JPs approve 1st reading of proposed 2021 budget

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

By Scott Loftis

The Carroll County Quorum Court approved the first reading of a proposed 2021 county budget at Monday’s November meeting at Southern Heights Baptist Church in Berryville.

The quorum court plans to have the second and third readings and vote on the budget proposal at its December meeting.

District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton said the proposed budget projects an increase of $600,000 in county revenue, with almost all of that money earmarked for expenditure. The proposal does not include raises for county employees, with the exception of an increase of 65 cents an hour for 22 detention officers at the Carroll County Detention Center.

“The budget committee felt like that was an immediate need,” District 6 JP Craig Hicks said.

“One thing I’ve noticed over the years is wherever you have the most turnover is usually where you need to give raises,” said District 10 JP Larry Swofford, who chaired the meeting in the absence of County Judge Sam Barr.

The proposed budget projects the county’s 2021 general fund revenue at $5,782,121.70, with projected general fund expenses of $3,301,023.02.

In other business, JPs approved:

• a resolution authorizing the county judge to request a grant of $14,129 from the the Center for Tech and Civic Life, to reimburse the county for 2020 election expenses;

• a supplemental appropriation ordinance to appropriate and transfer funds for end-of-year bonuses for country employees;

• a supplemental appropriation ordinance to transfer $150,000 for the county courthouse fund;

• a supplemental appropriation ordinance appropriating $201.81 received from the Arkansas State Police to the county sheriff’s office for reimbursement of salaries expended by the sheriff’s office as part of an ASP traffic enforcement program;

• a supplemental appropriation ordinance appropriating $4,750 to the Detention Center Capital Project for roof repair;

• an ordinance establishing the Elections Covid Response Grant Fund and transferring $14,129.50 to the county’s general fund for reimbursement for 2020 election expenses.

• an ordinance establishing the compensation for all elected county officials for 2021, which is unchanged from 2020;

• an ordinance appropriating $1,680 in the 2021 budget for the contribution of local matching funds to the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District;

• and an ordinance creating the position of a part-time administrative assistant for the Carroll County Eastern District Court.

Each measure was approved by a vote of 10-0, with District 4 JP Marty Johnson absent.

JPs also heard a brief presentation from Drew Wood, the county’s radio technician, who said the county’s emergency radio communications shut down recently because of an issue with a storage drive. Wood said he was able to get the system working again but if a second drive fails that may not be possible.

“The system is aging and beginning to fail,” Wood said.

Wood said he will meet with a representative from L3 Harris to discuss the county’s options for upgrading its emergency communication system.

Tensions flared briefly when District 3 JP Harrie Farrow objected to Sheriff Jim Ross not wearing a mask.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sitting way in the back,” Ross said. “I’m following the governor’s guidelines.”

“We’re in an enclosed space,” Farrow replied. “We’re all breathing the air that you’re breathing out.”

Ross ultimately donned a mask for the remainder of the meeting, but immediately after her exchange with Ross, Farrow pointed out that District 8 JP Don McNeely’s mask was below his nose.

“I’m going to leave if we’re not going to abide by the rules,” Farrow said.

McNeely said the personnel committee met recently to discuss filling Johnson’s position on the quorum court, since he hasn’t attended a meeting in several months. McNeely said Gov. Asa Hutchinson will appoint someone to fill the position. The quorum court will appoint someone to fill the position currently held by circuit clerk Ramona Wilson, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Later in the meeting, Deaton asked his fellow JPs to consider another day and time for the quorum court’s regular monthly meeting, currently held at 5 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. Deaton said Carroll County prosecuting attorney Tony Rogers had requested the possible change since prosecutors are often in court late on Monday. JPs will meet on Jan. 4, 2021, to set the meeting schedule for the next year.

Deaton also asked JPs to consider spending $4,500 to buy I-pads or similar devices for JPs to use for quorum court business in an effort to reduce the county’s costs for paper, ink and postage. Farrow said she was concerned about possible technical issues. Swofford suggested that Deaton prepare a proposed ordinance for the December meeting and let the JPs vote on it.

At Deaton’s request, JPs voted unanimously to abide by a state law that allows a JP to miss one meeting a year and still be paid. Rogers said an individual JP may opt not to receive payment for a missed meeting.

Ronda Griffin, administrative assistant to the county judge, said Barr was released from the hospital earlier Monday after undergoing heart surgery recently and is doing well.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, at Southern Heights Baptist Church, 279 Highway 221 South in Berryville.

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