Quorum Court tries to make sense of audit

Thursday, October 26, 2006

BERRYVILLE -- Much ado about legislative audits and attorneys dominated a near two-hour meeting of the Carroll County Quorum Court Friday morning.

With both items up for discussion under miscellaneous business, Justice of the Peace Harley Barnum introduced the audit discussion, highlighting the history leading up to a letter received by County Judge Ulys Smith, which most of the quorum court was not aware of until Friday's meeting.

The quorum court had asked for an audit summary focused on expenditures made for a bathroom for the sheriff at the county detention center using jail tax money to pay for its construction and a maintenance man to build it.

The letter also addressed three vehicles paid for by jail tax funds, which the state auditors found no documentation for, but stated that if two of the vehicles, which were miscoded, had been properly charged to the budget as capital outlay, the expenditures would have exceeded the budget by $31,500, which would be a violation of budgetary laws.

As for three other vehicles used by the sheriff's office, the legislative joint auditing committee was unable to determine if the cost or a portion thereof was an allowable use of sales tax funds.

The committee recommends that the quorum court adopt polices and guidelines to prorate common expenses in compliance with applicable budgeting laws, and that the sheriff request a 2006 budget amendment to classify the restroom costs to the capital outlay category

By law, jail tax monies cannot be co-mingled, according to Justice of the Peace Eva Reeve.

Barnum indicated that the letter shows that the bathroom monies were not properly appropriated as capital improvements, which are allowed to use jail tax funds but which must be budgeted and confirmed by the quorum court.

Barnum questioned the ability to amend the budget, with the money coming from another source, noting the 2005 incident in which money was budgeted to pay JPs for committee meetings, but an ordinance was not approved to authorize the payment, nor could it be done retroactively. "This is a similar situation," Barnum said.

Legal ramifications of the report dominated discussion for almost an hour.

Smith stated that the letter made two recommendations, one being transfer of the cost of vehicles by him as county court to the detention center. The second is transfer of $16,813 from county general to either the detention center or sheriff's office. "Your call," Smith said.

Smith stated he received the audit letter in September, and that it was dated Sept. 6. JP Jim Wheeler asked for copies to be made, Smith maintained he complied with what the auditors wanted.

Reeve continued to push for an attorney to review the findings, saying that she did not think that Smith should take such action without the quorum court's knowledge, and the quorum court is specifically charged with fiscal responsibility for the county's money.

A 1991 Act states that audit reports and accompanying comments and recommendations are to be reviewed by the appropriate governing body.

Discussion shifted to the hiring of an attorney for quorum court members, apparently to research its concerns about the bathroom and vehicles. An ordinance from a few years ago remains on the books allowing the quorum court to hire its own attorney, in lieu of state provisions for the prosecuting attorney to act in that capacity.

Smith maintained that as the chief executive officer of the county, he believed it was his choice to make.

Reeve countered, citing the letter and law that requires the county to take remedial action on budgetary violations within 30 days of notification, otherwise the violation is considered to have been done knowingly. "We're now past 30 days, and we were not informed," she said.

Smith stated that he asked specifically if he was to take the matter to the quorum court, and was told to do it himself as the county's executive officer.

Reeve, appearing more frustrated, responded, "We asked for this. We called for a special audit. They sent a letter we did not get until October. The information was kept from us, with some only learning of it today, and you've (Smith) been working on it. Can you understand how confusing this is to someone responsible for the financial condition of the county?"

Again, though, the discussion came back to the need for legal representation, with Deputy Prosecutor Devon Closser saying she was not comfortable in giving a legal opinion without knowing the details.

Justice of the Peace Margaret Fancher asked why the JPs needed an attorney when the prosecutor was available free of charge. Barnum responded with the pointed disagreements between three JPs and Prosecutor Tony Rogers, and ethics complaints filed by three JPs.

Fancher nixed the idea of Cindy Baker, who represents Reeve and is also involved in a lawsuit over the Democratic primary.

"This has nothing to do with elections," Wheeler said.

In the end, the quorum court voted for Closser to take up to two weeks to determine who the quorum court could hire, and hold a special meeting within 48 hours of her finding.

With that, the meeting moved more smoothly. Richard Williams, Republican candidate for county judge, found his request for the quorum court to support "something positive" for the Beaver Bridge to fall of deaf ears.

Discussion of a $6,000 bid to codify county ordinances was questioned by Reeve as being a "heck of a price," considering Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District paid $10,000 for five years of ordinances, and Eureka Springs paid $136,000 to codify its ordinances.

No action was taken on that matter.

The JPs approved the appointment of Suellyn Fry as chairman of the Citizens Corps Council.

An ordinance which would have reinforced a previous ordinance and establish a data base of accepted roads was withdrawn, after being found to be largely redundant.

The first reading of an ordinance adopting a technical code for the accommodation and adjustment of utilities on Carroll County rights of way and roads maintained by the county was approved.

The measure would reinforce County Ordinance 78-15, with additional requirements of:

* All utilities must be at least four feet from the out edge of the drainage ditch adjacent to roads;

* Utilities must be buried at least 24 inches below the lowest point of any drainage ditch;

* Utilities placed under any roads which are not dirt roads shall be bored, with no cutting of the road surface permitted; and

* No new utility shall be placed prior to the granting of an easement by the county.

An ordinance was also approved distributing educational funds totaling $6,415 from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to the Berryville, Green Forest and Eureka Springs Public Schools and the Carroll County 4-H Foundation was approved.

An emergency ordinance establishing the Carroll County Financial Management System and requiring compliance was passed. The usage of the system is mandated by state law.

Approval was also given to a $38,750 appropriation for asphalt to improve Primrose Drive from Hailey Road, allowing egress of neighbors to the Carroll County Detention Center.

The sole resolution approved was one authorizing Judge Gayle Guynop to solemnize the marriage of Christine Old and Christian Schrage in Eureka Springs this month.

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