Friday, May 18, 2012

TOP STORY >> Fire rating upgraded, insurance fees to fall

Leader staff writer

Residential and business fire insurance rates in Jacksonville could go down since the city’s fire department has been upgraded to a Class 2 rating.

The ranking, which comes from the Insurance Service Organization, puts the city in unique company as only 13 other cities in Arkansas have a Class 2 rating.

The ISO graded the city’s fire department rating last year and recently released the 85.29 score, less than five points from a Class 1 rating. Only two cities in Arkansas have a Class 1 rating.

“This is an outstanding achievement for us,” said Fire Chief John Vanderhoof, who emphasized that it was a total city effort. He added that the department’s dispatch unit received a Class 1 rating with a score of 10 out of 10.

“We’ll analyze the ISO information to make sure we at least maintain our new rating and possible move up when they grade us again in about three years.”

Mayor Gary Fletcher told the city council Thursday this goes beyond just the insurance savings. “It is a strong recruiting tool to help bring in businesses and industry.”

The ISO measures major elements of a community’s fire suppression system, such as personnel training, manning levels of engine and ladder companies, water supply and distribution systems, receiving and dispatching fire alarms, fire fighting equipment, needed fire flow, and fire company locations.

By analyzing the data and using criteria outlined in a rating schedule, a field analyst will produce a final classification number for a community. Each of the 46,000 plus communities are graded from one to 10, with one being the best. This also would mean lower or higher insurance rates depending on the classification number.

The grade is broken down into three sections with 40 percent of the rating coming from the condition of the city’s water system, 50 percent from the condition, manpower and response time of the fire department and 10 percent from the ability of communications centers to receive and handle alarms.

Most cities in Arkansas are a Class 9.

In other council business:

The council approved the sanitation department plans to swap an unused truck with a dealer for one the city can use. The department wants to swap a 2006 Mack hybrid refuse truck it bought as federal surplus several years ago for a 2003 Peterbilt sideloader truck to be a backup to the city’s automated fleet.

Director of Administration Jim Durham said it was a win-win. “We are trading a truck that we don’t and can’t use for one that will get used often,” he said.

Durham said the city original bought the surplus truck as part of a plan to place dumpsters around the city and use the truck to pick up the refuse. But the plan was trashed and the city soon discovered it was too expensive to maintain the hybrid portion of the vehicle. “I think we only ran it once. But it has lots of good parts on it and the dealer will salvage it out,” Durham explained.

 The council approved spending $18,499 from an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission grant on two Bayou Meto canoe ramps as the city continues its effort to turn Bayou Meto into a tourist stop for canoeists and kayakers. Harris Construction will construct the ramps.

 In his monthly report, Police Chief Gary Sipes said his department responded to 3,584 complaint calls during April and made 351 arrests.

Reviewing major crime categories for the month, Sipes said Jacksonville had no homicides, three sexual assaults, one robbery, 21 felony assaults, 109 thefts, one vehicle theft and one case of arson.

Code enforcement officers, now under the police chief, had 511 self-initiated calls and 95 assigned calls during April. The officers issued 148 letters and nine notices for city code violations, tagged 17 vehicles and 55 trash cans for noncompliance and removed 187 signs.

 Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said his department responded to 223 rescue calls, 48 still alarms, 27 general alarms and had 279 ambulance runs in April. Estimated fire loss for the month was $104,000, while fire savings was placed at $46,000.

 The monthly animal shelter report stated the shelter had received 74 dogs and 61 cats during April. Shelter officials were able to return 31 dogs and three cats to their owners while adopting out 32 dogs and 46 cats. The shelter euthanized 19 dogs and 31 cats.

One animal bite was reported during April and that was a stray cat which bit a shelter official while they were trying to transfer it to a cage. The cat was euthanized.

 City Engineer Jay Whisker reported that his department issued 20 building permits and 18 business licenses in April as well as performed 111 inspections.