Aldermen pass smartphone app funding for county ESDA, approve enterprise zone expansion

By Gary Scott on July 11, 2016 at 10:24pm

Morgan County ESDA Director Phil McCarty stands in the basement of the city municipal building, where work is being done to convert the space to a new dispatch center.

Jacksonville’s City Council approved the funding of a smartphone app for the Morgan County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency at tonight’s meeting.

ESDA coordinator Phil McCarty said the app, which can be purchased for both Android smartphones or iPhones, will allow the department to push out emergency information in a more efficient manner.

“When you have this app on your phone, we can push almost real-time data to it if it’s necessary,” McCarty says. “It’s not like we’re going to be pushing information all the time, but urgent, real-time data, we can immediately reach out to individuals that have this app on their phone. So, it will enhance our ability to pass information along.”

   McCarty pointed out that officials received hundreds of phone calls from people during the recent water emergency in the city and surrounding areas, something they hope the app could cut down on for future incidents.

He also said this would benefit city employees.

“Our employees will also have a different side for response. On-call firemen, on-call law enforcement, on-call street department, we can directly reach out to them and push information to them that we need their response, we need their support in an emergency as well,” he says.

   Alderwoman Lori Large Oldenettel was the only one to vote against the resolution after it was pulled from the consent agenda.

She said during the workshop session that she wasn’t sure if the app was something the city should spend money on right now, and that she thought it would be a duplication of effort.

McCarty says the app will also provide alerts through the National Weather Service.

He said those who don’t want to download the app will be able to sign up for emergency services updates when the City of Jacksonville’s new website launches.

The app will cost just under $16-thousand up front in development and will cost the city about $6-thousand annually.

McCarty also provided an update on the progress of the new joint dispatch center, which is going up in the basement floor of the Jacksonville Municipal Building. He says general construction is about three-quarters done, and a supervisor for the dispatch has been hired.

“Everything’s going according to schedule. We’ve had great support from aldermen, the county board and all of our shareholders. The 911 board, we’ve been meeting twice a month to move projects along. We’ve had outstanding support from our contractors. Just everybody,” says McCarty.

“Everything’s falling right into place, and we’re quite honestly a little bit ahead of schedule then where we thought we’d be on our timeline. We’re still pushing for it, and I see no reason why we won’t be able to meet our December 1st deadline.”

In other meeting action, aldermen unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance expanding the city’s enterprise zone for two businesses on West Walnut Street.

The businesses are Fitness World, which wants to add a new gymnasium, walking track and field house, and the former Modern Care nursing home, the new owner of which wants to turn into an assisted living and memory care facility.

Alderman Steve Warmowski, who has been critical of enterprise zone expansions previously, voted in favor of the second reading, but was the lone “no” vote for a resolution to pass an intergovernmental agreement with Morgan County, which was the other half of the needed action to expand the zone.

“It was the only way to do a slight protest vote for how it happened. I mean, the last meeting, there were some questions,” says Warmowski.

“Last year, we had assisted living come in, one going on Morton. I don’t think they got anything, and they’re building their building. And then there was one that was up on Walnut who got an enterprise zone, then they bailed on town. And the reason they did it was because it didn’t make economic sense to be here. So, in some ways, I think the automatic reflex for economic development is to just give away stuff, even though we don’t have to give it away,” he adds.

   Also last night, the first reading of an ordinance to put a four-way stop at the intersection of Independence Avenue and North West Street passed.