Courthouse security: Quorum court votes to pay private firm for service

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

By Scott Loftis

Carroll County will continue to pay for a private armed security guard at the Eastern District Courthouse and the courthouse annex in Berryville, but not without some dissent among the county’s quorum court.

At Monday’s January meeting, the court voted 9-2 to approve a supplemental appropriation ordinance to pay $12,000 for a year’s service from the security guard.

District 6 Justice of the Peace Craig Hicks and District 8 JP Don McNeely voted against the ordinance, with Hicks saying he wasn’t sure the service was needed year-round.

“In my personal opinion, I don’t know that we actually need that the entire year,” said Hicks, a Berryville police officer. “Maybe just at tax time.”

District 1 JP Jack Deaton said the guard monitors cameras in both the courthouse and the annex building, and County Judge Sam Barr said the guard makes sure that people inside the building on days when court is in session don’t create a disruption.

Also at Monday’s meeting, JPs voted 11-0 to approve the second and third readings of an ordinance that creates a catastrophic sick leave bank for county employees.

In other business, JPs:

• approved a resolution authorizing Barr to apply for a grant on behalf of the Carroll County Fair Association;

• approved two supplemental appropriation ordinances to pay off the Arkansas District Judges Retirement System Unfunded Liability for the Eastern and Western District courts;

• approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance appropriating money to the Carroll County Solid Waste Authority (previously known as Carroll County Sanitation);

• and approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance appropriating money for the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, which assists the county with grant applications.

Votes on all those items were 11-0.

The meeting also included a lengthy presentation and discussion of a proposal by the Harris communications company to upgrade the radio system used by the county’s public safety communication network.

The county recently relocated its central dispatch and 911 operations from the Eastern District Courthouse to the Carroll County Law Enforcement Complex in the first of what are expected to be several phases of upgrades.

Deaton, a longtime Holiday Island Fire Chief, explained that the radio upgrades are expected to be mandated at some point by the federal government, although it’s unclear exactly when that will happen.

Harris’ Jason LaForge addressed JPs to discuss the company’s proposal. He said Harris wants to utilize existing towers in the county rather than placing new ones in order to keep the cost of the project at a realistic level.

In response to a question from Amy Leivan, a member of the Carroll County Eastern District Ambulance Commission, He acknowledged that some rural areas in the county may not benefit from the enhanced service because of limited connectivity. Because of the county’s terrain, he said, the only way to ensure complete coverage would be to have “a tower on every hill,” which would make the project far too expensive to implement.

District 11 JP John Howerton noted that the county’s existing service will still function, meaning that service in the rural areas won’t be any worse than it is now.

District 10 JP Larry Swofford asked if the radio equipment will need to be put out for bids, even though Harris was the vendor for the first phase of the communications upgrade.

“I don’t see how we can keep from it,” he said.

The other JPs indicated they weren’t sure and would like to consult with an attorney to answer Swofford’s question.

Ultimately, Deaton moved to table the issue until the court’s next meeting, and JPs voted unanimously to do so.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.

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