By Joel Hall
Starting Jan. 1 at 7 a.m., the Jonesboro Police Department will no longer have to battle for radio frequency air space. Clayton County will provide the city with its own police radio frequency.
Announcement of the change came during a called meeting Thursday.
In addition, a four-member quorum of the Jonesboro City Council voted to protect $35,000 set aside in the 2008 budget for a 911 call center feasibility study, by taking $33,409 out of the city's reserve funds to balance the budget.
The council also adjusted the city's 2007 budget to account for $1,790 in additional spending, and voted to take $67,108 out of the city's reserves to balance spending for this year.
Mayor Pro tempore Rick Yonce presided over the called meeting attended by members Billy Powell, Bobby Wiggins, and Roger Grider.
The pull on reserve funds is the result of low tax revenues, the absence of property tax revenues and failed plans for a new subdivision, said Sandra Meyers, finance officer for the city of Jonesboro.
Meyers added that the city was forced to dip into its contingency funds to pay for the rights-of-way necessary to begin work on the city's Streetscape plan. She said the purchases were approved, but that the city did not create a line item for the purchases in the 2007 budget.
"That was the main thing that we didn't budget for," said Meyers. "We've spent a little more because we've worked on Streetscape this year buying rights-of-way."
Wiggins said that with the amount of money being taken out of the city's reserves to balance the 2007 budget, the city should scrap the $35,000 they plan to spend on the 911 call-center before taking more from the city's reserves.
"We're $33,000 short on the budget," said Wiggins. "Instead of taking it out of reserve ... we should balance that budget this year before we start out. We can do it by cutting out that $35,000 consulting fee for the 911 center. If we keep [taking money from the reserves] we're going to be a broke city."
The study would provide the city with the information necessary to pursue maintaining its own 911 call center, a service currently provided by Clayton County. While Wiggins thinks the study is an unnecessary expense, the majority of the present council members said the study is necessary, and that having a call center would improve 911 response times in the city.
Yonce, Grider, and Powell ultimately voted 3-1 against Wiggins to protect the funds set aside for the feasibility study and balance the 2008 budget with the city's reserves.
"I think the 911 call center feasibility study is probably one of the most important things that Jonesboro has undertaken in a while," said Grider. "I think it's already showing some results. I think that it will be [money] well spent for the citizens."
Major Brad Johnson, of the Jonesboro Police Department, said the city's acquisition of its own radio frequency is a major public safety improvement, since "air space is at a premium." He credited the feasibility study for influencing the county to move in that direction.
"The citizenry has been complaining about 911 since I got here," said Johnson. "The 911 center is not going to make money, but it will be a draw ... it's definitely worth the money."