannot identify a single family farm in her East Arkansas farm district that has had to be sold to settle estate taxes. The law gives special consideration to small businesses and farms. Estate planning can usually avert taxes on even substantial estates, and heirs can stretch out the payment of the taxes for up to 13 years.

Stung by criticism that she was sponsoring the measure to help her old-time supporters, the Walton family of billionaires, Lincoln said it was not aimed at the Waltons and other billionaires at all. “I can assure you that they do not care,” she said. Rather, it is for small Main Street businesses and family farmers.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which tracks these tax questions better than anyone else, calculated that only two-tenths of one percent of the additional cost to the treasury of Lincoln’s proposal over the estate tax provisions in President Obama’s budget blueprint would benefit small farmers and businesses. The other 99.8 percent would go to, well, the heirs of people like the Waltons, good Americans all, but not yet needy of our help. The huge tax reductions and credits for working families and small business in the Obama stimulus and budget will aggravate the deficit, but we have to trust that it will stop the economic slide. The senator’s estate-tax cut would engorge the deficit with no offsetting benefit.

Let’s hope that it at least produces a good payoff for the Lincoln in 2010 treasury.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville woman ruled sane

Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville women charged with three felony counts of first-degree battery for abuse of her two children has been declared fit to stand trial.

Two of the charges are for incidents involving her daughter and one for an incident involving her son.

Manuella Whitfield, 26, was arrested on July 14, 2008. She and her boyfriend had taken her 8-month-old daughter, Sabrina, to the North Metro Medical Center emergency room because Whitfield thought the child had suffered a seizure. Medical personnel discovered a hand-shaped bruise on the girl’s thigh, as well as other signs of abuse including scratches, a healing leg fracture, separation of the cranial joints, retina hemorrhages, intracranial bleeding and a broken finger.

At first, Whitfield denied hurting Sabrina and her 4-year-old son Michael, claiming that the injuries were caused by accidental falls.

Several days after her arrest, Whitfield admitted to Jacksonville police that she had inflicted injuries on both her children.

After a stay at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, both children were placed in foster care. Whitfield has another son, age 9, who has been in the custody of her mother since 2005.

Whitfield’s trial is scheduled for July 15 before Judge Barry Sims of the Pulaski County Circuit Court, 7th Division.

Psychologist Charles Mallory conducted a psychiatric examination in February on Whitfield at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Center, where she has stayed since her arrest.

Mallory diagnosed Whitfield as having bipolar disorder with psychotic features and mild retardation, but concluded that she understands the charges against her and the criminality of her alleged acts.

Whitfield admitted to Mallory that she sometimes took her anger out on her children. But at the same time she denied having injured them, saying her admission to police was only made to get off on a lighter sentence.

She faces imprisonment of 10 to 40 years on each count.

Whitfield has a troubled past that includes drug abuse, treatment for mood instability and violent conflict, hospitalizations for mental illness, and a conviction in New York, for which she served jail time, for terroristic threatening and violation of a protective order.

She was also arrested for child endangerment.

Whitfield was never prosecuted but ordered to attend parenting and anger management classes.

She was placed on medication in 2000 after a hospitalization, but later stopped taking it. She was not on medication at the time of her arrest, she told Mallory.

Whitfield was born in Nebraska and lived in New York until moving to Arkansas at age 18 with her mother.

TOP STORY >> Builders selected for new school

Leader staff writer

Cabot School District has released the names of the sub-contractors who will be constructing the district’s ninth elementary school.

The 78,641-square-foot school will be constructed on land located on Mountain Springs Road off Hwy. 5. The total cost of the project will be $7.25 million.

The school is slated to open in fall 2010.

Steve Elliott of Lewis, Elliott and Studer Architects of Little Rock designed the school. The district will act as the general contractor.

Site work for the project has already begun. Construction of the building is expected to start in May. Paving will be bid later.

Construction of the building is estimated at $81.86 per square foot. The total per-square-foot cost, which includes land, engineering and architectural design, site work, utilities and pavement, is estimated at $92.61 per square foot.

Stage-coach Elementary School, built in 2006, cost the district $97.13 per square foot. Additional site work on that project drove up costs, but it could be that the leaner economic times led to lower pricing on the work, assistant superintendent for Cabot Jim Dalton speculated.

The median cost nationally to construct a new elementary school was $188 per square foot in 2007, according to the American School and University’s annual Official Education Construction Report.

The school is needed because of the student population kindergarten through fourth grade has grown by an average of 176 students each of the past five school years, including 2008-09.

The school will serve the Hwy. 5 and Magness Creek neighborhoods, where the fastest growth has occurred, bringing elementary schools in the area to capacity.

The school district is in the midst of negotiations with the Arkansas Department of Education about the amount of state funding is available for the project.

The two differ on projected need for classrooms over the next five years.

The state has said that funds have been approved for building a school with capacity for 480 students, but not one for 600.

Last week, the Cabot School Board voted to go ahead with the option for a larger school, because delaying for a few years would “cost double,” said Dalton.

Whether or not the district is able to persuade the state that the larger school is needed, “the funds are there; we just want to do our best in getting the state to do its part,” Dalton said.

A taxpayer-approved bond will cover the district’s share of costs.

The district will not seek federal stimulus funds for the project. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $24.8 billion has been allocated for public school renovation, repairs and construction.

Dalton said there are questions about how much of the stimulus funds are actually available for new construction, and the district is “starting meetings now to understand what the possibilities are.

With federal money there are lots of strings attached. If it turns out they would let us apply for funds retroactively, we certainly would.”

TOP STORY >> JPD honors its top officers, staff

Leader staff writer

Saluting their own and others, the Jacksonville Police Department presented numerous special awards at its annual banquet held last week at McArthur Assembly of God Church.

There were many individual awards honoring several members of the police department regarding their work during the Foxwood standoff in August.

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office received an appreciation award for its work in assisting Jacksonville during the Foxwood subdivision shooting.

Receiving the Meritorious Service Awards were Tabby Hughes, 911 communications specialist; Det. Melissa Burroughs and former Sgt. John Staley. Burroughs and Staley were the negotiators during the stand-off in Foxwood. Hughes worked communications between the department and officers during the entire standoff.

The Medal of Valor went to Officer Melissa Williams, who was the first officer on the scene during the Foxwood shooting last summer that left the gunman dead.

The JPD’s purple heart went to Officer John Alberson, who was shot in the shoulder by the gunman during the Foxwood standoff.

There were two separate life-saving awards, which honored officers for their service.
One award went to a team of officers for its role in protecting the residents and fellow officers during the Foxwood shooting.

Honored were Lt. Martin Cass, Sgt. Bret Hibbs, Sgt. Kimberly Lett, K9 Officer Regina Boyd, Officer John Alberson, K9 Officer Christopher Galluppo, Officer John Forte, Det. Travis Perrow, Officer Christopher Schultz and Officer Joseph Lucky.

The second award went to Officer Melissa Williams and Officer Robert Mills. Last April, they were on patrol and heard a scream for help.

The officers searched the 700 block of North Hospital Drive and found an elderly woman had fallen off the back steps of her home.

When the officers arrived, she was bleeding from her head. The temperature was 45 degrees and dropping.

Chief Gary Sipes received the command staff of the year award. Sipes was the choice of 95 percent of the department’s employees for the award.

The chief received a standing ovation when he accepted his award. With tears in his eyes, Sipes said it was an honor to be selected for the award.

After the ceremony, Sipes said, “It makes me feel good. I care about these officers. They have put up with a lot of adversity in the past year.

“They are dedicated and working hard to clean up the city,” he continued. “We have turned crime rates down in 2009. We have seen a decrease in call loads with thefts and burglaries. We have conducted three different sweeps this year. We are taking an aggressive approach towards drugs.”

Det. Jerry Keefer was named detective of the year. Officer Christopher Schultz was honored as officer of the year, and supervisor of the year went to Capt. Kenny Boyd.

April Kiser, public information officer, was named humanitarian of the year for her work with the Special Olympics.

Dr. Cheryl May, a forensic anthropologist with the State Crime Lab, was given the Appreciation Award for her forensic work recovering the human remains found near Wright’s Cabinet Shop at the Jacksonville industrial park in a wooded area off Corey Drive.

Two men were charged with murder, although one may never be tried because of a lack of evidence.

The civilian of the year was awarded to jailer Diana Christy.

Auxiliary Sgt. Robert Fielding was presented with the auxiliary officer of the year award. Fielding is the lead chaplain for the department.

EDITORIAL >> Utilities don’t want this bill

Given the chance, would you elect to protect your pocketbook and also the planet and the grandchildren who will inhabit it? That is barely an oversimplification of the issue before the state House of Representatives when it takes up HB 1903, first in a committee this morning.

The legislature, by either deed or inaction, is almost certain to reject the choice. The big utilities fear that the bill and the energy conservation it is supposed to promote might someday encroach on their profits. Not in nearly a century has the Arkansas legislature refused the bidding of the major gas and electric companies, and this one shows no signs of breaking the string.

HB 1903 came out of the Governor’s Commission on Global Warming, which devised a few ways that the state of Arkansas might do its small part in stopping the slide to global catastrophe. One was to block the construction of a big coal-burning power plant at McNab near the Texas border, which will annually produce some 6 million tons of earth-heating greenhouse gases.The plant isn’t needed to meet the power needs of Texas and Louisiana, which would get the lion’s share of the electricity the plant will produce, or of Arkansas. The Annual Energy Outlook report issued yesterday by the federal Energy Information Administration confirmed it. Only two new coal plants will be needed in all the United States between 2013 and 2025, it said, and even that does not account for expected new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Those will obviate the need for any new plants.

But that seems to be water under the bridge. The state Public Service Commission and the state Department of Pollution Control and Ecology have signed off on building the plant, and the utilities are rushing pell-mell to build it and get it on line before appeals have been settled and before the federal government issues new standards for carbon-dioxide poisoning, as the U.S. Supreme Court said the Clean Air Act obliges it to do.

But HB 1903 might still enable Arkansas to make a contribution to the rising battle against climate change. It is patterned after energy-efficiency programs in a number of states and primarily California, which plunged into the conservation effort 30 years ago after the great Arab oil shock nearly brought the country to its knees. The state created a variety of incentives for utilities, businesses and individuals to curtail the use of electricity and natural gas — everything from insulation and efficient appliances and machinery to reports to customers on their monthly bills about how they stack up against their neighbors on energy consumption.

Did it work? Californians now burn only a little more than half the kilowatt hours of power that the average American — and Arkansan — uses each year. One study concluded that a California family is saving $800 a year on energy costs that it would have been paying if the conservation program had never been started.

And the climate? California has slashed its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent since 1975 though a considerable part of it has been the state’s rigorous standards for automobile tailpipe emissions. California wanted to do even more this decade, but the Bush administration forbade it. President Obama last month instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to revisit that policy.

HB 1903 asks the electric and gas utilities to devise energy-conservation plans and submit them to the Public Service Commission. The goal would be to reduce the consumption of kilowatt hours by 1 percent by 2013 and reduce gas consumption by three-quarters of 1 percent. That is all, and it is only a goal — not a mandate. The companies would only be supposed to do their best. But it is too much for the big utilities, which seem to have locked up enough votes in the House to stop the bill.

It should not be financially harmful to the companies either. They could capitalize their investment in energy-saving work like insulation and appliances and earn a return on it.

The lawmakers and the utility executives might get an idea of the potential of conservation if they held off and went next week to hear James Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, at the Clinton School of Public Service. Duke Energy has made some tentative investments in conservation, including a program called Save a Watt, where the company helps people pay for energy-efficient appliances and other conservation steps.

The Insurance and Commerce Committee of the House, where good consumer bills go to die, is to take up HB 1903 this morning. The word is that consumers have only a fighting chance.

TOP STORY >> Education funded by lottery will help state

Leader staff writer

Bill Halter, the Arkansas lieutenant governor who stepped out of the traditional role of his office to push through a state lottery to fund college scholarships, told Beebe area residents Monday why he made the effort.

“It’s not at all about having a lottery,” Halter said. “It’s always been about funding scholarships. The lottery is merely a funding mechanism.”

Halter spoke during a breakfast organized by the Beebe Economic Develop-ment Commission, saying there is a correlation between economic development and education.

“If you look at every reputable study in economic development, you’ll see that what drives sustainable higher income level is education,” he said.

Arkansas is 49th in the nation —ahead of only West Virginia — in percentage of adults with college degrees, Halter said, adding that all his life, Arkansas has been 48th or 49th in per-capita income. The only way to change that is better education, he said.

Although the official duties of an lieutenant governor are presiding over the state Senate with a tie-breaking vote and serving as governor if the governor is out of state or leaves office, Halter said his commitment to the voters who elected him was to get the lottery on the ballot.

With the help of Little Rock businessman John Bailey and family who reportedly donated $400,000 to the petition campaign to get the initiative on the ballot, state voters overwhelmingly approved the lottery in November. And all that was left was for the state legislature to set up its administration.

Gov. Mike Beebe signed that legislation into law last week and now the commission that will oversee the lottery must hire a director and get the tickets in the convenience stores.

House District 49 Rep. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe), who arranged the breakfast meeting, said lottery tickets should go on sale by the end of the year.

District 44 Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) and District 48 Rep Davy Carter (R-Cabot), also attended the breakfast meeting. Halter praised the three state representatives for helping to pull together the legislation setting up the administration of the lottery.

Halter said the lottery is expected to bring in $100 million a year. Although Arkansas is the 43rd state to establish a lottery, it is the first to dedicate all the profits to college scholarships, he said.

Students with an average grade point of 2.5 will be eligible for the awards.

Halter said if collections go as expected, students should get $2,500 a year for two-year programs and $5,000 a year for four-year programs, almost full tuition at most institutions, he said.

Halter said about 30 percent of the gross proceeds will go to college scholarships. Most of the 70 percent left will go to the prizes, but some will be used to reimburse the stores that sell the tickets.

But in response to a question from Eugene McKay, chancellor at ASU-Beebe where the breakfast was held, Halter said although the person hired to run the lottery will likely not be paid the reported $490,000, the salary will have to be significant to draw qualified candidates.

TOP STORY >> Air base is getting stimulus funding

Leader senior staff writer

None of the Defense Department’s $7.4 billion cut of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is slated for new military construction at Little Rock Air Force Base, but the base is in line for $12.7 million worth of facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization projects, according to Airman Vanessa Dale, a base spokesperson.

About $8.8 million of that is earmarked for repairing and maintaining the flight line — airfield apron, $3.4 million; Foxtrot taxiway, $3.3 million, and alert airfield parking ramp, $2.1 million, according to the list released by the Defense Department.

Other items include $856,000 to repair Hangar 224; $1,578,000 to repair or install two antiterrorism-vehicle barriers; $604,000 to repair Sixth Street/Arnold Drive; $431,000 to repair fire-detection system in the Razorback Inn and install or repair a sprinkler system for that building, and $409,000 to repair fire-detection system and install or repair the sprinkler in Lodging 1024.

The Pentagon will spend about $38 million on 52 projects in Arkansas for Army, National Guard and Army Reserve Programs, much of that at Camp Joseph T. Robinson. Those projects include energy management, such as renovating lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning in each of six barracks at a cost of about $1.5 million each.

Twelve projects are scheduled for the Pine Bluff Arsenal, including $21 million for steam-line replacement.

The Defense Department stimulus plan states that it will spend its funds as quickly as possible in the following categories:

– $4.2 billion in operation and maintenance accounts to improve, repair and modernize DoD facilities, including energy-related im-provements.

– $1.3 billion in military construction for hospitals.

– $240 million in military construction for child development centers.

– $100 million in military construction for warrior-transition complexes.

– $535 million for other military construction projects, such as housing for the troops and their families, energy conservation, and National Guard facilities.

– $300 million to develop energy-efficient technologies.

– $120 million for the Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP)

– $555 million for a temporary expansion of the Homeowner’s Assistance Program benefits for private home-sale losses of both DoD military and civilian personnel.

– $15 million for DoD inspector general oversight and audit of Recovery Act expenditures.

The $7.4 billion in defense-related appropriation accounts for less than 1 percent of the total $787 billion stimulus package signed on Feb. 17 by President Obama.

The Department intends to spend this funding with “unprecedented full transparency and accountability,” the Pentagon said.

TOP STORY >> Mayoral candidates discuss issues

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville mayoral candidates have not yet taken off the gloves, but as the race begins in earnest, Randy “Doc” Rhodd, still bedecked in biker regalia and tattoos, had nonetheless sacrificed the ponytail, and Tommy Dupree wore a sport coat and a tie with a half-Windsor knot Monday when the Jacksonville Senior Center hosted the six candidates vying to replace retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim.

The top topic, ripped from the headlines in The Leader, seemed to be keeping doctors and medical services in Jacksonville and also whether or how to reopen the Graham Road railroad crossing.

Joining Dupree and Rhodd were Beckie Brooks, Kenny Elliott, Gary Fletcher and Jody Urquhart, who spoke in alphabetical order, each speaking for five minutes, then answering questions.

Brooks reminded about 40 people assembled for the forum and lunch that while she hadn’t held elected office, she was active in resolving the Vertac dioxin problem and was a lifelong Jacksonville resident. She said in selling Jacksonville real estate for 30 years, she knew how to sell the community, which she said is now dormant.

Brooks said the community could not afford to lose its doctors and hospital to Cabot or other areas because rents here are too high.

She said that getting to and from the new Lighthouse Academy Charter School on North First Street would be more difficult because the Graham Railroad railroad crossing is closed.

She encouraged those attending to contact Rep. Vic Snyder and Sen. Blanche Lincoln about the Graham Road crossing.

Dupree said it was his first run for office and noted he had degrees from UALR in business, economics and public finance.

Dupree, a builder and developer, said the most important things he’ll look after as mayor are expediting the six-laning of Hwy. 67/167 through Jacksonville and creation of a public-safety commission to oversee police, fire and emergency response operations.

“The system is broken down,” he said.

Active in preserving and promoting the Reed’s Bridge Civil War site, Dupree said that developing tourism based around the site and others, including the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, could be beneficial.

Alderman Kenny Elliott said he has lived in Jacksonville for 50 years and has a long history of service, including being president of the chamber of commerce and chairman of the planning commission.

He said failure of the education system was the biggest problem facing Jacksonville and that he supported a stand-alone north Pulaski County/Jacksonville school district.

Elliott said he would work to keep the hospital and the members of the medical community in Jacksonville.

Some doctors are considering paying for a new appraisal of the clinic because the most recent one is high and requires that the city, as owner, charge higher rents.

He also would establish a housing commission, saying areas of the city, such as Sunnyside, needed help.

Alderman Gary Fletcher said that when his family moved to Jacksonville in 1968, it was one of the fastest-growing communities in the state.

Long involved in politics, Fletcher graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1973 and first ran for city council the following year. He’s been on the council for 31 years.

He said Jacksonville should be promoted as an ideal settling place for retirees, and that keeping the hospital was important to that goal.

Fletcher also called for better transportation around the city.

In answer to a question, Fletcher, a developer, said there was not enough housing in town.

Rhodd told the seniors that Jacksonville still had a lot of needs, including the need to stop the spread of gangs to keep residents safe.

He said he would reopen the Graham railroad crossing if possible. He also favored competitive pay for local police and firefighters.

He said he would take action to have decrepit old houses fixed up or torn town.
Rhodd said unemployment was “sky high” and that people were moving away to work and live.

“We need to keep the money local,” he said. He also favors a local school district.

He said some recent improvements, like the new library and the new Walgreens, were a good start, but more needed to be done.

Jody Urquhart, who works for Arkansas Farm Bureau, said Swaim had given the community 22 years of great service.

“Running is not a decision I took lightly,” he said. “I have friends leaving

Jacksonville and it’s time for someone our age to step up. The main reason is the school system.”

Urquhart said the problems with the hospital and medical clinic were kept quiet and secret at first, but that as city buildings, they should have had transparent and open airing at town hall meetings.

He said Jacksonville residents had a history of coming together to solve problems or get things they needed for the community, citing the new library, the aquatics center, the Little Rock Air Force Base/Jacksonville Joint Education Center and other projects.

TOP STORY >> Cabot mayor sees continued progress

Leader staff writer

Cabot is doing well in great part because of the efforts of city, county, state and local leaders whom Mayor Eddie Joe Williams considers a part of his team.

“If you’re soloing in this city, you’re heading for a rude awakening,” Williams told 150 members of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce during a noon luncheon Monday.

When he was campaigning three years ago for mayor, the top three complaints he heard about were “traffic, traffic and traffic,” Williams told a crowd that seemed to understand the problem well.

Now, he said, to the apparent surprise of some in the audience, that the No. 1 complaint he gets is barking dogs followed by potholes and flooding.

Williams gave credit to Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman for building two freeway frontage roads, one of which opened only last week, that have helped ease traffic congestion.

He also thanked the state Highway Department for the widening and re-striping that has added extra lanes and helped with timing the traffic signals to improve the flow.

And he thanked the school district, which is the reason people move to Cabot but also the reason for the traffic jams.

When school is in session, 2,000 – 3,000 cars move through Cabot during the 20 minutes before and after school, he said. The school district has worked with the city to reroute traffic to improve the flow and the mayor says it’s working.

“Without cooperation from the district we would be in terrible shape,” the mayor said.

He said he was grateful to Little Rock Air Force Base for giving Cabot 40 percent of its population.

He thanked State Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) for helping the city to get $150,000 from the state to buy land for the $8.2 million armory that should be under construction this summer.

He thanked Rep. Marion Berry (D-Gillett) for his help in getting the armory located there and trying to help get money to build the north interchange, which would further alleviate traffic congestion.

When Williams took office in January 2007, there was not enough money in the bank to make payroll. The city now has about $3 million not immediately needed to pay bills.

He cut staff to save on payroll and he has required department heads to follow tight budgets.

“Cabot has done well financially because people continue to watch how they spend money,” he told the chamber members.

He promised that traffic will continue to be a priority. That is important because even though construction has not bounced back to where it was before the economy soured, it is doing better than last year. And that means that Cabot is still growing.

TOP STORY >> Water-rate increase bigger than expected

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Water Department rates will jump 51 percent during the next five years if the city council approves it on April 16.

If passed, the increase could take place the next day, Shada Roberts, an engineer with Garver Engineers, told the Jacksonville Rotary Club on Monday in explaining the rate hikes.

Garver Engineers and HDR Engineering of Bellevue, Wash., consultants for Jacksonville Water Works, are recommending a 13 percent increase in 2009, with another 13 percent increase in 2010 as well as in 2011.

Rates in 2012 would increase another 8 percent and then 4 percent more in 2013. Rates will be reviewed again in 2014.

“That’s about a 50 percent increase over the next five years, and I know that is a pretty good hike, but that will equal $24 million, which is half of what we need for improvements,” said Mike Simpson, manager of Jacksonville Water Works, following the meeting.

“These are tentative numbers, but are the closest that we know,” Simpson said. “We don’t want people to say that they didn’t know once it is approved. This is how it is going all across the country – it is costing more and more to produce a gallon of clean water. But it is still a great deal — $2.50 will buy you a thousand gallons of water, but only one gallon of gas.”

The increase would be the same for all customer classes – inside and outside Jacksonville city limits, wholesale, retail, both commercial and residential meters.

For typical household usage – an average of 6,000 gallons per month – the increase the first year would be an estimated $4 per month.

Simpson emphasized that the Jacksonville Water Commission has not voted on the recommended rate increase. That will happen at a special meeting next week.

Existing reserves and the rate increase will provide half of the $48 million needed for system improvements to meet water demand to the year 2050. Between now and 2011, half of that amount is needed to build transmission lines, a meter station and mains to increase the flow of water from CAW sources.

A possible change in the rate structure would give a break to low-use customers, many of them on a limited income.

With the new rate structure, water would get more expensive, the more that is used – which is the reverse of how rates are now structured. At last week’s water commission meeting, members favored that idea, a growing national trend to encourage conservation.

“People need to realize that as they use more water, the rate will go up,” Simpson said. “The 20,000- to 50,000-gallon (per month) users will be paying quite a bit more.”

The rate change has been triggered by two things. The price of water that Jacksonville purchases from Central Arkansas Water went up 1 percent in January, and the utility needs its customers to bear that cost.

Secondly, the increase is based on the findings of a rate study that occurs every five years as part of an update to the Jacksonville Water Works master plan. Conducted by Garver Engineers, the master plan assesses water needs, water sources and system improvements to the year 2050.

“We have been paying for a rate increase without being covered,” said Simpson.

The rate study, which cost $80,000 and is being done by Shawn Koorn of HDR Engineering, has brought the true long-range costs of producing water into focus. Considered were current and projected demand, debt-service obligations, revenues, capital improvements, operating and replacement costs, and the price for water purchased from Central Arkansas Water.

The rest of the $48 million needed for improvements will likely come from a combination of bonds and low- or no-interest loans. Federal stimulus money is also a possible source. Options are being explored now, Simpson said.

Jacksonville currently depends on CAW to meet half of its water demand, which averages 4.9 million gallons per day. The rest of the water comes from well fields located southeast of Jacksonville. By 2050, demand is projected to climb to 12 million gallons per day.

“By 2017, all the wells are expected to be below what can be used,” Roberts said.

Also figured into the rate increase is Jacksonville’s share in construction costs for the Lonoke White County water project.

Last week, the water commissioners voted to go forward with a contract to purchase 1.2 million gallons of water per day from Greers Ferry Lake. The water may not be needed for years, but commissioners favored having an alternate water supply in case of a breakdown with the CAW system.

Not being totally dependent on CAW is a good thing, agreed Rotary member Ben Rice.

“In the event of a terrorist attack on the I-430 bridge, we need a good alternate source of water in the event of that happening,” Rice said. “Also, another water source is good for business – lets you pick and choose” from whom to buy water.

Jacksonville customers’ share of Lonoke White construction costs are built into the proposed rate hike. For the first two years, it would be $2.50 per meter per month. After that, it would be $5 per meter per month for an estimated 20 years.

All of that will pay for a 24-inch transmission line to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to a distribution point located between Ward and Cabot, as well as a treatment plant.

The project, which will be working in four years, looks like a strong candidate for federal stimulus funds.

“It is one of the big projects in the state that would qualify for the stimulus money,” Simpson said. “When the coins start rolling down hill, we want to be in their path.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SPORTS >> Sounds of Hogs’ scrimmage may have told truer tales than sights

Nate Allen Media Services

What Bobby Petrino heard and what his players felt may be more important to these Razorbacks than what was seen in last Saturday’s debut scrimmage for spring football 2009.

Second-year Arkansas coach Petrino liked the sounds of Saturday’s scrimmage considerably better than when the Hogs first hit last spring. He heard hits registering velocity he implied he didn’t hear this time last year.

“We are learning a lot about our team chemistry and energy and enthusiasm and our physicalness,” Petrino said after last Saturday’s scrimmage inside the Walker Pavilion. “Last year I kind of felt like it was pulling teeth to get them to hit and concentrate on the physical part of the drills. This year they are really eager and see some success. Anytime you see success you can build off of it.”

It helps considerably that the returning Razorbacks have a measuring stick on Petrino’s spring coaching philosophy. It includes long practices, even in the workouts mandated to be without pads, and long scrimmages on the workouts the NCAA allow to be full bore.

“I think we are moving around a lot faster and a year ahead of where we were last year,” third-year sophomore defensive end Jake Bequette said. “Everybody is used to the longer practices. We know what to expect and we know what the coaches expect from us. We know the playbook and are very confident in our alignment and assignment.”

Wendel Davis came on during 2008 to be the starting middle linebacker, but the Petrino ordeal during spring drills and the August preseason is new to him. The senior required major knee surgery during a 2008 winter conditioning workout and had to miss practices and rehab all the way through last season’s start before he was able to play. By then, practices are shortened to keep players fresh for game day.

It was interesting to hear one of Arkansas’ most veteran players relate his ongoing rookie experience with Petrino’s rugged practices.

“I’ve always been a cramper, but I hadn’t been through practices like this as tough and physical,” Davis said. “I’ve been taking care of my body but obviously I need to take care of it a little bit more. I need to drink more fluids and get more rest and watch what I eat.”

When not cramping himself, Davis has been cramping the offense. He made the lone interception of last Saturday’s scrimmage, picking off one of strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett’s misguided missiles.

Mallett, 11 of 25 with two TD passes to wideoutJarius Wright, threw the deep ball really well Saturday, but tossed a few of the short ones too hard. Those are apt to turn into interceptions, though the one to Wendel Davis blasted at him unfettered.

“It was coming at me really fast, but I was braced for it, ” Davis said. “It hit me in the hands and I grabbed it and held on. I don’t think it was a special play because I’ve got to make the plays that come to me.”

Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is not one to spend praise freely, but saw Davis’ play special enough to laud the senior Saturday.

A linebacking corps that started shakily last year —Davis was injured and outside linebacker Freddy Burton was on disciplinary suspension — now is a defensive base. Davis starts in the middle flanked by Franklin and Burton just like they finished 2008.

“I thought Wendel Davis has improved tremendously,” Robinson said. “I thought he’s really picked it up. Freddy Burton’s got some consistency about him.”

Regarding the offensive part of Saturday’s scrimmage, it was good to see sophomore tailback De’Anthony Curtis of Camden Fairview turn heads, not to mention change opinions.

Some of the same fans who were clamoring for Petrino to recognize Curtis’ talent are now ready to throw him under the bus. Injuries and a couple of fumbles diminished Curtis’ 2008 Razorback season.

Curtis netted 56 yards on six carries last Saturday, including a tackle-shedding, leg-churning 30-yard touchdown.

“You saw De’Anthony Curtis have a great run,” Petrino said. “Definitely, that helps his confidence. He knows that’s the emphasis of this spring, that when he has contact, keep his legs driving and make yards after contact. That’s something that he’s really concentrating on. He’s a great kid. He’s going to work as hard as he possibly can.”

SPORTS >> Lady Lions edge Cabot in extra innings

Leader sportswriter

The pitchers’ duel between Searcy sophomore Amber Rollins and Cabot senior Cherie Barfield ended up scratch through the first seven innings.

But the Lady Lions (9-2) wasted little time removing their goose egg from the scoreboard in the top of the eighth inning.

Searcy cashed in on a pair of misplayed bunts by the Lady Panther defense to claim a thrilling 3-1 win on Monday at Conrade Sports Complex.

The Lady Panthers (5-3) had already worked themselves out of one pickle in the top of the third inning when Searcy had bases loaded and cleanup hitter Nila Navarro at the plate. With two outs, Barfield forced Navarro to ground out to second to keep the game scoreless.

Cabot was not so fortunate in the eighth, however. Freshman runner Laura Beth Shrum took second base to start extra innings (under universal rules, a team begins each extra inning with a runner at second base), and quickly advanced to third when leadoff batter Morgan Thomason reached on a bunt single, just beating the throw to first by Barfield.

Junior Noelle Burley drove in Shrum with a bunt that was mishandled, and Thomason came in when a Navarro buntwas also misplayed. Amanda Richardson brought home the insurance run when she blooped a single over Cabot third baseman Tara Boyd to make it 3-0.

“We’ve worked and worked on that situation, knowing that it was going to come,” said Lady Panther coach Becky Steward. “But there were some miscues. The girls didn’t talk. So hopefully they will learn from what just happened and not let it happen again in the future.”

Cabot was able to make up one of those runs when leadoff batter Becca Bakalekos singled in universal runner Bre Bogard with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bakalekos advanced on a single to right by second baseman Kristi Flesher to put the tying runs on, but Rollins forced a groundout from Chelsea Conrade to end it.

“We needed to be a little more selective at the plate,” said Steward. “We didn’t know where the strike zone was part of the time. But when you get two strikes on you, you’ve got to protect yourself and foul them off. I think we just pressed a little too hard.”

Rollins barely bested her elder foe Barfield in the final tally, but overall defense was the difference on the scoreboard. Barfield finished with seven strikeouts, while allowing five hits and one walk. Rollins gave up four hits and a walk, and had one hit-by-pitch while fanning 11.

The Lady Lions went error-free, while Cabot had four, two of which came in the decisive eighth inning.

“I told the girls to get the first run,” said Searcy coach Kyle Hunt. “A lot of times, teams will get so wrapped up in the first run that they start making mistakes, which is what happened today.”

Hunt was also pleased with the defensive effort despite a few cobwebs in the early going.

“Defensively, I thought for the game we were real rusty,” he said. “We haven’t practiced since before spring break. We took 10 days off and came back, but I thought we were pretty good defensively.”

Thomason was 2 of 3 for Searcy with an RBI. Evans went 2 of 3 to lead the Lady Panthers. Richardson and Burley also had a single and an RBI each for the Lady Lions, while Bakelekos had the only RBI of the game for Cabot.

Cabot’s scheduled 7A-Central conference game at Van Buren last night was called off because of rain. The Lady Panthers will host Russellville on Thursday and travel to Conway on Friday.

Searcy will return to 6A-East Conference play on Thursday at home against Jonesboro.

SPORTS >> Bryant has happy return

Leader sports editor

Not that Jay Fitch ever forgot, but Powell Bryant provided a stark reminder of how much he’s been missed over the early part of the Cabot baseball season.

Bryant, who has been recovering from a back injury, finally made his way back into the Panther lineup on Monday night when Cabot hosted Little Rock Hall at Conrade-Wade Field.

His return couldn’t have been more productive as the junior outfielder reached base in all four of his at-bats and scored all four times in Cabot’s 9-2 win over the Warriors.

“We’ve really been missing him,” said Fitch, Cabot’s head coach. “He hit almost .400 as a sophomore. We miss his speed and his arm in the outfield. We had some guys like Brandon Surdam and Matt Williams step in and do a good job holding things down for us, but Powell is an exceptional talent and an all-state caliber player.”

Bryant solidifies the first half of a potent Cabot lineup, where he’ll bat in the No. 2 hole behind brother and leadoff hitter Joe Bryant. With Drew Burks, Ben Wainwright and Matthew Turner rounding out the top five in the order, Fitch’s team appears to be coming together just in time for the heart of the 7A Central race.

“The key for Drew is Ben and Matthew,” Fitch said. “If those two guys don’t protect him, it’s a no-brainer. You walk Drew.

They’ve done well. Ben is hitting around .400. And the second half of the lineup has been pretty solid all year, too.

“Then you’ve got all that speed with Joe with 15 stolen bases and now Powell, too.”

Burks and Wainwright combined to go 7 of 7 against Hall. Burks was 4 of 4 with two doubles and three RBI, while Wainwright had a pair of doubles and two RBI. Burks’s average is pushing .600.

Cole Nicholson pitched three innings of three-hit baseball in another solid outing. Nicholson allowed no earned runs and struck out six, giving Fitch yet another option in his starting rotation. It appeared Andrew Reynolds had nailed down the secondslot behind Tyler Erickson after his big outing in relief in a comeback win over Bryant on March 19.

“That was a huge performance by Andrew,” Fitch said. “But the next day Cole threw a magnificent game against a good White Hall team. Probably Andrew has the edge (for the No. 2 starter) because he’s a junior.”

Cabot scored three runs in the first inning against the hapless Warriors, taking advantage of an error, a Powell Bryant single, a Burks double and Wainwright’s sacrifice fly to lead 3-0.

A two-out infield single by Powell Bryant and Burks’ RBI double made it 4-0 after two. Hall took advantage of a pair of errors by Nicholson to score a run in the third, but Wainwright’s double and Turner’s sacrifice fly got that run back. RBI singles by
Burks and Wainwright in the fourth extended the lead to 7-1.

Hall got a run in the sixth against reliever Reynolds, but Joe Bryant scored on the back end of a double steal and Powell Bryant scored his fourth run of the game on Burks’ lined single to right in the sixth to set the final tally.

The two, three and four hitters in the Panther lineup combined to go 9 of 9 with six runs and six RBI. Powell Bryant was 2 of 2. Cabot finished with 10 hits.

Reynolds went three innings, allowing three hits and one earned run while fanning two. Chase Beasley finished up with an inning of work, striking out two and walking one.

Cabot (8-3, 2-2 in 7A Central play) was to have played at Van Buren last night, but the game was cancelled. Weather permitting, the Panthers will host Russellville on Thursday.

Monday, March 30, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Not ready for reform

We are endlessly surprised to learn that shabby official behavior is either condoned by law in Arkansas or else punished so lightly that the law is meaningless. We should not be surprised when the legislature is reluctant to close the loopholes.

The latest reminder of the folly was the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s vote this winter to allow the investors in a coal-burning power plant near Hope to proceed full speed to build it, although they do not have the required permits to do it. One permit will have to come from the commission, which will rule this spring or summer whether the tons of poisonous pollutants from the plant would be too harmful to the environment. Only twice in two decades has the commission allowed work to proceed before an environmental permit was issued and the legal barriers removed.

The chairman of the commission, who pushed the work approval through, had private business dealings with contractors for the big plant. His job at the commission was to carry out the public interest without favor, and his vote and his visible role in getting the work moving present at least a compelling appearance of conflict of interest. It is not the only instance. Representatives of the interests that have business before the agencies usually dominate state boards and commissions, and conflicts are unavoidable. The law already says that a person with such a conflict must not vote on issues in which he or she has a personal pecuniary interest, but the punishment typically is an admonition to sin no more.

A liberal Democrat, Kathy Webb of Little Rock, and two conservative Republicans, Jonathan Dismang of Beebe and Dan Greenberg of Little Rock, introduced a bill to fix the law. It would be unlawful for a board or commission member to vote or influence the vote on any matter before the agency in which he or a member of his family has a personal interest. The prohibition would apply if the issue involved a person, business or organization from which the board member received more than $1,000 a year or with which he is negotiating employment. The state Ethics Commission could fine an official who knowingly violated the prohibition up to $2,000, and the governor or whoever appoints the board could remove him from office.

The House Rules Committee finally recommended passage of the bill this week, but its chances of navigating both houses to the governor’s desk so late in the session are poor. It has potent opposition.

Who would oppose such patently worthy legislation? The Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. The argument is that it is too hard to separate public service and private interests and that we should not criminalize a little harmless greed or negligence. But it is never harmless when government subordinates the public interest to private self-interest.

We have some hope that the legislature before it adjourns will see its duty and pass one little bill to strengthen the ethical code.

TOP STORY >> City joining water group

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Water Commission on Wednesday voted to join the Lonoke White Public Water Authority, by which Greers Ferry Lake will become a future water source for Jacksonville.

The unanimous board vote came after much deliberation, as the commissioners were already grappling with the amount of a rate increase needed to cover Jacksonville’s share of improvements to the Central Arkansas Water system.

The contract signing solidifying the deal is expected by early to mid-May.

The pressure was on the commissioners to make a decision because they have been told only a narrow window exists to apply for low-interest loan money likely to come from federal stimulus funds, which would help pay for the Lonoke White transmission lines and a treatment plant. The project is estimated to cost $65 million.

Commissioners viewed joining Lonoke White as “insurance” in the case of emergencies such as transmission problems with water coming from CAW lines attached to the I-430 bridge.

Buying into Lonoke White could also mean another long-term water source as Jacksonville well fields are expected to completely shut down by the year 2020.

The vote to join Lonoke White came after commissioners listened to Terry House, general manager of Grand Prairie Bayou 2 Water Company, who implored them to sign on to the project, and Bill Cypert, secretary for Cabot Water Works, who spoke against joining at this time.

House told the group that Lonoke White is one of three water projects in Arkansas that have strong support from the state as a recipient for federal-stimulus funds.

“Sixty-five million dollars of 1 percent money has been set aside for Lonoke White,” House said. “They are wanting commitments to turn in when the money is here – could be the middle of next year.”

According to Cypert, Cabot Water Works is wary of signing on to Lonoke White because it seemed like a rush job simply to obtain cheap financing when not all the facts are in.

Too many questions remain, he said, about what Cabot would pay toward construction of the system, not to mention operations once it is up and running.

Instead, he urged his Jackson-ville counterparts to “wait five years and build a bigger line, which would be more cost effective. Lonoke White is very candidly pushing this over 1 percent money.”

Following the meeting, Cypert said that Cabot Water Works has not rejected the idea of joining Lonoke White, but has already decided to not join if it means increasing rates.

The original agreement with Lonoke White was to purchase 220,000 gallons per day, which is affordable at current rates, but now the project planners want Cabot to buy more than 930,000 gallons per day, which is unaffordable with current rates.

Cypert is troubled that the Cabot commissioners have not been allowed to see the plans, but are being asked to share in costs.

Before any decision, Cabot commissioners want some answers to questions about costs sent to the project planners a couple of weeks ago.

“We are currently in a detailed analysis phase of the options,” Cypert said following the meeting.

Around $24.5 million in stimulus funds have been earmarked for Arkansas’ drinking water state revolving fund programs, for which Lonoke White could apply for a grant and or loan.

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission has a deadline of Feb. 17, 2010 by which the agency is required to have signed construction contracts.

“That does not leave them (project planners) much time to meet paperwork requirements, so we are telling them the sooner the better –hoping by the end of April – to get water contracts from all entities to show that they are serious,” said Dave Fenter, finance manager for the ARNC.

As for the promise of “1 percent money,” that is just talk right now, Fenter said. “It will be low interest, and that is one figure that has been mentioned, but it is not for certain what it will be. That is to be decided way down the road” by the commission and Gov. Mike Beebe, who will give final approval on what projects are funded.

Twelve cities and water associations have been asked to join Lonoke White: Cabot, Vilonia, Jacksonville, Grand Prairie, McRae, Beebe, Lonoke, Ward, North Pulaski, Furlow, Southwest White County Water Association and Austin.

Jack Danielson urged the other commissioners to join Lonoke White because it would benefit not only Jacksonville but one of its wholesale customers, Little Rock Air Force Base.

“It is very important for the air base to have independent water sources,” Danielson said.

Mike Simpson, manager of Jacksonville Water Works, advised the commissioners to join Lonoke White “for our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and beyond; we’ve got to buck up and pay ahead.”

The cost of joining Lonoke White will be built into the rate hike that is under review by the commission. The rate changes will affect all Jacksonville water users – residential, commercial, inside and outside city limits, as well as its wholesale customers.

The rate increase is to be finalized in April in time to ask for approval by the Jacksonville City Council at its April 16 meeting, which will include a public hearing on the proposed rate change.

The rate increase is also being triggered by a 5.6 percent rate increase that Central Arkansas Water meted out to all its wholesale customers at the first of the year.

The new rates would go into effect immediately and would be reflected on May bills.

Commission consultant Kirby Rowland advised the group to consider higher construction costs of bringing water from Greers Ferry if they delay the project 10 or 20 years when the water is needed to meet daily demand.

He cautioned them to build assurances into the contract with Lonoke White so that Jacksonville would not pay more than what project planners are telling them.

“If bids come in twice as much, you need to have some control; you need to agree to conditions you are agreeing to,” Rowland said.

The maximum daily capacity of the Jacksonville Water Works system is 9.5 million gallons. By 2025, when Jacksonville’s population is projected at 50,000, the maximum should be at 14.3 million gallons daily, according to a study by Garver Engineers. Lake Winona and Lake Maumelle, the CAW sources, should be able to meet the increased demand for some time.

Currently, Jacksonville’s water needs are met by city-owned well fields and water purchased from CAW. The two sources together supply about 5 million gallons each day to meet the needs of Jacksonville rate-payers, Little Rock Air Force Base, and the neighboring utilities that buy from Jacksonville Water Works – Cabot, Bayou Two and Furlow.

By joining Lonoke White, Jacksonville and its wholesale water customers would be ensured an additional 1 million gallons of water from Greers Ferry, once transmission lines are built.