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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 8, 200612:00 PM EST

Quality of Life report an up and down read

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by: Miranda G. McLeod

by Miranda G. McLeod

Staff Writer

Twenty-one years, nine subjects, 114 indicators. No wonder reading the latest Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Quality of Life Report is like riding a roller coaster. Every time one area seems to make ground, one area seems to go for a dip.

Tuesday members of JCCI, area business leaders and elected officials gathered in the rotunda at City Hall to hear the latest from JCCI — an organization dedicated to studying and improving everything from the graduation rate to health care. The 21st version is similar to the first 20 — lots of ups and downs.

“We need to face up to reaching out to people that are economically disadvantaged,” according to Ben Warner, deputy director of JCCI.

The report is based on indicators and quantitative measures of the quality of community life. It also provides a road map for the community, showing where it has been, where it is now and what critical areas need attention.

The most glaring downward trend in the report is the local high school graduation rate, with only 65.5 percent graduating, a rate that significantly missed last year’s JCCI goal of 78 percent.

There’s good news, too.

Arts and Culture are blossoming according to the report, due in part to the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art’s move to Hemming Plaza.

Voter turnout has also improved from last year’s report. The 2005 report indicates the voter turnout for the 2004 presidential election improved to 73.6 percent from the 68.8 percent turnout in 2000.

Ed Burr, president and CEO of LandMar, is the citizen chair for the report and the incoming chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. He led exercises with more than 20 members of the community to review the report from last year. The group met four times throughout the year to decide which issues are still relevant while ensuring the information in the report is concise and clear.

“We look to see if issues are significant enough to merit accommodation or further review,” said Burr.

Within each issue, the report review committee issues a “gold star” or “black flag.” Black flags are issued for ideas that need to be studied further.

“We removed indicators that were not useful. We’re translating numbers and graphics to represent our overall quality of life,” said Burr.

City Council President Kevin Hyde was told he should learn the report like the back of his hand, and receive it with some trepidation.

“This is a road map to look at working toward a better quality of life,” said Hyde, who filled in for Mayor John Peyton. (According to Peyton’s press secretary, Misty Skipper, the mayor was called away on an emergency at the last second.) Hyde said raising the per capita income is something being looked at by City Hall.

“This is the road map to achieve goals,” he said. “Now the challenge is on us. We have to make sure we have tangible measures of improvement so at the end of 2006 we can say we did something.”

One of the first issues to be addressed by the City Council is the homicide rate.

“The numbers look pretty good,” according to Warner, who added that there is a sense of overall improvement, but that homicide is still an issue on citizen’s minds.

Warner said City Council needs to approve a study regarding the homicide rate. The study will be paid for by drug forfeiture monies and will include a series of fact finding questions such as why the homicide rate is getting worse and what can be done differently in Jacksonville to bring the murder rate down.

The Council will meet Feb. 14 to discuss this issue, among others.

“There is an open invitation to the community after Tuesday” said Warner.

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