Friday, August 06, 2010

TOP STORY > >City won’t give up on annexation

Leader staff writer

It was the largest crowd at a Jacksonville City Council meeting in about 10 years. Not since Walmart wanted to build a supercenter in the city has there been such an outpouring against an idea.

The idea presented Thursday night?

To extend the city limits north and northwest, adding about 3.8 square miles to the city, and adding another 0.36 square miles to the southeastern edge of the city.

Most of the 100-plus people in attendance were against the annexation and most particularly the northern segment.

The council took no action and no ordinance was even prepared. But aldermen did listen for almost three hours. The aldermen will vote on the issue at the next council meeting, Aug. 19. If they vote for the annexation, the issue will then be placed on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot for the residents of the proposed annexed area and the rest of the city may vote on the issue.

Nick Gray, who operates a business in the northern acreage that Jacksonville wants to bring into the city, said, “I’m already paying state ales tax, county tax, personal tax, business property tax, real estate tax, federal payroll tax, state payroll tax, timber tax and social security, sales tax, property tax, Social Security, and now you want more!”

He then turned his pants pockets inside out, flinging two pennies towards the aldermen. “Shame on you for wanting me to make you money. Leave us alone.”

That was the sentiment voiced by most of the speakers.

“We don’t want your rules. We bought land out here to get away from your rules,” Partne Daugherty said.

Artie Thomas called the city’s proposal “forced annexation.”

“I don’t know why we are even here except to waste our time,” he said.

Ralph Pridmore said his family had been paying taxes on his 100 acres for 100 years. “And now you want it. I have a problem with that.”

Ron Lewis told the council that with the annexation, they may get his property tax, but not his sales tax money. “Instead of coming out and making a left like I do now to go to Walmart or Kroger, I’ll make a left and visit those stores in Cabot.”

Florence Burnett, whose father owned and operated Tiny’s BBQ until he sold it to the VFW in 1986, said her dad couldn’t stand Jacksonville because the city wouldn’t deliver mail to him, but Cabot did.

She said with this proposal she and her neighbors would be subjected to Jacksonville rules. “And you have so many cotton-pickin’ rules,” she said.

But Mayor Gary Fletcher had a different take and told the vocal, and at times hostile, audience so.

“Jacksonville is set for an explosion of opportunities. We are going to get our own school district. I can’t tell you when, but we will.”

He added that there would be some major economic-development news soon. “We are talking to five or six family sit-down restaurants,” he said.

The mayor said the city needed to grow and the best direction, and in fact really the only direction, was north.

Most of the people understood the city wanting to take in the liquor stores and other businesses along Hwy. 67/167, but didn’t know why the city also wanted more land to the west, following Republican Road to the back of Burin Lane then zigzagging to take in Harrington Road, Puma Lane and Pridmore Road, before hitting the current city limits on Maddox Road. On the east side of Hwy. 67/167, the city is looking at taking in Holland Bottoms Road, Clifton Cove and a portion of Carrington Road.

After nearly three hours of debates, discussion and back-and-forth sassing at times, Fletcher finally said he was “bumfuzzled.”

“We are taking in your concerns. You aren’t having to give up much of your quality of life, if any, and we plan to spend a lot of money in the area,” the mayor said.

At the beginning of the public hearing, the mayor said Jacksonville would not offer city water or sewer to the annexed areas, at least not in the foreseeable future, but would offer better and cheaper sanitation services, police and fire protection and ambulance response.

The mayor said many of the complaints he had heard in the days before the council meeting included keeping livestock, hunting and ambulance costs.

He said city ordinances already allowed for livestock if the resident’s lot was large enough. “I live in the middle of the city and I have enough land to have a horse,” he said.

As far as hunting and discharging weapons, he said the area was already under county regulations, which did restrict, but not ban, the use of firearms.

“In your area, you have acreage and that’s different than lots in the city. We can make adjustments to our city ordinances that take in that difference,” Fletcher explained.

As far as ambulance costs, the mayor explained that MEMS charges $560 a run, plus a fee for mileage and supplies. The Jacksonville Fire Department ambulance run costs $395, plus mileage.

Code enforcement was another concern as a number of crowd members, including retired Rev. Lyndon Whitledge, said the city officials could come into homes if they felt there was a structural or welfare problem.

Fletcher said the ordinance was written that way, but “You won’t see a mass of gestapo trying to get into your home. That particular piece of the ordinance has been on the books for 40 years and people are citing it as a fear tactic,” the mayor said.

“We’ve tried to make all your concerns moot issues,” the mayor explained.

But that didn’t satisfy many in the crowd, as one person suggested the city needs better management, another implied the mayor was lying and Alderman Kevin McCleary was accused of not listening because he was chewing gum.

The rudeness from some in the audience prompted Alderman Terry Sansing to say after the council was asked if they were listening, “I’ve been listening to all the attitude and blatant hostility and it will have a strong influence on my decision. I don’t know yet whether I’ll vote for the ordinance which will help the city and you or be spiteful and vote against it because of all the disrespect shown tonight.

“For you to say that you love Jacksonville, you are sure bad mouthing it,” the alderman added.

But not all announcements were bad news or anti-annexation.

Alderman Reedie Ray said he had talked to residents in the East Valentine area just outside the city limits and they want to be a part of the city. “Please include that section when you write up the ordinance,” Ray said.