Quorum Court Approves Polling Centers for County

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Voters in Clay County will be able to cast their ballots at any of the polling sites within the county beginning with the upcoming General Election, thanks to legislation approved by the quorum court at Monday night's regular meeting. During the gathering, held at the courthouse in Piggott, the justices also passed an ordinance appropriating funds and amending the budgets and heard feedback on proposed changes to the employee handbook.

With Justice Greg Ahrent absent, the meeting was called to order by Judge Mike Patterson. After dispensing with the usual agenda items, the court turned its attention to Ordinance 2018-09, concerning the polling sites.

The measure serves to establish voting centers at each of the existing polling sites, and is in response to new state mandates according to election commissioner Neil Smith.

“We had to reduce the number of polling sites to 10, based on the state guidelines, so there are no longer sites in Peach Orchard, Knob, Nimmons or Datto,” he explained. “We reviewed and cut the ones with lower numbers to be able to acquire grant money from the state for new voting machines.”

Under the new system, as it is in many of the state's counties, voters may cast their ballots at any of the voting centers.

“At first the state wanted us to pay $400,000 for new machines, then they came down to $200,000,” Patterson explained. “By cutting our number of polling sites we qualify for getting the new machines at a cost of just under $3,900 a year—that we could afford.”

Smith indicated the new machines have been received by the county, and will allow much more flexibility.

“All of the voter registration information is contained in the new machines, and it feeds back to the county clerk's office,” he offered.

The change is expected to streamline the process, and will mean fewer poll workers as well.

The measure was placed on all three readings, title only, and approved by a roll call vote of 8-0, along with the accompanying emergency clause. The complete ordinance may be found in this week's print edition of the CCTD.

The justices then turned their attention to Ordinance 2018-10, which appropriates funds and adjusts the budgets. It was introduced, with the JPs waiving the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, and approved without dissent. The accompanying emergency clause, which allows it to go into effect immediately, was also approved by the court.

The ordinance appropriates $66,915.55 from the sale of two graders; $4,653.99 from the sale of a 2002 GMC truck; $1,448.70 in reimbursement of tile and $26.20 from recycling old metal for a total of $73,044.44. It further applies monies, and transfers other funds, within the county road department budget.

Patterson next addressed the latest draft of the new employee handbook, which was the subject of a brief discussion. Circuit Clerk Janet Luff-Kilbreath asked about a clarification on the number of hours used to accrue time off, and the stipulation that all county offices remain open during business hours.

She noted there are times when one staff member is charged with keeping the office open, and inquired about addressing a break for lunch.

Della Jackson, with the collector's office of the sheriff's department, also inquired about the stipulation.

In response, the court members noted they could make some adjustments, but the matter could also be left up to the elected official to use their better judgment.

Following more discussion on the matter, Patterson indicated the policy could be left to the discretion of the county judge and he would address the various situations as they arose. He indicated the suggestions would be taken into consideration, and noted an updated version will be drafted for consideration in the weeks to come.

“We'll get it all taken care of so it can go into effect the first of the year,” he concluded.

Patterson also addressed a number of county residents who were in the audience, but did not speak. He indicated that he knew some of the residents of Success and Peach Orchard, among other small communities, were concerned about recent discussions involving their fire protection.

“We discussed that last time, and I've been in touch with Little Rock about the Act 833 money that is distributed to the fire departments,” he explained. “If there are departments who are not responding to fires, and not staying current with their training and such, the county judge does have the right to move those funds to another department.”

The issue had been brought to light at the August meeting, as members of the Corning Fire Department outlined how they had been forced to answer calls for some of the small departments in the western part of the county, and the financial burden of the efforts.

Patterson noted he would be meeting with county mayors and fire chiefs in the coming weeks, and would be outlining the policy to them at that time.

In his update to the court, Patterson noted the road crews have been busy hauling gravel and cleaning-out ditches. He also reported that the county is in-line to get some federal funding for the placement of lights and crossing gates at Peco Road rail crossing.

“To get the funds they want us to close one of the crossings nearby,” he offered. “They told us that when you put up gates and lights at one crossing people will often rush to the next one to try to beat the train—and could get run over.”

He also indicated the railroad was not receptive to suggestions they extend the area of brush removal around rural crossings.

“They clear their right-of-way 200 feet each way, but they won't go any further,” he added. “They want us to help clean it up, but they won't extend their part.”

He noted company officials pointed to the cost of addressing all crossings in the state, if they chose to extend the distance cleared at each right-of-way.

Following Patterson's update the justices voted to adjourn. They'll be gathering next on Monday, Oct. 15, at Corning.

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