Friday, July 19, 2013

TOP STORY >> City council gets behind wet vote

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said it succinctly at the city council meeting Thursday night: “We have to either raise taxes, cut services or expand our tax base.”

He said he wasn’t about to raise taxes and didn’t want to cut services. “The only logical thing to do is to expand our tax base.”

The council agreed and approved a resolution sponsored by Aldermen Terry Sansing and Aaron Robinson to back efforts to turn the city wet and allow liquor to be sold by the glass.

If enough signatures are gathered, the city will vote on the issue. If residents decide to turn the city completely wet, officials are convinced restaurants and other retailers will come to Jacksonville and bring in more tax revenue.

The council was also introduced to a Jacksonville resident who has jumped into the lead position of getting the 4,400 signatures needed to place the vote on the ballot.

Jennifer Niemeyer, who has worked closely with the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce in its efforts to turn Park Hill wet, told the council, “I’ve got 65 to 70 volunteers ready to go door-to-door.”

Niemeyer has sectioned the affected area, Gray Township, into parts of Jacksonville and Sherwood to make it easier to gather votes. She has produced posters that she is placing throughout the city to make residents aware of the effort.

Jacksonville and Sherwood are hindered economically, according to Fletcher and Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, because of votes in 1954 and 1956 which turned Gray Township dry.

The township no longer exists, but its dry area does. It encompasses about half of Sherwood and 90 percent of Jacksonville.

In introducing the resolution, Sansing said the city was in the midst of a strong economic effort and the dry areas were hurting the city. “This election gives our residents a choice to decide if they want the majority of the city wet or dry. I’d like the vote to be wet as I think it would be a boon to Jacksonville,” he said.

Both Sansing and the mayor said they were tired of seeing restaurants look at Jacksonville and then locate down the highway because of the liquor restrictions.

Robinson said he doesn’t drink, but his family frequents restaurants in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood that sell alcohol. “We like the food and I’d like those restaurants here,” he said.

A University of Arkansas study, released earlier this year, said the city is losing $600,000 a year because of the dry issues.

Niemeyer said North Little Rock has about 65 percent of its required signatures and is looking at a possible October vote. She would like Jacksonville to be ready to go by then too, even though it has collected only about 5 percent of the required 4,400 signatures.

Fletcher, at Niemeyer’s request, has set a town hall meeting for Aug. 6 at the community center to discuss the alcohol issue. “I like to have a town-hall meeting every two years or so to let the residents talk about whatever is on their mind,” he said.

Though the main focus will be on the alcohol vote, the mayor said it will be a great time for residents to bring up any concerns. “Residents can even come just to chew the mayor out,” Fletcher said.

In other council business:

• The council opted to table the condemnation of 1610 McArthur after Charlie Jenkins, a code enforcement officer, said the owner had been making satisfactory progress on the repairs and was communicating with his office.

• Aldermen decided to delay passing an ordinance attaching tax liens, totaling $25,000, on six properties until the next meeting. Many of the aldermen received an e-mail from an attorney representing one of the property owners asking for the delay. Even though the city attorney and code enforcement showed that all rules and procedures were followed, the council still felt it would be all right to wait two more weeks. The issue will be taken up again at the council’s Aug. 1 meeting.

• Barbara Daniels with the city’s information technology department asked the council to waive competitive bidding, allowing her to spend up to $26,000 to have a California company upgrade and improve the city’s website.

The council, because of advances made in technology and the growth in the number of web page designers, told her it should go out for bid instead. Daniels had no problems with the decision and pulled the request.

• Police Chief Gary Sipes, in his monthly report, stated that his department responded to 3,967 complaint calls in June and made 272 arrests.

In reviewing the crimes, Sipes said the city had one homicide (the first of the year), four reported sexual assaults, one robbery, 11 felony assaults, 24 burglaries, 89 thefts and seven vehicle thefts in June.

• Code enforcement, now under the police department, had 71 assigned calls and 300 self-initiated calls in June. During the month, code enforcement officers wrote four citations or notices, tagged 14 vehicles for noncompliance, removed 114 improperly posted signs and had 81 lawns mowed because of high grass.

• In his monthly report, Fire Chief Alan Laughy said his department responded to 223 rescue calls, 58 still alarms, 38 general alarms and had 247 ambulance runs during June.

Fire loss for the month was estimated at $60,930 and fire savings, based on quick response, was estimated at $29,970.

• Public Works Director Jimmy Oakley, in his monthly animal shelter report, said the shelter took in 70 dogs and 71 cats in June. Animal control officers were able to return 24 dogs and four cats to their owners, adopt out 26 dogs and 10 cats, but 15 dogs and 67 cats had to be euthanized.

Three bite cases were reported in June. A Shih Tzu bit its owner as she tried to pull it away from another dog. The Shih Tzu was quarantined for 10 days and returned to the owner. A lab killed a yorkie-mix and bit its owner as she tried to pull it off the yorkie-mix that had gotten into the yard. The lab was euthanized.

• In his monthly report, City Engineer Jay Whisker said his department issued 18 building permits and 10 business licenses during June.

Department officials also performed 224 inspections during the month.