Friday, January 16, 2015

TOP STORY >> Mayor upbeat in state of city

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher reflected on “a year of major announcements and accomplishments” and said the city has much to look forward to as he delivered his state of the city address Thursday at the first council meeting of 2015.

He touted the opening of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex in early 2014, the announced construction of an $18 million outpatient ambulatory care campus and the November formation of a 30-plus-years-in-the-making Jacksonville North-Pulaski School District among last year’s triumphs.

About the new $3.2 million shooting range on Graham Road, Fletcher explained how “all the experts told us that, if 750,000 rounds were shot a year for the first five years, it could be deemed a success.”

The mayor pointed out that the range is just a few weeks from its one-year anniversary and 952,000 rounds have already been shot there.

Fletcher said, “This has not only been a success for the city in drawing people from around the country to Jacksonville, but has also been a great boost for local businesses that have been able to broaden their customer base.”

Future plans for the range include 40 RV sites and 20 3-D archery range stations, the mayor announced.

He called the project “definitely a bull’s-eye for the city” that will “serve as a source of recreation for generations to come” and “bring great financial strength to our local economy for years to come.”

Of the medical campus planned for 9.25 vacant acres across from North Metro Medical Center on Braden Street, Fletcher said it would bring specialists to the city and keep Jacksonville “on the cutting edge as a leader in the area of health care.”

The mayor noted that the campus, which could include an outpatient surgery center, would be plus for current residents’ quality of life and attract retirees to the city who want convenient access to “exceptional” medical care.

Fletcher said the new school district would “help our city to reclaim many of the young families that we’ve lost in the past due to the dissatisfaction and neglect of our students and parents have suffered over the past several decades.”

Residents of the proposed school district voted 95 percent in September for detachment from the Pulaski County Special School District, and the state Board of Education members made it official at their November meeting. An interim school board was selected by local elected officials and finalized by the state board.

The school board hired former PCSSD superintendent Bobby Lester to temporarily head the new Jacksonville district during a transition period of up to two years during which it is still legally operated by PCSSD. Assets will be divided and policies, boundaries and plans for facilities will be established this year, Fletcher said. A new school board will be elected in September, and a new superintendent will be hired to lead the new district when it finally stands alone.

The mayor continued, “This will also help to grow our city in terms of residential expansion and industrial recruitment, where education standards are so important for our children and also for our future workforce.”

In 2015, Fletcher continued, “We must work very hard this year to help start replacing park playground equipment, fire engines and police cars. Many have served beyond their life expectancy and usefulness.

“We must also work to secure more long-term revenue streams to operate the city, to reward employees for their sacrifices and service with pay and benefits, as well as to maintain infrastructure that keeps the city moving forward in growth and prosperity.”

Fletcher said funding cities have relied on in the past has become less reliable because the spending habits of today’s consumers put less money into local economies. He was referring to the popularity of online shopping, where purchasers are often not charged sales tax.

But, the mayor noted, that challenge must be met with new ideas.

He also said 2014 was a year when “several relationships were established, and other deepened, bringing promise and hope for a new, more economically sound future for our great city.”

Fletcher thanked Jacksonville residents for their votes and verbal support, paid staff and volunteers who keep the city running smoothly and those who serve on boards and civic organizations, who “make a difference because, in your heart, you’re making the world better than you found it.”

The mayor offered a special thank you to city employees, telling the room he constantly hears how impressed people are by their performance in providing daily services that may seem to go unnoticed and without “fanfare” but are noticed and appreciated.

He continued, “It is also encouraging to work with a city council that is focused on the big picture by moving forward as we redevelop Jacksonville, emerging into a great city of the future. Like most things in life, these things will not happen quickly, but it is coming for certain.

“These are exciting times that we are in today because I know of no other city that has as much to look forward to as the city of Jacksonville,” Fletcher said.