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JACKSONVILLE — Year in Review

<p>Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher</p>Buy Photo

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher

January

Fletcher: Jacksonville would be great place for state fair

Jacksonville would be an excellent site for a regional or state fair, according to Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher recently appeared before the Arkansas State Fair Board to tell board members his interest in relocating the state fair to Jacksonville. He said if the state fair board does not show interest in moving to Jacksonville, he would be interested in hosting a regional fair.

Jacksonville isn’t the only city that has tried in recent times to court the state fair in relocating. North Little Rock officials told voters in their town that they would like to have earmarked $20 million toward relocating the state fair across the river. However, when voters in November rejected two proposed sales tax initiatives, the idea of relocating the fair to North Little Rock died too.

“I wanted to learn the intent of the board about possibly plans they might have,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said attendance at the state fair at its current location along Roosevelt Road in Little Rock is failing to draw crowds.

“I know hundreds o f people who would love to go to the fair but do not because of where it is at,” Fletcher said. “For every two people who want to go one person will not go.”

The state fair has been located for about a half a century at the Roosevelt location.

February

Jacksonville hopes that marketing town will lead to growth like Owasso, Okla.

They say the grass isn’t greener on the other side. However, the city of Jacksonville is hoping that its grass can be as green as the town of Owasso, Oklahoma.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher on Thursday updated the city council on his efforts to spark the city’s growth in the coming years and model it into the image of Owasso, Okla.

About two years ago, the city of Jacksonville under Fletcher’s leadership hired former Owasso city planner Rickey Hayes to be a city economic development consultant. The city has budgeted about $60,000 toward economic development this year, $45,000 of which goes to Hayes as his fee for being the city’s economic development consultant.

“Ten years ago, Owasso, Oklahoma had a population of about 17,000,” Fletcher said. “Now it is 38,000.”

There are several similarities between Owasso and Jacksonville, according to Fletcher.

Both are close to major cities with Owasso close to Tulsa and Jacksonville near Little Rock. Both cities are located along major highways. Jacksonville, however, does have one advantage: the presence of the Little Rock Air Force Base which pumps about $720 million annually into the Central Arkansas economy.

Fletcher said there is no reason why Jacksonville could not experience growth like Owasso.

“We are doing this because we are trying to grow our tax base,” Fletcher said.

Owasso’s population of 38,412 is projected to grow more than 15 percent between now and 2014. According to Owasso’s city website, more than 80 percent of the households in Owasso are families and more Owasso residents have a post-secondary education than in the Tulsa metro area.

Earlier in the month, Fletcher, City Administrator Jim Durham and City Engineer Jay Whisker traveled to Owasso to look at the city they want Jacksonville to look like in the years to come.

Fletcher said Owasso’s progressive development came be traced back several years ago when the community convinced the owners of Olive Garden to open up one of its restaurants along the highway in their town.

May

Jacksonville’s fire station earns Class 2 ISO rating

The Jacksonville City Fire Department has earned the distinction that only about a dozen other fire departments across Arkansas has obtained – an ISO rating of Class 2. In firefighting circles, obtaining a Class 2 or better is a coveted prize that leads to some property owners getting cheaper insurance rates because communities with the distinction are considered to have a good system to combat fire.

On May 8, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher received a letter from the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) announcing that Jacksonville earned a score of 85.29 percent. A Class 2 rating is earned if a department gets a rating of between 80-90 percent.

“ISO has completed its analysis of the structural fire suppression delivery system provided in your community,” according to the letter.

The letter states that the ISO’s public protection classification program (PPC) plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies.

“In fact, most U.S. insurers – including the largest ones – use PPC information as part of their decision-making when deciding what businesses to write, coverage’s to offer or prices to charge for personal or commercial property insurance,” states the letter. “Communities whose PPC improves may get lower insurance prices. PPC also provides fire departments with a valuable benchmark, and is used by many departments as a valuable tool when planning, budgeting and justifying fire protection improvements.”

Jacksonville Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said the department’s rating was based on three categories: its communications system, the fire department itself and the community’s water supply.

Of the possible 100 possible points, communications accounts for 10 points, the fire department for 50 percent, and the water supply 40 percent, which adds up to 100 possible points.

ISO rated Jacksonville’s communication system a perfect 10. The fire department got 41.74 points while the water supply got 33.71 points.

“We had a solid Class 2 rating,” Vanderhoof said.

Jacksonville’s 2012 rating was much better than the last ISO rating it received in 1998 when the department got a Class 3 rating of 74.80 percent, he said. “We gained 10.49 points over our last survey,” he said. “That is pretty good.”

Vanderhoof said his department has taken several actions to improve the quality of firefighting in town, including the communications system converting to a centralized dispatch.

June

Batton declared official winner in Jacksonville District Judge race

Never say every vote doesn’t count – at least in the Jacksonville District Judge race.

On Tuesday, following a recount petitioned and paid for by challenger Marshall Nash, the Pulaski County Election Commission voted to certify that Incumbent Judge Robert Batton won the race by a four-vote margin.

According to the result of the recount, Batton was certified to have received 1,113 votes compared to 1,109 for Nash.

“This was our closest election this year but we had other races which also were very close,” said Pulaski County Elections Director Melinda Allen.

Before the recount, there was a five-vote margin in favor of Batton, a 36-year incumbent who started his tenure on the Jacksonville bench in 1977. Allen said the recount resulted in one vote moving into Nash’s tally from a ballot cast in Precinct 27, which had as a voting location the McArthur Assembly of God.

Since the Nash campaign asked for the recount, he was ordered to pay for the cost. Allen said his fee was $760, which worked out to a sum of 25 cents charged for each ballot counted.

The election office saw two other close races this year. In the Pulaski County Justice of the Peace race for District 9, in the Democratic primary, Judy Green defeated Wilma Walker by a 749-741 margin, a different of eight votes. In the House District 39 Republican primary race, Mark Lowery defeated Jason Clausen by an 806-797 margin, a difference of nine votes.

According to election results, Nash received more early votes cast in the contest than did Batton. Nash had 363 early votes compared to 313 for Batton. Nash earned 14 absentee ballot votes while Batton received 18. Ballots cast on Election Day gave Batton the edge – with the sitting judge garnering 782 votes compared to 731 for Nash.

July

Jacksonville conducts first reading on ordinance to declare eminent domain on portion of T.P. Wright to construct water lines

The Jacksonville City Council heard a first reading of a proposed ordinance to declare eminent domain on a portion of T.P. White Drive for the purpose of obtaining easements to construct water lines there.

The property is located within the city limits at 6800 T.P. White Drive, Cabot.

“Despite efforts by Jacksonville Water Works to acquire certain utility easements and rights of way and through real estate owned by John David Cunningham for construction and improvement of a public water main line, together with the necessary ingress and egress for Jacksonville Water Works, efforts to amicably resolve the parties’ differences and secure the required property easements and rights of way have failed,” according to the ordinance. “Immediate access to said real property as described below is required for construction and development of said improved public water line and the necessary ingress and egress to such for extension of public water distribution service on behalf of the Jacksonville Water Works.”

If council approves the ordinance, Mayor Gary Fletcher and City Attorney Robert Bamburg will be authorized to file the appropriate documents and pleadings necessary, together with postings of the appraised value of the real property in question with the Pulaski County Circuit Court, according to the ordinance.

The paperwork would be filed with the Circuit Court office “so as to obtain immediate accessibility and privilege to the needed easements and rights of way across and through real properties described therein for the purpose to provide adequate land for the improved ingress and egress of public water lines for the purpose of construction projects of the Jacksonville Water Works and Central Arkansas Water.”

August

Jacksonville amends city billboard/sign ordinance to clean up city

The Jacksonville City Council passed an amendment to the city’s current sign and billboard ordinance designed to clean up the appearance of the city.

Jacksonville aldermen Bill Howard, Reedie Ray, Mike Traylor and Robert Stroud sponsored the legislation.

Part of the ordinance dictates how owners of abandoned signs need to do a better job of removing their signs.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said the ordinance can help lead to the removal of old, dilapidated signs that should have been removed a long time ago.

The ordinance puts a 30-day deadline for owners to remove their signs if they should no longer be displayed, such as the types of sign advertising an event slated on a specific day or days.

“In the event the permittee fails to remove said sign within the timeframe, the city engineer/code enforcement officer shall cite said party for violation of this code and/or remove the non-compliant device/sign,” according to the amendment. “If such occurs, the city shall assess costs and fees for doing so against the responsible party(ies) to be enforced through issuance of a tax lien(s) against any real property said permittee may own within Pulaski County.”

Animated signs will not be permitted if the images change before a three-second period.

September

Jacksonville native named as a TSA assistant administrator

The Transportation Security Administration announced Roderick Allison has been named the Agency’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Inspection.

Allison will oversee the security and integrity of TSA’s operations through a range of inspection services, special investigations, and a rigorous covert testing program.

“Rod’s expertise in the field of investigations makes him a highly effective leader for this vital organization within TSA,” said TSA Administrator John S. Pistole. “His tenure and experience at TSA positioned him to drive the Office of Inspection forward as we continue strengthening our commitment to the agency’s guiding principles of hard work, professionalism and integrity.”

Most recently, Allison served as Deputy Assistant Administrator/Deputy Director of the Office of Law Enforcement, Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).

In this role, he directed the deployment of federal law enforcement assets, provided support to counterterrorism and investigative operations, and supported federal, state and local law enforcement agencies during national incidents.

In 2002, Allison joined TSA as the Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge in the Washington Field Office of the FAMS. Since then he has served as the Assistant Director for Security Services and Assessments, and as the Assistant Director for the FAMS Office of Flight Operations.

Before joining TSA, Allison worked as a Criminal Investigator with the United States Postal Service and held multiple assignments during his 13-year career with the United States Army.

Allison earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology from Fayetteville State University and a Master of Arts degree in Security Management from Webster University in St. Louis.

October

Dec. 1 public hearing set on Jacksonville sewer rate increase

The city of Jacksonville has set a public hearing for Dec. 1 at City Hall for people to comment on a proposed 19.5 percent sewer rate increase.

The hearing was set when the Jacksonville City Council met on Oct. 20 and listened to a presentation by Hawkins-Weir Engineers of Little Rock about why the rate increase is needed.

Hawkins-Weir Engineer Aaron Benzing spoke to the council on behalf of the Jacksonville City Sewer Commission, which voted earlier in the month to recommend passage of the 19.5-percent rate increase.

“The last rate adjustment approved for the Jacksonville Wastewater Utility was 10 years ago in 2002,” Benzing said.

Benzing said several events have taken place in the last decade to warrant a rate increase.

“The Consumer Price Index has increased 21 percent,” Benzing said. “The cost of fuel has increased 55 percent. The wastewater utility’s electrical costs have increased 33 percent and the utility’s labor and insurance costs have increased 27 percent.”

The utility’s annual debt service has also increased from nothing to $1.2 million, Benzing said.

Benzing said wastewater utilities typically adjust their rates every 3-5 years.

Benzing said recent capital improvements projects have caused the cost structure of the wastewater treatment facility to go up substantially in recent years.

The current rates are projected to keep bringing in about $4 million per year while the utility’s total budget is projected to exceed revenues by hundreds of thousands in the coming years. Starting in 2014, the utility’s budget is expected to climb to $5 million and eventually go up to about $6 million around 2018.

November

Jacksonville plan calls for housing improvements through 2015

The city of Jacksonville has established a plan to bring improvements to town through 2015, according to the city’s 2012 Strategic Action Plan.

The plan was adopted by the city council when it met on Nov. 3.

The plan spells out a course of action to improve Jacksonville’s housing opportunities through 2015:

“The population of Jacksonville has been rising modestly over the last decade and a need to examine the existing affordable housing stock is present,” according to the plan.

The plan calls for rehabilitating suitable homeowner properties.

“Rehabilitation of existing homeowner properties is an important part of the overall improvement of Jacksonville’s neighborhoods,” according to the plan. “Rehabilitation will enhance property values and reduce the number of unsuitable or dilapidated homes.”

According to the approved plan, the city will establish criteria that define housing which is economically feasible and suitable for rehabilitation as well as housing that is not suitable for rehabilitation.

“This process will help ensure that Jacksonville can more effectively utilize its housing resources and make incremental improvements focusing on the exterior appearance of a property and significant health and safety deficiencies in the interior of a property,” states the plan.

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