Quorum Court OKs $165K to buy office for Prosecuting Attorney

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CARROLL COUNTY -- Justices of the Peace voted to spend $165,000 to purchase office space for the Prosecuting Attorney at Friday's meeting of the Carroll County Quorum Court.

Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers and his six employees are currently housed in a rented facility on Springfield Street, at a cost of $1,875 a month. The lease on that facility will expire at the end of 2013, and the landlord has told Rogers he does not intend to renew.

County Judge Sam Barr has already made an offer on the proposed facility, located at 708 W. Church Ave. in Berryville. The county would pay $150,000 for the building and up to $15,000 for surveying and closing costs.

The building is quite a bit larger than the one currently being leased and, unlike it, includes ample parking and a climate-controlled storage shed. The Prosecuting Attorney's Office currently pays for a separate storage facility to house documents.

At Friday's meeting, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Devon Closser told JPs they might be able to eliminate that second lease by moving into the new building.

The property would still have to be rezoned from residential to commercial use by the City of Berryville, though.

At Friday's Meeting, JP Ronald Flake suggested considering alternative uses for the facility.

"I think that property is too big for just the prosecuting attorney," he said. Flake suggested that Judge Kent Crow and his staff could be moved into the building, also.

"If we're gonna do this, we need to do it intelligently," he said.

Flake also protested a last-minute amendment to the ordinance, which called for drawing the money for the purchase from the courthouse fund -- set aside by JPs for the eventual construction of a new headquarters for county government.

In the original ordinance, the money was to be drawn from the county general fund. County Treasurer Cindy Collins suggested the change.

"In August 2012, our general fund was the lowest it had been in 20 years," she said, "so we're gonna have to take it out of this fund."

The courthouse fund has a balance of $512,000, Collins said.

"The courthouse fund money is not free money," Flake countered. "It was put there because a lot of these offices are gonna need work soon."

Despite these concerns, Flake ultimately voted with fellow JPs to approve purchasing the property.

Another ordinance, sponsored by Flake, would have established committees of the whole to consider issues related to the budget, county personnel, rural water, libraries, roads, and county buildings. However, the proposal failed for a lack of support.

Flake had said the ordinance was intended to increase participation in committees. There were only three committees in 2012: water, budget, and personnel. Barr had appointed the membership of each, and all were dissolved with the new year.

Flake's proposal would have allowed JPs to participate in whatever committee they wished.

"Committee meetings let JPs get together, legally, and discuss issues," he said. "... The way we do business, no body knows anything about an ordinance until we see it here."

The proposal did not win much support, however.

JPs Jack Deaton and Dan Mumaugh said the ordinance did not provide enough structure. They said that, without a rigid membership, JPs would drift in and out of meetings, and, without leadership or a specific agenda, nothing would be accomplished.

"In my experience," Mumaugh said, "if everyone's responsible, no one's responsible. ... I support the concept, but this can't work the way you've got it laid out."

JPs John Howerton and Larry Swofford expressed other concerns.

"I thought it was the county judge's call on committees," Howerton said. Swofford echoed his concern.

"No. It's not," Flake responded flatly. Closser, who had researched the issue at the request of several JPs, said the Quorum Court did have the authority to establish committees.

Swofford also questioned the necessity of Flake's proposal. The judge already managed county roads, he noted, and the libraries were governed by individual library boards, as well as a single, county-wide board.

Flake said the ordinance was not meant to be adversarial, but helpful.

"Committees don't tell anyone what to do," he said. "It's just an opportunity to get together and study issues."

After continued discussion, Richie moved to table the ordinance. However, Flake withdrew the ordinance entirely, saying, "we'll see if anyone else comes up with anything."

In other business, JPs:

* Appropriated $7,505 from the sale of a county vehicle and $18,713.75 received from an insurance settlement after Barr wrecked his county vehicle late last year.

* Declared a vacancy in the District 9 seat on the Quorum Court. The only candidate for the position withdrew his candidacy shortly before the November election. Now that the vacancy has been declared, the governor will appoint someone to the position. JPs passed a resolution late last year recommending Robert Holtcamp for the job.

* Passed the second reading of an ordinance to establish the number and compensation of all county employees. Flake said the ordinance still needed some work. It will likely be amended before the February meeting and will then have to pass through three more readings before becoming law.

The Quorum Court will meet again at 10 a.m. on Feb. 15 in the County Courthouse in Berryville. The courthouse is located at 210 West Church Ave. For more information, call 870-423-2967.

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