Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville mayor sees foundation for growth

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher called 2015 a foundational year for the city in the state of the city report he gave to the council Thursday night.

“As the new year begins, it is difficult not to have a high degree of anticipation and excitement concerning the future of Jacksonville. The momentum of the past few years has been slowly building, with the feeling of a new day ahead,” he said.

The mayor continued, “Beginning with education, many important decisions were made that laid a solid base to build upon.”

He said the fledgling district hired Tony Wood, a former state education commissioner, as its superintendent, residents elected the district’s school board, an architect and general contractor were chosen to design and build a new high school on the property where the closed Jacksonville Middle School stands, and set a Feb. 9 millage vote to pay for the high school and other facility remodels.

“We are ready to compete and to win in providing our children as much, if not more, than surrounding districts.”

Fletcher cautioned the aldermen and those attending the council meeting, “Let us not get caught up in the personality of division and get sidetracked by issues of the past. This new district has no past; it only offers the future.”

In pushing for residents to say yes to the millage increase, the mayor said, “For every dollar we pay for our facilities, another dollar comes to Jacksonville from the state in a match to help with construction. This is truly a partnership we have never experienced before that will help grow and build schools we have so admired in surrounding communities.”

Fletcher said, “This past summer, the city council voted on an important bond issue that did several things. First, it freed up cash flow by consolidating some loans and, secondly, it financed some capital improvement projects and equipment.” With the money, the city purchased two pumper trucks and a ladder truck at a total cost of $2 million; spent $551,000 rehabilitating ing Splash Zone and started a $400,000 remodeling of the Central Fire Station.

The mayor also said in 2015 the “lion’s share” of Hwy. 67/167 work was accomplished. “Work slowed in late 2015 due to a million dollar change order that just got signed off on, and work will begin again,” he said.

Fletcher also said 2015 was the Little Rock Air Force Base’s 60th anniversary. “The impact of the base touches the whole state as it is the sixth largest employer in the state and has an economic impact of about $814 million. Every time I drive into the gates of the base, I feel a strong sense of pride that I am blessed to be the mayor of the city that is home to the finest base of the finest Air Force in the world.”

He closed by saying, “We have a long way to go, but the journey is so much more enjoyable when you realize the best is yet to come.”

Other highlights from the 33-page state of the city report include:

• The police department reported violent crimes were up by 11 percent, while property crimes were down 9 percent. Overall, there were 195 violent crimes reported and 1,155 property crimes reported. The patrol division worked 525 traffic accidents. There were no fatal accidents on city streets during the year.

• In 2015, the city issued 111 new business licenses and $9.2 million worth of building permits.

• The city’s fire department had 4,485 fire-elated runs (about 12 calls a day) during the year, and ambulances were sent out 3,847 times (10.5 times per day) last year. The city had 122 fires during the year (49 structures, 21 cars and 52 which fell in other categories). Two of the fires were proven to be arson, but no arrests were made.

• The animal shelter set a positive record in 2015 by placing 98 percent, or 851, of its dogs and 82 percent, or 523, of its cats. Overall, the shelter handled 1,500 animals during the year, was able to return 324 to their owners, and adopted out 1,032 animals.

• The city’s 911 center handled 27,784 wireless 911 calls; 3,017 landline 911 calls; had 4,055 abandoned 911 calls (hang-ups) and 95,834 non-emergency calls in 2015.

• The Jacksonville District Court handled 10,751 cases (2,951 classified as criminal, 7,731 were traffic cases and 89 involved DWIs) in 2015, down about 1,500 from 2014, which meant revenues also dropped. In 2014, the court brought in $1.25 million in fines and forfeitures and, last year, that dropped to $1.08 million.

• Patron usage continued to rise at the Nixon library with the library adding 2,042 new users. For the year, almost 162,600 people visited the library and more than 208,100 items were checked out or circulated. Almost 22,000 children participated in special programs and activities, and nearly 3,600 people participated in the adult programs that were offered.

• According to parks and recreation officials, more than 1.15 million targets were used at the city’s shooting sports complex. An archery range with 20 lanes was added to the complex during the year. The Splash Zone had 37,168 visitors during the year.

• The city spent 360 man-hours and more than $13,000 trying to control mosquitos. The city’s street sweeper logged 9,318 miles of sweeping during 2015.

• The beautification department planted 2,260 flowers, shrubs and trees during the year, picked up 5,512 bags of trash and 168 used tires from the city’s rights of way and mowed 60 miles of Hwy. 67/167 right of way.

• The sanitation department collected almost 7,500 tons of garbage and had to pay $167,000 in landfill fees to dump the garbage. More than 1,050 tons of bulky landfill items were collected at a landfill cost of $23,855, and 30,636 cubic yards of yard waste were collected and ground into 3,614 tons of mulch, saving the city $149,000 in contracting fees.

• More than 1.1 million pounds of recyclables were collected, saving the city $12,500 in landfill fees. Also, 11,173 used tires were recycled, along with 66,000 pounds of electronics.

• At the senior wellness and activity center, more than 600 volunteers logged 4,250 hours providing activities for the city’s seniors, delivered 41,152 home meals and made 10,339 transportation trips picking up seniors to bring to the center and back.

• The city garage maintained more than 300 vehicles and equipment during the year, with the cost of labor coming to $35,000, parts at $87,000 and commercial costs running $43,000. The department cut its commercial costs by 45 percent from the previous year.

• The finance department processed 4,032 purchase orders, 1,171 vouchers and 4,454 checks in 2015. It was also the 18th year in a row that the department received the “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” award.

Human resources processed 110 new hires during the year, which included 29 full-time employees, 37 part- time employees, 43 seasonal employees and one elected official.