Quorum Court considers tightening anti-smoking rules

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- County employees might soon have to walk 25 feet further to enjoy a smoke break.

An ordinance being considered by the Carroll County Quorum Court would prohibit using tobacco within 25 feet of the entrance to County facilities. It would also ban tobacco use in County-owned vehicles.

The court unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance Friday. It must pass two more readings before taking effect.

Tobacco has been banned in most County facilities since 1995. However, the existing ordinance is limited to the interior of County buildings. It does not preclude people from smoking beside doorways, for instance. It also permits tobacco use in County vehicles, as long as everyone in the vehicle consents.

JP Lamont Ritchie wants the ordinance strengthened.

He had asked the court last month for signs be placed around the County Courthouse to designate non-smoking areas. He said several County employees had asked him to make the request.

At the time, he had thought smoking was already banned within 50 feet of County facilities, he said. Further research revealed this was not so.

Though the proposed amendment would remedy this and strengthen the tobacco ordinance, it would not ban tobacco use in all County facilities.

The original ordinance, passed in 1995, did not ban tobacco use in the County jail or in a portion of the Road Department building. The decision to ban tobacco use in these areas was left to the discretion of the County sheriff and the judge, respectively.

The ordinance was amended to include the jail in 2004. However, the exemption for the Road Department still stands, and it would not be changed by the amendment now being considered.

"It does not change the judge's prerogative to discretionarily decide what to do on certain portions of the road department building," Ritchie told the court Friday. "That is part of the existing ordinance and has not been changed."

Before the vote, several JP's commented on the proposal.

Some questioned whether the ban on tobacco in County vehicles would apply to employees who were assigned to the same vehicle every day.

Ritchie said he appreciated the concerns. "I think there are arguments on both sides," he said. "(However), I think for the benefit of everybody, it's best to limit the availability of smoking in places where we have a variety of people using our facilities."

Flake suggested a wait-and-see approach. "I would suggest that we wait and see if it becomes a problem," he said. "If somebody does complain, if somebody has a problem and comes to Sam about it, we can address it."

Budget amendments and airport grant

Also Friday, the court gave a preliminary nod to two budget amendments. Both must pass two more readings before taking effect.

The first of these amendments would transfer $8,892.50 to the Sheriff's Office. The money came from an insurance settlement the County received after a Sheriff's Office vehicle was totaled last month in a hail storm.

The other amendment would reimburse the Carroll County Airport for $2,322 used to secure a $1 million insurance policy.

The Airport purchased the policy last month, after learning the County's general liability policy did not offer sufficient protection.

In order to purchase the policy, the airport was forced to use money from the matching fund, which is usually reserved for obtaining grants from state and federal sources. The airport receives most of its funding this way. The granting agency usually pays 80 to 90 percent of the cost of approved projects, and the airport pays the balance with money from the fund.

"By using money out of what they would use to get the funds, we (also) lose the 90 percent," Flake told the court. "So, we would (potentially) lose the ability to spend $23,000."

In related business, the court gave the airport approval to accept more than $45,000 in grant money to begin building a fence around the airport. The project is meant, in part, to eliminate the hazard of deer wandering onto the runway.

The lion's share of the money - $44,046 - will come from the Federal Aviation Administration. The Arkansas State Department of Aeronautics will provide an additional $4,894 for the project.

Airport Commission Chair Dave Tiegan told the court Friday that the money would be used to complete the design phase of the project.

He said the project would likely take two years and an additional $300,000 to complete. "We'll be looking at two additional grants from the FAA to complete this project," he said.

Telephone costs

Flake told the court Friday the County could save $30,000 a year by tweaking its telephone system. The estimate is the preliminary result of an analysis conducted by telecommunications consulting firm Insight, based in Springdale. The court gave County Clerk Jamie Correia approval last month to begin negotiating with the company.

So far, Insight's services have cost the County nothing. However, should the County decide to move forward, the company would take one-half of the first year's savings in exchange for services. The agreement would last for one year, with payments made quarterly.

Several department heads at the meeting expressed concern over the deal.

"Why are we paying for this when our phone company would do an internal audit and go through and look at things and see if we're paying for things that are not necessary?" County Tax Collector Kay Phillips asked.

Correia told Phillips she was welcome to call the phone company. "I've tried doing it," she said, "and I've spent two days on the phone trying to get things straightened out."

Phillips requested that Barr, rather than Correia be made responsible for the project.

"I don't believe Jamie has the authority to enter into the contract," she said.

The court took no further action on the issue Friday.

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