Monday, December 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville budget set for $25.4M

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville set its 2013 general budget Thursday at $25.4 million, up less than 1 percent from the 2012 budget.

The budget maintains all the city’s current services and includes a $500 raise for all full-time city employees.

The council unanimously approved the balanced budget at its meeting.

In presenting it, Mayor Gary Fletcher said this budget was harder to balance because of a number of uncertainties. “We don’t know what the utility costs will be for the new public safety building. We don’t know what we will end up paying for the county jail and the shooting range expenses are up in the air.”

Fletcher also said the loss of 1,500 residents based on the 2010 census count also hurts. “Each person is worth about $1,000 a year in city revenue, so we are losing about $1.5 million a year,” he said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We are on track to get our own school district within a year.”

The mayor said a feasibility study is underway and after that a petition will have to be circulated to show that Jacksonville residents support a new district. The petition will be given to the governor and the judge and then a special election will be set asking residents, officially, whether they support a separate school district. “I think we can have that election sometime next spring,” Fletcher told the council.

Delving into the budget, the breakdown is $20.1 million for the 2013 general fund, up $30,000 for 2012; $2.3 million for the street fund, up $130,000; $1.9 million for the sanitation fund, up $100,000; $1.1 million for the emergency medical services fund, up $20,000.
For the general fund, the city is expecting revenues of $13.3 million through the county and city sales taxes, both projections are up slightly from the 2012 budget. Utility franchise fees will bring in just over $1 million and court fines and related costs should bring in $788,000.
General fund expenses has $2 million for general government that includes the mayor and clerk’s offices, down $100,000 for the current budget; $12.8 million for public safety, up $150,000; $553,000 for the judicial department, up about $20,000 and $6 million for public works, up $20,000.

Taxes are expected to produce  $2 million in revenues for the street fund and close to half of that ($986,000) will go to personnel services such as salaries and insurance, up $14,000 from 2012; $751,000 will go for capital outlay, up $80,000, and $442,000 for contractual services such as beaver and mosquito control and street lights, down $10,000.
The sanitation department will get the bulk of its revenue ($1.7 million) from fees and charges.

Salaries, including benefits and insurance, will cost the department $781,000, down about $45,000 from 2012; contracted services will run $372,000, up $6,000; and landfill fees will run $199,000, down 20,000.

Charges for services will bring in $924,000 for the emergency medical-services fund and salaries and benefits will chew up $679,000 of that.

“I’ve always wondered why Washington couldn’t cut anything from its budget, but after this year I understand better,” the mayor said, but quickly added that Washington still needed to balance the budget.

In other council business:

• Aldermen voted unanimously to seat early Alderman-elect James Bolden III. He would have normally come onto the council Jan. 1, 2013, but because the set he was taking was already vacant, the council moved to bring Bolden onto the council a month early. He took the place of longtime Alderman Marshall Smith, who announced his retirement plans, but then had to give up his seat when he moved to Vilonia three months ago.

The council chamber was packed with Rev. Bolden’s friends, family and parishioners who cheered him as he was sworn-in. “I will work hard to do what is right and necessary for this great city,” he said after taking his place on the council.

• The council voted to reject all bids for the shooting range planned for 160 acres on the eastern side of the city off Loop Road.

The city was going to use a $1.5 million Arkansas Fish and Game Foundation grant and $600,000 of its own money to build the facility, which is expected to pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

However, the lowest bid was $2.9 million.

The city was trying to get the facility built by April 2013 for the youth shooting season and tournaments.

“It’s good that we are slowing down,” the mayor said. “It’s important to build it right.”

The problem is that the city will miss the spring shooting season, meaning projected income could drop convincingly until 2014.

• Aldermen also voted to reject the low bid of $68,559 from Arkansas Digital for audiovisual equipment for the new public-safety building because it did not meet specifications. The council approved the second lowest bidder, Martin Co., at $79,627.

Alderman Mike Traylor questioned the difference, but was told by the fire department representative that even if the low bidder had added in everything required it would have pushed it past the other bid.

• The council did go with the low bidder, Data Pages, and voted to spend $23,400 with the company for new network hardware.

• City Engineer Jay Whisker said his department issued 18 building permits and eight business licenses during November. The engineering department also performed 289 inspections during the month.