QC Talks Budget, Addressed by Local Mayor at Meeting

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Members of the Clay County Quorum Court handled a variety of matters at their regular monthly meeting, held Monday night at the courthouse in Corning. The justices approved an ordinance which provides the final appropriation of funds and clean-up of budget matters for 2017; passed another ordinance which transfers funds for the purpose of purchasing vehicles for the sheriff's department and approved a resolution establishing the policy of replacing wooden bridges with steel ones. St. Francis Mayor Teressa Johnson was also in attendance, as she aired concerns over the response to a recent incident in the town. Johnson also gave the justices an update on the town's ongoing water system upgrade, which is nearing completion.

With only Justice Jeff Douglas absent from the meeting, the gathering was called to order by Judge Mike Patterson. After dispensing with the usual consent agenda items, the court turned its attention to the first ordinance up for consideration.

Ordinance 2018-05

The first order of business at Monday night's meeting was to consider an ordinance which closes-out the books for 2017. The measure serves to adjust the appropriation of funds, and cleans-up the various line items. It included the majority of departments, but according to county officials does not change any of the totals for the budget period.

“We just moved some money around, none of the totals changed,” administrative assistant Yvonne Settlemoir explained.

The justices introduced the ordinance, and waived the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, passing it on a roll call vote of 8-0. The accompanying emergency clause was also approved without dissent, allowing the measure to go into effect upon passage. The complete ordinance may be found elsewhere in this edition.

Ordinance 2018-06

The next matter of business for the court was consideration of an ordinance which allows the transfer of funds to allow the sheriff's department to proceed with the purchase of new vehicles. The measure allows county treasurer Carolyn Morrisett to transfer from county general, and into the sheriff's budget, $46,429 from a USDA Rural Development grant. The ordinance also transfers $250 into the Clay County Emergency Task Force donation fund.

This ordinance was also introduced, with the court waiving the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, and approved unanimously. The accompanying emergency clause was also approved 8-0.

In turn, the justices then approved a resolution which will authorize and provide for the acceptance of grant monies for the sheriff's department from the USDA. Under the terms of agreement with the agency, the local department may receive up to $25,000 for the purchase of vehicles.

The resolution was also approved without dissent on a roll-call vote.

Another resolution was presented to the court, which establishes the policy of replacing wooden bridges with steel.

“We currently don't have a policy, it's at our discretion,” Patterson told the court. “But, if we have a policy to replace wooden bridges and any of them are damaged by flood or such, FEMA would replace them with steel ones.”

Patterson indicated the county has continued to try to replace all wooden bridges with steel ones, or steel components, and noted the resolution could be useful in the future.

The resolution was introduced, and approved on a vote of 8-0.

Mayor Johnson next addressed the court, first providing an update on the ongoing water system upgrades in St. Francis. She noted the water tower has been completed, along with the majority of the lines, and weather-permitting the tower would be painting soon. She indicated the final steps would be construction of the building to house the chlorination system and well house, and hoped the project could be wrapped-up in the coming weeks. She was accompanied at the meeting by Carol Hayslip, the water system secretary for the community.

Johnson next addressed the response to a power outage which occurred late last week, and the assistance she had requested at the time from the sheriff's department. She reported a tree fell across power lines in the town on Thursday afternoon, although it was late that evening before Entergy responded to the scene.

She indicated she called the sheriff's department just before 2 p.m. to request help in blocking-off the streets affected, including the area where the local school bus drops off students. At the time she was told help would be coming, but no one responded to the scene. Instead, local residents blocked the streets with their personal vehicles as they awaited the repair crew.

The mayor indicated she made several more calls to the dispatch center, and was assured each time help would be coming.

The response from Entergy was also brought into question, as she indicated no one was dispatched to take care of the outage. After several calls to the utility a crew did arrive around 8:30 p.m., although they noted they were never informed of the danger of the situation.

“They were told it was just a tree limb on a line, not power lines on the ground—arcing and such. The tree limbs were even smoldering,” she explained.

Miller, who was in attendance, asked about the particulars of the calls to his department and vowed to find out the background of the situation. In turn, Johnson recounted other instances in which she felt the town was ignored by the department, although they are the agency responsible for providing law enforcement to the community. Citing issues she has had in the past with his department, Johnson and Miller became involved in a brief but heated discussion on the matter.

Johnson said Colton Poole, a lineman with the Piggott MLWS and member of the St. Francis Fire Department, was dispatched to the scene on the report of the fire in the trees. He advised Johnson it was dangerous, and advised them to keep everyone out of the area until Entergy arrived. Since the system is operated by Entergy, the rule of thumb would not allow Poole to address the situation unless instructed directly by a member of law enforcement.

She indicated a crew from Entergy arrived around 8:45, and within an hour had the problem taken care of. At the time they told Johnson they had not been informed of the severity of the situation, and had only been dispatched to the scene around 8. The mayor indicated only a handful of homes were affected by the outage.

In response, Judge Patterson noted he would be in contact with Entergy about the matter and how it can be avoided in the future. Johnson did report she had spoken with the regional manager for Entergy, and had secured his cell phone number for future use if such problems occur again.

Afterward, Patterson thanked Johnson for the input and applauded the town for their efforts in securing grant funds to complete the water system upgrades.

Next, the judge requested that the court enter into an executive session to discuss personnel matters. After about 20 minutes they re-convened, but took no action.

During his update on county activities, Patterson noted the road department had been spreading a lot of gravel and chat. He also indicated the bridge project between McDougal and Pollard had been completed, and they are currently evaluating other bridges which need to be rehabilitated. He also updated the court on the Peco Road project, and indicated the 1.1 mile-$347,000 effort is going well.

“It looks like they're doing a pretty good job out there, all they have left is striping,” he offered.

Peco Foods officials estimate that 950 to 1,000 trucks travel the road each week, with those numbers increasing during the fall of the year. The judge also talked about the impact the poultry industry is having on the county's roads and highways.

“We had a road fell in last week and had to get on it right away,” he offered. “There are eight chicken houses on the road, and within a two day time you'll have 150 to 200 trucks going through there. There are a lot of trucks out there on the county roads, everyone needs to be extra careful.”

He also reported on the recent jury trial involving the residents along what is now known as Peco Road, which was filed after they contested the amounts they were to be paid for the property. He noted only one litigant was awarded more than the county had proposed paying, adding “it turned out good, a lot better than we were expecting.”

The residents along Peco Road had been forced to sell the right of way to the county for the project, with several contesting the price set, prompting the lawsuit. It was heard last month in the western district circuit court.

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