Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville looks at reducing budget

Leader staff writer

“It’s a hard budget,” Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said as he was putting the finishing touches on the city’s 2012 general fund budget. “We are looking at 2009 revenue numbers because of our loss in population.”

The mayor will present a budget of about $19 million to the council at its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday at city hall. At this point, it’s down about $3 million from this year but contains no lay-offs or reduction of services.

But the council will consider increasing sewer rates and court costs to help balance the budget.

A public hearing has been set as part of the council meeting to get input on sewer rates, which will go up, but the question remains does it go up all at once or in many small increments. The city is looking at an “all-at-once” increase. “Raising it in increments does make it less at the beginning, but in the end you have a larger rate increase,” the mayor said.

The utility needs the increase to meet operating costs and fund improvements. Last year, the utility ended up about $400,000 in the red and that amount had to be covered by the city.

The council will also vote on an ordinance to raise municipal-court fees and fines by $20.

Court operations are funded by the city and the increase would help offset costs. “The city gets just a small amount of the fines and fees currently collected,” the mayor said, adding that “people need water and sewer, but they don’t need to speed.”

Also on the council agenda:

 The council will vote on changes in the agreement the city has with the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.

 The council will accept bids to repair the roof at the community center pool. The pool has been closed since March because of roof instability and damage. A new airflow system is also needed to take more of the corrosive moisture out of the air.

The mayor said the bids are less than expected and the new roof should be finished about 30 days after the work starts. “We’ll be able to reopen the pool then as we work on the Pool Pak (airflow system),” he said.