Leader Blues

Friday, February 01, 2008

TOP STORY >> First vote for annex slated for Tuesday

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The yard signs are out all over Jacksonville: “Vote for progress, vote for annexation.”

Postcards have been mailed to many residents in Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville espousing the virtues of Jacksonville and the positive reasons for the annexation.

Residents of both communities will vote Tuesday, not only for their preferred presidential candidate, but also for or against bringing Gravel Ridge into Jacksonville. Early voting ends here Monday.

Jacksonville passed an ordinance late last year annexing the 2,500-acre rural community of about 3,500 residents. But when a city goes out and annexes an area, state law requires that the city and the affected area vote on the annexation. If the majority of voters say yes, then the area becomes part of the city. If the majority of voters say no, the area is not annexed. Jacksonville set Tuesday as the date to vote on the annexation question.

The Gravel Ridge annexation issue, however, got more complex when Sherwood also annexed the area. Sherwood set an election date of March 11 for the annexation vote.

If both the Jacksonville and Sherwood votes are for annexation, then a third vote, set for April 1 for just Gravel residents, will decide which city, Sherwood or Jacksonville, gets Gravel Ridge.

John Hardwick, the new president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, believes the annexation is a good move for both communities.

“It will help us protect Little Rock Air Force Base from any encroachment that could jeopardize the base,” Hardwick said. “It is also a natural growth pattern for us. We have been moving out in that direction for a number of years,” he added.

The chamber president also said the move would increase the tax base for the city, which would also include Gravel Ridge as part of the city. But one of the most important reasons, according to Hardwick is the people. “I just feel that Gravel Ridge people are more like Jacksonville than Sherwood. It’ll be a good marriage.”

In an oversize postcard mailed to area residents by the Positive Growth for Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville group, Mayor Tommy Swaim said that Gravel Ridge would benefit from the annexation.

He said the community would have improved public safety with faster response times for police and fire protection. Swaim said Gravel Ridge would also have improved sanitation services with four times the trash service it now gets for $60 less a year.

On the negative side, and not on the mailer, is an increase in sales tax. The tax on prepared food items would go up two cents, and the tax on other items would go up a penny.

These are some of the most frequently asked questions that Mayor Tommy Swaim has received over the annexation issue, which were answered in a flyer the city provided:

Does Jacksonville have any additional taxes?

Yes, Jacksonville have a three-mil tax on property which equals $45 per year for a $75,000 house. The city also has a two-cent prepared food tax, and a two-cent sales tax.

Does Jacksonville have any cost-savings opportunities?

Yes, the city’s sanitation services are $5 per month less than existing county services. That is a $60 per-year savings. Also residents receive a 20 percent community center discount.

How does Jacksonville sanitation service differ from our existing services?

Jacksonville picks up garbage twice a week, recycling items once a week and lawn/limb pickup once a week. “That’s four times a week we collect at your house,” the mayor said.

What amenities does Jacksonville offer?

Jacksonville has an active and popular community center with an indoor swimming pool, gym, track, and weight room; the Splash Zone, which is an Aquatic park; many acres of parkland including Dupree Park; and two golf courses.

What other city services will you offer?

The Jacksonville Fire Department will work with the Gravel Ridge Fire Department and make sure it has the same financial soundness it has now. Additionally, we will run automatic mutual aid, ensuring that Gravel Ridge residents have the protection they need. The police department will assume the responsibility for the protection of the citizens.

The city’s Community Development Block Grant program will offer citizens a chance to receive housing assistance through home repair/remodeling.

Jacksonville Animal Control services and code enforcement assistance will be available, and Gravel Ridge will become a part of Jacksonville’s master street, drainage and overlay programs.

What additional facilities will be available in the near future in Jacksonville?

The joint education center is funded with $5 million from Jacksonville and $9.8 million from the federal government. This center will house several colleges and classes will be available to the citizens of Jacksonville.

Also $4 million in tax collections has been reserved to build a police and fire training center. Construction should start later this year. The Gravel Ridge Volunteer Fire Department would have full access to the facility.

A new $4.5 million dollar library is currently under construction. It will be a state-of-the-art facility and part of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Will my children have to attend different schools?

No, all children attend the Pulaski County Special School District now and will continue to do so. If Jacksonville forms its own school district in the future, the attendance zone will be decided at that time; however, transfers would still be available.

Will my utility companies change?

No, Gravel Ridge residents will continue to have the same phone number and phone company. Electric, water and cable will also remain the same.

Will I have a voice in local government?

Yes, Gravel Ridge residents will become part of Jacksonville and will help elect the aldermen and mayor.