Friday, November 20, 2015

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville must trim budget

Leader staff writer

“It’s tight,” is how Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher described the preliminary draft of the city’s 2016 budget.

Without raises or purchasing any new police vehicles, the $20 million general fund’s expenditures are still about $200,000 above projected revenues, he said.

“We’ve got some more trimming to do,” the mayor continued, adding that he also wants to find a way to buy police vehicles and give raises. He told the council to look at ways to increase revenues.

“We’ve not increased our privilege tax since 1974, our building and electrical permits since 1993 and our plumbing permits since 1991. We could double our fees and still be below Sherwood’s charges,” Fletcher said.

The good news is that most departments seem to be coming in under budget for 2015 and that may give the city about $100,000 in unused funds to roll over into the new year.

The budget has been fairly flat the last three years. General fund revenues for 2016 are expected to be $20.3 million. For this year, the budget was $20.5 million. The 2014 budget was $20.1 million.

The police and fire departments will use up more than half of the expected revenues. The police department has a preliminary budget of $7.2 million, and the fire department is at $4.6 million.

The mayor told the council lower numbers from the 2010 census are still hurting the city. He said the city loses about $750,000 a year because of the lower population count.

In other city council business: n The council debated condemning two properties because of their unsafe conditions. Aldermen ended up condemning one, 412 Braden St.

The owner of the other property at 1511 Nina St., state Rep. Donnie Copeland (R-Little Rock), spoke to the council about plans for the deteriorating quad-plex. Copeland has filed for state Sen. Jane English’s (R-North Little Rock) seat.

He said he bought the property in 2014 as an investment and plans to put about $100,000 into it to make it what he called “first-class.” He asked the council for time to start the work. The council told him to report back in 60 days and show progress and a timeline for completing the project.

 Aldermen agreed to spend $354,194 with Hydro Inc. for repairs and renovations to Splash Zone. Kevin House, the parks and recreation director, said the work would be completed by April and the center would open on time in May.

 Aldermen voted unanimously to place liens totaling more than $25,000 on 37 properties for work the city had to do on the properties, such as grass mowing. The amounts, which range from $338 to $1,454, will be added to the owners’ next year’s property tax bills.

 Fire Chief Alan Laughy, in his monthly report, said his department responded to 310 rescue calls, 31 service calls, 19 false alarms, 15 fire calls and eight hazardous condition calls in October. The department also had 348 ambulance runs during the month.

Estimated fire loss for October was $24,500, while fire savings, based on response time and efforts of the department, was $462,000

 According to the monthly animal shelter report, the shelter took in 61 dogs and 44 cats, adopted out 36 dogs and 56 cats, returned 27 dogs and four cats to their owners and euthanized two dogs and three cats in October.

Four bite cases were reported during the month: three animal-to-human and one animal-to-animal. A registered pit bull bit a family friend on the arm. The bite was considered to be severe by officials, the permit to have the dog was revoked, and the pit bull was euthanized. In the next incident, a young girl was bit by the family’s Chihuahua mix and the dog was quarantined for 10 days.

A woman was also bit while feeding her two dogs by one of them, a shepherd mix, and the dog was quarantined for 10 days. In the animal-to-animal attack, a woman was walking her dog when an English bulldog came out of a yard and bit the other dog.

 In his monthly report, Police Chief Kenny Boyd said his code enforcement officers had 137 assigned calls and made 453 self-initiated calls during October. Forty warnings were issued, 67 signs were removed, 13 rentals were inspected, 27 properties were mowed and 15 grass letters were mailed.