Quorum Court Approves 2016 Budget
Members of the Clay County Quorum Court approved the county's 2016 budgets during their regular meeting Monday evening at the courthouse in Piggott. The JPs also passed Ordinance 2015-16, which levies the ad valorem tax for the fiscal year. The justices also heard an update from Judge Gary Howell on repairs to the Clay County Health Unit in Piggott, and authorized additional funds for District Judge David Copelin's office, to cover payroll for replacement personnel for a clerk currently on medical leave.
With eight of the nine justices in attendance the meeting was called to order, as Justice Jeff Douglas was late arriving.
After dispensing with the usual consent agenda items, the court turned its attention to the 2016 budgets. Finance committee chair Jody Henderson presented the budgets for approval, then deferred to committee spokesman David Cagle for an overview.
"As painful as it has been, we have completed the budgets," he explained. "And, thanks to concessions made by Sheriff Terry Miller, we're happy to report we have over $31,000 in unbudgeted funds to begin the new year."
Cagle noted the initial windfall was around $45,000, but the repairs to the health unit absorbed about $10,000 of the total. "It was pretty tight, but Sheriff Miller agreed to just purchase one new vehicle in the coming year, instead of two, and that will provide us with additional funds," Cagle explained.
He noted the budgets did include a three percent cost of living raise for the county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer and assessor which were required by law, but no other pay raises. "We are increasing our co-pay for employee health insurance by about 11 percent, and that's just going to have to do as far as raises go this time around," he added. "I know it's not the same as a raise, but if you're paying for health care costs out of your pocket you understand the benefit."
The new budget also included salary and benefits for three new 911 dispatchers, due to changes in the way calls are processed at the detention center. The issue of housing out-of-area prisoners was also re-visited, with Miller indicating he would continue to house those from the Arkansas Department of Corrections for the time being. "Since we have to have the personnel to handle the ADC prisoners, we're going to continue to house them for Randolph County for the time being and try to offset as much of the costs as possible," Miller explained.
Also budgeted was an additional $16,000 to the Cooperative Extension Service, to be used to keep the Corning office open. "We understand the importance of keeping an office open in Corning for the farmers in that part of the county," Cagle added. "We understand the importance of agriculture to the county's economy, and felt it was something we needed to do."
Due to cutbacks at the state level, the county was required to take on more of the costs for keeping the local extension offices open. Cagle also noted the amount would double for 2017.
The new budget also allows for an additional employee in Circuit Clerk Janet Luff-Kilbreath's office, to meet new state mandates for entering all filings, and other action, into a statewide database.
When asked how the county would be faring without the half-cent countywide sales tax Cagle was quick to add, "we would be laying people off."
The budget was approved without dissent.
"We couldn't have done this without the cooperation of our elected officials, and I just want to tell them how much we all appreciate how well they've worked with us," Cagle surmised of the effort.
The justices then turned their attention to Ordinance 2015-16, which levies the ad valorem tax for the fiscal year, so that it may be collected. All three readings of the ordinance were held, and approved, along with the emergency clause, on a vote of 9-0.
Howell also updated the justices on repair work currently underway at the health unit in Piggott. "When they removed that siding from the north wall the brick underneath it just crumbled," Howell explained. "The current estimate is somewhere between $20 and $22 thousand, but it will be done right this time."
Judge Howell noted similar problems had been found on the BRAD HeadStart Center, located nearby, and observed the same architect was used on both projects. He indicated local contractor Johnnie Owens was handling the repair job, adding it would be done correctly this time.
District Judge David Copelin next addressed the court concerning personnel matters involving his clerks. He explained both clerks had been off for surgery, and at this point only Linda Dixon had returned to work. Copelin explained his secretary, Heather Moore, had been filling-in during the interim but noted the funds budgeted for such eventualities was running low.
"I think we allocate $1,000 each year for just such instances, but the funds have dropped to around $600 and one of the clerks won't be back on the job for another month, or so," Copelin explained. "Most years we don't need to use any of the funds, but things just worked out that way this year with both clerks off for surgery."
Justice Cagle offered a motion to approve an additional $600 for the district court budget, which will cover both salary and Social Security benefits. Justice Jim Clifton seconded the motion, which passed on a vote of 9-0.
Afterward, Judge Howell opened the meeting to comments from the public, and after finding no response from those in attendance the JPs voted to adjourn.