Friday, January 20, 2012

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville mayor sees bright future

Leader staff writer

Better schools, a big fair, plenty of construction, a cleaner city and a larger one are all the things Jacksonville residents have to look forward to according to the mayor’s State of the City address.

Mayor Gary Fletcher painted his view for 2012 and beyond at the city council meeting Thursday night when aldermen also heard annual reports from the water and wastewater departments.

In a three-page introduction to the annual 39-page report that the mayor read to the council, he said, “2012 holds much promise for our city due to developments and decisions last year.”

He said the city was moving closer to getting its own school district, adding that education was a top concern.

“Frustrated over the past by the lack of response to our needs and facilities, the state of Arkansas took a major step in correcting these neglects by taking over the Pulaski County Special School District and is working hard to resolve the federal court case of desegregation that has run a course of nearly three decades at a cost just short of $1 billion to the three school districts,” he said.

Continuing, the mayor said, “The city has showed what it is capable of doing on its own through the ribbon cutting of the Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base Joint University Center, which houses six universities.”

He said the state takeover, coupled with the new education center and the city’s dedication “will move us closer toward the creation of an independent school district for the City of Jacksonville, Little Rock Air Force Base and north Pulaski County.”

The mayor also predicted that this would be the year that the state fair issue would be settled.

“We have patiently waited for two years, and we will move forward with the establishment of a regional fair that will both provide economic opportunities for our city and help solidify the future of the fairgrounds as we work toward building an event center that will accommodate national shows and events.”

Fletcher made it clear that “Jacksonville will not wait and depend on others, but will chart our own course and work hard to accomplish our dreams.”

He also said 2012 would be a year of great construction. He said the 555 single-home building permits issued in December for affordable homes near the Homer Adkins Pre-K center is a good indicator. The city also plans for the new multi-million public safety building to be completed by the end of year. The facility will house the police department, the 911 communications center, training rooms and a large safe room that could hold up to 600 people in severe weather.

Fletcher said another safe room would be built in the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center and would double as an exercise area and a safe haven.

The community center pool is expected to be reopened within the next few weeks, the mayor said. “Not only will the center have a new roof, but a PoolPak will also be installed to prohibit corrosion from recurring and to create a more pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere at it that will better control humidity.”

The mayor also expects the city to annex the southern edge of the city along Hwy. 161 to I-440 and along Military Road.

Fletcher also said the recent shift of putting code enforcement under the police chief would bring about a positive change in the city’s appearance. “Much time in the past had been spent reacting, however, now with additional officers and realizing that code violations and crime are many times tied together, it is more of a natural fit as we become more proactive. This is necessary to build the kind of city that attracts families and industries.”

Other highlights from the State of City report include:

The city’s garage maintained a fleet of 250 vehicles, spent 1,715 hours working on the vehicles at a labor cost of $51,450 and bought $87,558 worth of parts.

The district court handled about 1,000 fewer cases in 2011 than it did in 2010, going from 14,832 cases down to 13,903. The court brought in $1.4 million in fines and forfeitures in 2011, down about $60,000 from the previous year.

The city’s 911 center received 175,993 calls during 2011. About 75,000 of those calls were for police, fire or medical assistance.

In 2011, the city’s animal shelter handled 2,063 animals. Of those, 416 were returned to their owners and 758 were adopted. Animal-control officers picked up and disposed of 514 dead animals from city streets. The agency conducted 156 animal-cruelty allegations and 16 counts of animal cruelty were processed through the courts. Thirty-nine bite cases were reported during the year.

The fire department responded to 3,129 fire alarms and had 3,125 ambulance runs during 2011. Fire loss for the year were placed at $407,600, while fire savings was estimated at $990,000.

The police department responded to 47,217 calls in 2011, down slightly from the previous year. There were 198 violet crimes (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) reported during the year, down four percent from 2010. Just over 4,000 arrests were made.

There were 171 building permits issued in 2011 with a value of $13.3 million.

The Splash Zone had a record year, partly because warm sunny weather and the fact that the community center pool was closed most of the year. The aquatics park saw revenues jump 11 percent in 2011 to $228,882.

The city had its worst flood in more than five decades in May 2011 and Hwy. 67/167 and several other area roads were closed for several days.

The public works department spent 390 man hours controlling mosquitoes, mowed 1,850 miles of rights of way and city ditches, put 9,318 miles on the street sweeper and repaired 241 potholes.

The beautification department planted 1,283 flowers, shrubs and trees as well as picked up 3,386 bags of trash and 167 used tires from the city’s rights of way.

The sanitation department collected, processed and sold 1.3 million pounds of recyclables for $102,474 and saved the city $16,626 in landfill fees. More than 7,377 tons of garbage were picked up during the year, costing the city $170,680 in landfill fees. The city also picked up 443 tons of bulky landfill items and 35,768 cubic yards of yard waste.

The Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center delivered almost 40,000 meals to homes in 2011 and provided transportation for seniors to and from the center more than 10,000 times during the year.

In 2011, the city had more than 300 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees. The turnover rate dropped from 36 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2011.

During 2011, the city council approved 26 new ordinances.