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Jacksonville residents balk at police, fire quarters near Britt

JACKSONVILLE — Unhappy with the City Council's choice for a public safety office, 23 people showed up at Tuesday's council meeting to support a call to halt preliminary work that would result in an addition to the planned public works building.

"We don't want the public safety facilities up there by Highway 238," said Dan Winterburn, who spoke while the group stood up at the meeting, when contacted Wednesday. "We want to be able to vote on (site location)."

Placing of police and fire operations has been a contentious issue for more than four years. A council vote of 4-3 in December approved relocation of the operations to the public works site at 400 W. C St. just west of the Britt Steps area. The current fire hall is in danger of collapse in an earthquake. The police station lacks proper security for evidence and vehicles.

Winterburn represented 30 people who met Monday night. The group will meet again Monday at 5 p.m. in the Naverson Room of the town's library. Winterburn spoke during the council's public comment period. Council members did not respond to the presentation. Under city meeting rules, council members are only allowed to address issues that are on the agenda, and the matter was not on the agenda.

"The current station was declared unsafe," said Councilman Dick Ames, who voted for the site in December, when contacted Wednesday. "We're trying to use city property to save money."

Other relocation sites would have required the purchase of property.

"At a ratio of 2 to 1 at a town meeting, people said they didn't want public safety near the Britt Steps," said Winterburn. He said the council had not listened to the public on site choice.

The group's four demands:

  • A halt to all efforts to build city structures on Highway 238.
  • A list of expenditures and budgets before any development work is started.
  • A council pledge to keep residents better informed of efforts.
  • Placement of the site issue on the November ballot to promote citizen happiness and town unity.

"I reminded them a city election is coming," said Winterburn, who said that was a reference to the voters' opportunity to change the council's composition.

The City Council could place a referendum for voters on the ballot, said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. A citizens' initiative could also place a measure on the ballot, he noted.

"We haven't ever done (an initiative) since I've been here," said Wyntergreen, who started with the city in 1992. The council has placed one referendum on a ballot during his tenure.

Wyntergreen said he's heard no discussion about whether to bring the site issue back before the council. The council agenda is set by the mayor.

Survey work has been completed on the public works site. The fire department is doing its feasibility study to determine if the proposed building will fit without a need to acquire additional property.

"Right now it doesn't look like we'll need any additional property," said Wyntergreen. Use of urban renewal income and sale of city property would allow the new building to be constructed without a property tax levy, he added.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.