Leader Blues

Thursday, January 24, 2008

TOP STORY >> Sherwood wants to win battle over area

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

More people jammed into the gym of First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge Monday night than was allowed by law, but no one was asked to leave as about 400 people listened to why Gravel Ridge should become part of Sherwood.

“We are the alternative,” Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman told the relatively quiet, yet unconvinced crowd. “This may not be what you want to hear, but we are giving you an option.”

She explained that Jacksonville initiated the hullabaloo when its council voted to annex the 2,500-acre rural community of about 3,500 residents.

“Once a municipality sets an election for annexation, other municipalities may also apply to annex the same area and that’s why we did it. To give you a choice,” the mayor explained.

Jacksonville has set a Feb. 5 election date on the annexation issue. Registered Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge voters will be able to cast ballots in that election.

Sherwood has countered with a March 11 election for registered Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters. If both votes come out “yes” for annexation, then just registered Gravel Ridge voters will go to the polls on April 1 to decide between Jacksonville and Sherwood.

Hillman’s explanations didn’t convince Joeryan Montgomery. “Do you really care about us as a people or just want our tax money?” he asked to loud applause.

“It’s not a money-making thing,” the mayor assured him. She explained, as Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim had at a previous meeting, that once the area is annexed into a city, its businesses would have to start collecting city taxes, but neither Sherwood nor Jacksonville would receive any extra state or county money, which makes up the bulk of their revenue, until after a new census and other steps are taken—about five years.

Gravel Ridge resident Gene Acord, who admitted to being thick-headed at times, asked, “If there is no money involved, why do you all want us? We are happy just the way we are.”

“We moved out here to stay out of city limits, and now you are trying to put us in one. I’m very opposed to any kind of annexation,” he added.

One resident, whose family has been in Gravel Ridge since 1909, accused Jacksonville of “stirring the pot,” and no matter what happens, “I’ll lose my hunting privileges,” he said.

Another resident was concerned about clear-cutting. “We moved out here because of the trees and we want to keep the trees,” he said.

Hillman said that Sherwood currently had no ordinance on clear-cutting.

Questions were also asked about abandoned cars in the front of some Gravel Ridge homes, and unsightly yards. Hillman said those residents would be cited. “We have a very good code enforcement officer, and not everyone is pleased with that,” she said.

Sherwood Police Chief Kel Nicholson explained to the concerned residents how the switch from county protection to city protection would take place. He said his patrol units had already received maps of the areas and were studying the street locations.

“Once you become part of Sherwood, it would take about a week for the 911 calls to be switched to Sherwood, but during that time your call would go to the county and it’ll take them just a few seconds to send it to us,” the chief said.

He explained that Gravel Ridge would be designated a patrol district and would have at least five officers assigned.

“They won’t be working all at once, but we would have you covered 24/7,” the chief promised.

He said that Sherwood police would share the sheriff’s substation on Hwy. 107.

Fire Chief Frank Hill also said that the community would not lose its fire station by becoming part of Sherwood.
“We would strengthen it by adding three full-time paid positions out here,” he said.

Hill said he and the Gravel Ridge chief had already met numerous times and felt there would be no problems in the two departments working together.

Gravel Ridge resident Michael Smith said he had lived in both Jacksonville and Sherwood and purposely moved out to Gravel Ridge to live beyond the control of both cities. Smith said he had concerns with both cities, but said past actions of the Sherwood police department really “burns my hide.”

“I’m going to have to do a lot of thinking before picking either city,” he said.

Smith asked Hillman, “Why do you want to represent someone who doesn’t want your representation?” She reiterated that Sherwood was the alternative. “If we didn’t act, you would have to become part of Jacksonville. Now you have a choice.”
She added that Sherwood was a great place and that Gravel Ridge would be a great addition.

Smith admitted there were benefits to being in both cities. “But the benefits of staying like we are outweigh them all,” he said.