Friday, November 05, 2010

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville plots next step

By rick kron
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s next move since the defeat of its annexation attempt is to wait.

The city’s bid to capture about four square miles to the north of the city and a small section to the south failed Tuesday.

Unofficial vote totals showed 2,962 votes against the annexation and 2,495 for it. Residents of both the city and the proposed annexed areas were allowed to vote on the issue. 

More than 2,000 city residents voted against the annexation.

“We can’t do a thing until the vote is certified the first week of December,” said Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration.

But after that and the approval of the 2011 city budget, Mayor Gary Fletcher plans to try a different approach. “We’ll try to annex just the highway corridor of commercial property and businesses.”

He said the city needs at least that land if it’s going to land some big national retail firms.

“They want that highway visibility,” the mayor said.

Durham called the approach a piecemeal annexation. “Once we have the corridor, then I’m sure adjoining property owners will ask to come into the city,” he said.

The city doesn’t plan to force anyone into the city who is outside the initial corridor. “And many of those property owners want to be a part of the city,” Durham said.

Alderman Marshall Smith added that in conversations with many city residents who were against the annexation, the issue was that it was forced annexation.

“The majority of all annexations are forced,”  Smith said.

Smith was the chairman of the Concerned Citizens Committee, which worked for weeks to develop an ordinance that would have protected a rural way of life for those in the northern section.

“In the end the ordinance gave them just about everything they wanted. They weren’t losing anything,” Smith, commending those from the proposed area who were on the committee and worked hard to shape the ordinance.

The ordinance itself is now a moot point and will not go into effect. “But we will take the fireworks portion of it and probably use it as a separate ordinance for the city. That will allow police to focus on criminals and not excessive fireworks calls,” Smith said.

The mayor expects the city to try for the corridor sometime next spring. “I’ve got to focus on next year’s budget and appoint a committee to look at sanitation rates,” the mayor said.

Fletcher said the sanitation department is running a $400,000 deficit. “We will have to consider to continue our twice a week pickups, going to once a week, going automated or privatizing.

“Then there’s a question of a rate increase. The last hike was more than 10 years ago and was designed to meet needs for five years,” the mayor explained.

To increase the city’s chances of landing new retail and restaurants, the mayor, along with Durham and economic consultant Rickey Hayes, will be attending a business developer’s conference in Dallas in about two weeks.

“We’ve got to keep our name out there,” the mayor said.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “We were going to spend a half-million dollars a year in that community, but the people spoke and said they didn’t want it.”

“Next time we’ll have to do a better job of promoting the positives of annexation,” said Durham after Thursday night’s council meeting.

The mayor said his vision for Jacksonville hasn’t changed. “We have to grow and go forward and bring in the businesses and retail that the people want.”

The mayor commended those who pushed the anti-annexation message.

“They worked hard to get their view out there,” he said.

The northern section included 297 separate parcels of land—2,454 acres or about 3.84 square miles.

The southern section that the city wanted to annex included 79 parcels of land on 232 acres, or about 0.36 square miles.

The commercial portion of the northern section generates about $100 million in annual sales, which would have meant about $1.9 million for the city coffers.

Annexing just the highway corridor will still bring most of that businesses into Jacksonville, but drop the number of outside residents who will be eligible to vote from about 500 in the original bid to less than 20.

Terry Weatherford, a rural resident who opposed the annexation, said, “We’re glad we defended our rights and the vote came out as it did. We’re pleased we convinced a lot of voters in Jacksonville to  vote for us.”