Thursday, August 14, 2014

FEATURED STORY >> Jacksonville to lose traffic light

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council on Thursday approved the removal of the traffic light at the intersection of West Main and Bailey streets.

Before the vote, City Engineer Jay Whisker said he had looked at traffic counts to determine whether the light was needed.

The intersection did not meet any of the eight reasons to have a traffic light, according to the “Manual Uniform Traffic Control Devices,” Whisker said.

Once the light is removed, two stop signs will be placed on Bailey Street — one for northbound and one for southbound traffic.

Traffic on West Main Street will flow freely.

Preston Robinson said during the public hearing, “I go through that light every day, two times minimum, weekends included. I have called repeatedly, long before this administration. (Public Works Director) Jimmy Oakley, I even loaded him up in my truck, and I said ‘please come look at this light.’ It drives me crazy…That light needs to go, please.”
Director of Administration Jim Durham, tongue-in-cheek, seconded his comment.

Jason Kennedy with Rice & Adams law firm, which has been at 501 West Main St. for 40 years, said, “We are in full support of removal of the stoplight, and we hope that will pave the way for additional improvements to that intersection.” He noted that something should be done about the “weird geometry” and foot traffic there.

Durham said he talked to Larry Wilson of First Arkansas Bank and Trust. The bank’s main branch is at that intersection. Wilson supports removal as well, Durham said.

He added that the light doesn’t trip correctly for drivers on Bailey Street and the intersection has a sidewalk on the south side that goes nowhere.

Durham said people in wheelchairs get off that sidewalk, go up Bailey Street and cut across Rice & Adams law firm’s parking lot to reconnect onto another sidewalk.

The city administrator said he wants to redo the island, add a curb cut for wheelchairs and connect the sidewalks.

He said Wilson had spoken to him about wanting to decorate his side of the intersection.
Alderman Barbara Mash-burn said the light has caused several accidents, according to statistics provided by interim Police Chief Kenny Boyd, and that it needed to go.

Whisker was asked if this would cause a problem for people who cross the street at the light.

He and Mashburn agreed that most walkers don’t cross there. Instead, they cross farther
down the street — from the library to Wendy’s.

In other business:

• The council approved the comprehensive annual financial report for the year that ended Dec. 31.

Aldermen were told an independent auditor found that Jacksonville’s statements and documents accurately reflected the city’s financial position for 2013.

That year is the 17th consecutive year a comprehensive annual financial report was prepared.

Reports from 1997 through 2012 have been awarded the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada certificate of excellence in financial reporting. The 2013 report has been submitted for consideration for the same award.

The report states that Jacksonville spent $1.08 million in federal funds and complied with each federal program that awarded those funds.

The city’s total assets were $63.43 million at the end of 2013, a decrease of $605,000 from 2012. Its liabilities were $14.27 million, an increase of $970,000 from 2012.

Total assets exceeded liabilities by $49.15 million by the end of 2013. That figure is the city’s total net position, which was down by $1.57 million from 2012.

Jacksonville’s revenues totaled $22.8 million for 2013. Expenditures were $27.9 million. Reserves were used to balance the budget.

Of the revenues, $13.16 million was generated by the sales tax, an increase of 0.2 percent from the 2012 figure of $13.13 million.

State tax turnback funds and other intergovernmental revenues generated $4.7 million, and utility franchise taxes were a little under $1.3 million.

The report notes that the city’s goal should be to have at least 60 days worth of expenditures by the end of the year based on the most recently completed year. Jacksonville had just 53 days’ worth at the end of 2013.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “The bottom line that the citizens need to know is just how financially strong the city has been.”

The auditor said the city’s financial position has decreased in recent years, as Jacksonville has had to dip into its reserves to balance budgets.

Fletcher said, “We’re doing what a lot of cities are doing. In fact, many states are having serious issues as well…It’s a tough economy, for one thing.”

But he added that he is optimistic about some things “coming down the pipeline” that will expand the local tax base.

The auditor agreed that Jacksonville is not the only entity facing shortfalls.

• The council adopted a resolution transferring ownership and responsibility of retiring canine officer Roby to his handler, Officer Regina Boyd.

• The council passed an ordinance establishing a franchise agreement with Windstream Communications.

The company will be charged at the same annual rate of 4.25 percent that other utilities pay to the city.