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Jacksonville starts defensive driving program

JACKSONVILLE — The City Council voted Monday night to establish a defensive driving program for those who have gotten traffic citations.

Police Chief Marcus Wood said at the work session beforehand he had gotten the idea from other police departments in the area which had already implemented programs like it.

He said a municipal judge can sentence people with any kind of traffic ticket, except for DUIs and reckless driving. He said those who’ve gotten tickets can go to a four-hour class for about $200, and the citation won’t go on their record. He said each class can hold up to 35 people.

“Usually, any kind of speeding ticket is about $272, plus another $7 for a processing fee … it ends up being $297 for what they pay for,” Wood said. “What that does for them is it goes on their record and makes their insurance go up, so there’s some extra added cost to that.”

Wood said he plans to teach the course because he wants to get to know Jacksonville locals, and the department would have to pay an officer for overtime if one taught the course.

“They don’t want that same officer to go out tomorrow and write 25 tickets with the implication that those same 25 people are coming to driving school that he has to teach the next month,” Wood said.

Council members also voted to approve the audit from the 2019 fiscal year. Mayor Johnny Smith said during the work session the city had $1.4 million more revenues than expenditures. He said that was likely caused by money the city had gotten from FEMA and grants after the tornado struck the city in 2018. Smith said he didn’t see any negative comments in the report.

According to Smith, auditors from Edgar and Associates were slated to give a presentation on the audit Monday night, but council members asked them to present at a later date because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the work session, the council also discussed whether future council meetings would be closed to the public or whether they would meet via webcam or conference call to combat the spread of the virus. 

Smith said he wanted the council to have in-person meetings that are open to the public as long as everyone is required to maintain a six-foot distance, avoid physical contact and stay out if they’re showing symptoms.

Council members also discussed needed repairs for the Jacksonville Community Center. Smith said after the meeting that windows on a back wall of the center’s gym had started sinking. 

He said the city hired Bart Dawson, owner of Dawson Construction, based in Gadsden, to examine them and discovered that the entire wall was starting to collapse. He said the city was considering hiring Dawson to repair the wall.

In other business, the council:

— bought Tasers for the police department from Gulf State Distributors.

— turned over $3,456.68 in charged off accounts from Jacksonville Water, Gas and Sewer to a collections agency.

— promoted Anthony Strader to police sergeant.

Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563.

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