Jail staffing issue unresolved as facility's planned opening nears

Thursday, May 26, 2005

BERRYVILLE -- After considerable discussion about staffing of the county's new jail, the quorum court will further address the issue when it reconvenes on June 1 at 7 p.m. after recessing its regular meeting held Friday morning.

Among other issues to be addressed on June 1 is information obtained by Marvelle Stines of the Osage Valley Volunteer Emergency Responders from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Washington, D.C., which states that charitable immunity is granted in Arkansas if volunteers are not insured, but if they are insured in their voluntary capacity they are subject to liability.

Jail staffing is complicated by lack of funding for training of dispatchers from central dispatch while the sheriff is still conducting dispatch from the present jail facility.

Central to the staffing problem is a recommendation from Randy Morgan, chief of detention at the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office, that a total of 56 workers are needed, including nine civilian employees and 13 of which are noted as optional.

That is a far cry from the 18 positions approved by the quorum court in the 2005 budget, as well as the 2002 recommendations by then Sheriff J.R. Ashlock and jail construction consultant Joe Barda, who said the jail could be run with 24 people .

Sheriff Chuck Medford stated that using the ratio of workers to prisoners in the present jail to staff the new jail with 60 prisoners would not meet state requirements as standards for older jails are different from that for new facilities.

It apparently was assumed that with the new detention facility being built with state-of-the-art technology and layout, the proportion of prisoners that could be supervised by employees would increase.

JP Jim Wheeler, who served as the quorum court's representative on the jail construction committee, pressed the question of how many prisoners could be supervised by the 18 employees budgeted for in 2005, but got no answer.

Medford had provided a package of documents including legal requirements for jails, personnel and security standards of the state Criminal Detention Facility Review Commission, Morgan's proposal, and his own staffing plan, including job duties for 29 officers and 10 civilian workers.

He said he had provided copies to County Judge Ulys Smith and County Clerk Shirley Doss, believing the information would be passed on to the justice of the peace.

The sheriff predicted that if the new jail is not opened to the standards of the jail standards committee, the state will move to close both the present facility and the new one. He said that staffing numbers remain the same regardless of the number of prisoners.

With considerable information in that package to be digested before they could make an informed decision, the JPs voted to table the issue until it reconvenes on June 1.

Recessing Friday's meeting until the first of next month may have had something to do with the approval of the first reading of an ordinance establishing compensation for justices of the peace of $150 for each quorum court meeting, and $35 for each committee meeting attended.

That ordinance will have to be voted on two more times before it can take effect.

Another reading will be required for an appropriation ordinance for central dispatch operations from the county's 911 budget.

That ordinance would provide $39,637 for employee costs, machinery and equipment, insurance, plumbing and electrical work, office supplies and other professional services.

In making the shift from jailers handling dispatching to a separate central dispatch operation, 911 Addressal Supervisor Candy Bawcom suggested that, due to financial restrictions, county payments for dispatching in Eureka Springs could be discontinued.

JP Morris Pate, Eureka Springs Police Department detective, seemed open to that idea, with Bawcom indicating that true county-wide dispatching from a single dispatch station could be switched over in a matter of days, once operations in Berryville are all in place.

The Western District of Carroll County instituted 911 service several years before the Eastern District did.

Also deferred to June 1's reconvened meeting are two ordinances establishing salaries for various workers, whose wages come out of the county general fund or road departments.

The ordinances were put together by County Clerk Shirley Doss, who said minimum and maximum salaries had not been established for workers since 2002. Not all county employee salaries were addressed in Doss's proposals, and it was asked that the ordinances be redrafted to include all employees, regardless of where their funding comes from.

In other business Friday, Judge Ulys Smith read a letter of resignation from District 8 Justice of the Peace Yvonne Herron, who has moved across the street, outside the district she represented. A vacancy was declared.

Smith also reported that he has received several calls about the county's lack of enforcement of its nuisance animal ordinance for the Western District.

While that ordinance addresses nuisance animal control, no funding has been found to put it into effect, thus far.

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