Leader Blues

Monday, January 22, 2007

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville doing well, officials say

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s sewer plant completed its 11th year without a single permit violation and had one of the top monitoring labs in the nation in 2006, Thea Hughes, general manager of the Jacksonville Wastewater Utility told the city council Monday night.
The city’s water department used almost 3 percent less water in 2006 than it did in 2005, and also had zero water-quality violations during the year, according to Ken Anderson, general manager of the city’s waterworks. “And we have an adequate supply for the future,” he added.

“Many of our goals have been reached,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim told aldermen. Hughes, Anderson and Swaim each gave a report to the council on how they perceived 2006. Even though construction was down for the year, the mayor viewed 2006 as a cornerstone year for future growth in Jacksonville. The mayor said the city has moved forward on the new $2.5 million library, has $5 million in the bank as its share of the joint education center and is well on its way collecting the funds to cover the cost of a $2 million police and fire training center. The mayor added that the city has in good shape financially and had a “strong, progressive thinking city council.”

But the city has opened the year with three top positions—city administrator, human resources director and city engineer—all open. “I’m hoping to fill some of those positions soon,” the mayor said. “It’s hard enough doing one job, let alone three.”
The closest to being filled is the human resource director. The city has had 15 applicants for the job. “We’ve interviewed about half so far,” the mayor said.

But the city engineer position is another story. The city has had only one applicant so far. “A number of cities in Arkansas are having a tough time finding city engineers,” the mayor said. “It’s a very time consuming job and not an eight to five job,” he said. Many cities are retaining firms to help in lieu of a fulltime city engineer, according to the mayor. Jacksonville has kept the former city engineer Jay Whisker on retainer. Whisker left in December 2006 to join an engineering firm in Little Rock.
“It’s saving the city money, but it’ll be good to have a fulltime city engineer,” the mayor said.

The city administrator’s position has gone empty for almost three years and the mayor gave no indication as to when it might be filled. Hughes, in her report, said that few facilities could claim 11 years without a permit violation, especially while treating 2.06 billon gallons of wastewater. “It shows that we have an excellent plant and a super staff,” she said. Hughes also said the utilities lab placed first out of 120 labs for accuracy in its analytical testing. The lab performed 10,200 tests during the year and received an “excellent” rating from the Environmental Protection Agency. Hughes said a testament to the work the utility has done during 2006 came during the recent weekend of heavy rain.

“We had only five calls reporting sewer problems,” she said, adding that most calls during the year were because of grease blockage. Anderson said the city’s water utility is spending $2.2 million to replace meters throughout the city. The new computerized automated meters will all the utility to drive down any street and read meter amounts from the truck.
“The new meters will give us a better reading and a truer look at the amount of water being used,” Anderson said.

Alderman Gary Fletcher was initially concerned about spending that amount just to update the equipment. But Anderson assured him and the rest of the council that the city replaces meters on a regular basis and it was time again.
Anderson said the new meters have a ten-year life expectancy and will help cut down on the amount of faulty readings.
Meter replacements will start in February.

In the mayor’s State of the City he said that new home construction, following a national trend, slowed slightly, “but was still brisk with 126 new homes constructed at a cost of $13.23 million. Seventeen multi-family homes were built at a cost of $1.52 million. New and existing commercial projects totaled $6.34 million.” “Adding other construction projects we had gives a grand total of $22,160,897,” the mayor said. The mayor said that 2.7 acres of prime downtown property has been cleared for the new $2.5 million library and that construction should start in early summer.