Leader Blues

Saturday, January 23, 2010

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville mayor calls 2009 atypical

Leader staff writer

In presenting his 35-page state-of-the-city report to the Jacksonville City Council on Thursday evening, Mayor Gary Fletcher called 2009 an atypical year that started out with a surprise, but ended with a lot of potential.

The surprise was Jacksonville’s longest-serving mayor, Tommy Swaim, announcing his retirement after nearly 23 years in office.

A special election in May brought out six candidates and resulted in a run-off between Fletcher, an alderman at the time, and Alderman Kenny Elliott. Fletcher bested Elliott in a run-off.

“I would like to thank the great citizens of Jacksonville for this marvelous opportunity to serve in a most exciting time,” Fletcher said during his state-of-the-city report.

The potential he referred to in the report was the opportunity for the city to become home of the new state fairgrounds, moving closer to getting its own school district and the groundbreaking of the joint education center.

“In September,” the mayor said, “Jacksonville jumped out in front with a press conference submitting the first public proposal out of 16 for a new fairgrounds. The economic impact would be more than just the 10 days of the state fair. With a major complex on the site consisting of 125,000 square feet, we would have the opportunity to attract many national meetings, conventions and trade shows to the area.”

The mayor said the establishment of a Jacksonville-north Pulaski school district could become a reality in the very near future.

“We will be in federal court next month in hopes of and with the expectation of unitary status. With past commitments from Pulaski County Special School District to support our separation, we are confident as well as excited about the future of education in Jacksonville that will rival any system.”

The mayor was also excited about the opening of the Lighthouse Academy charter school, the first new school to be built in Jacksonville since Murrell Taylor Elementary in 1981.

“Ground was also broken and construction begun on the joint education center that the people of Jacksonville taxed themselves $5 million for. This unique partnership and close relationship between the city and Little Rock Air Force Base is a story told around the country,” Fletcher said.

The mayor said in between the surprise and the potential a lot happened in the city in 2009.

He cited the opening of the new 13,000-square-foot state-of-the-art library at a cost of $4 million, complete renovation of fire station four, a $300,000 lighting upgrade at Dupree Park, the groundbreaking for the new $2.8 million police and fire training facility and the city’s hospital, North Metro Medical Center, redefined its services to be more financially sound and still provide quality care for the community.

Fletcher was proud of hiring Rickey Hayes of Retail Attractions as an economic-development consultant for the city.

The mayor expects Hayes to recreate what he accomplished in cities across Oklahoma, especially in his hometown of Owasso where Hayes doubled the tax base with the addition of 4.2 million square feet of new commercial construction valued at $250 million.

In looking forward to this year and beyond the mayor expects a number of advancements, including:

• Construction of the 911 communication center, complete with police and fire classrooms and a community safe room.

• Beautification of Main and James streets and Dupree Drive to include new lighting and landscaping.

• Construction and opening of the Jacksonville Farmers Market.

• Acquisition and demolition of Manor House Apartments adjacent to Dupree Park to give more access to the park.

• Intersection improvement at Main Street and Harris Road.

• Construction of a fifth fire station.

• Widening of Graham Road.

• Extending Emma and Oneida streets.

• Additional improvements on the Dupree Park lights.

“These events will move Jacksonville forward from what I have called the ‘city of opportunity’ to more than just a phrase – it will become a reality,” the mayor told the council and audience members.

Highlights from the 35-page report include:

• The city council approved 38 ordinances and nine rezonings during 2009.

• City garage employees spent more than 2,500 hours in 2009 maintaining Jacksonville’s fleet of 250 vehicles.

• Jacksonville District Court saw a small increase in cases, going from 11,978 in 2008 to 12,056 in 2009, collecting more than $1.26 million in fines and forfeitures.

• In 2009, Jacksonville hired 73 new city employees with 44 of those as full-time workers. The employee turnover rate for the city was 39 percent. In 2009 the city had 94 voluntary employee terminations and 17 involuntary terminations. Returning to school was the top reason employees gave for quitting.

• The city’s animal shelter handled 2,325 animals in 2009, slightly down from the previous year. Shelter officials were able to adopt out 869 animals and returned 405 to owners.

• The fire department responded to 1,884 alarms and had 2,667 ambulance runs during the year. Fire loss for the city was estimated at $785,600 and fire savings, based on quick response, was placed at $1.8 million.

• The police department responded to 37,672 calls for service in 2009. There were 232 violent crimes reported in 2009, down slightly more than 20 percent from 2008. There were no homicides for the year.

• Property crimes were also down for the year going from 1,626 in 2008 to 1,492 in 2009. More than 4,300 people were arrested during the year.

• In 2009, the city issued 220 building permits with a total value of $14.3 million.

• After almost 40 years at 308 W. Main St., a new and improved library opened in February just down the road at 703 W. Main St. For the year, the library had 191,855 items checked out, an increase of 23 percent over 2008. More than 1,000 children and adults attended the library’s various programs and nearly 24,000 visitors used the library’s computers.

• Even with the year being the wettest on record, the Splash Zone still managed to bring in more than $172,000 in revenues.

• The community center was booked nearly solid all year and revenues from those meetings, conventions and receptions brought in $78,467.

• The city street sweeper cleaned the equivalent of 9,318 miles of streets during the year.

• Employees and volunteers with the beautification department picked up 4,357 bags of trash and 87 used tires from the city’s rights-of-way; planted 1,796 flowers, shrubs and trees; mowed 111 miles of city rights-of-way and spent about 80 hours on mosquito control.

• The sanitation department collected, processed and sold 1.2 million pounds of recyclable items, making $60,000 and saving the city almost $16,000 in landfill costs. More than 7,300 tons of garbage, 686 tons of bulky items and 33,633 cubic yards of yard waste were collected in 2009.

• The Jacksonville Senior Center served nearly 52,000 meals in 2009 and provided 10,014 rides for seniors.