QC Discusses Finances, Personal Policy Handbook at Meeting

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ongoing concerns over county finances, and the recently approved personal policy handbook, dominated discussion at Monday night's regular meeting of the Clay County Quorum Court. During the gathering at the courthouse in Piggott, the justices approved an ordinance amending the 2019 county budget and another which tweaks the recently-approved personal policy ordinance. Projected budget shortfalls were also reviewed with members of the finance committee, and the court heard from an employee of the sheriff's department on the new policies concerning paid time off and sick days.

With only justice Mike Hill 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 to be considered.

Ordinance 2019-04

An ordinance to amend the 2019 budget was introduced, with the court waiving the requirement it be read on three separate occasions, and was approved on a vote of 7-0. The accompanying emergency clause was also adopted, allowing the measure to go into affect following publication.

The measure adjusts the budgets by transferring $9,000 from jail maintenance to county general, and disperses the funds accordingly. The complete ordinance may be found elsewhere in this edition.

Ordinance 2019-05

The justices then turned their attention to an ordinance which served to make a change to the personal policy measure approved at the February meeting. It changed Section 1, amending Section B concerning paid holidays. Under employee classifications it was changed to reflect holiday leave, noting “The County will be closed and all full time County employees will be granted paid leave to observe the fourteen regularly scheduled holidays listed.”

The measure adjusted the original measure, which did not specify that employees be full time to gain the holiday benefits.

This ordinance was also introduced, with the justices waiving the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, and was approved on a voice vote 7-0. The JPs also approved the accompanying emergency clause.

Afterward, the court members discussed county finances and reviewed several expenditures. Much of the discussion centered on spending by the sheriff's department, although Sheriff Terry Miller was unable to be in attendance—leaving several questions unanswered.

Justice Duane Blanchard, of Corning, is also a member of the finance committee and offered several observations concerning finances. He questioned a proposal by the City of Corning to allow the sheriff's department to take over dispatching for the Corning Police Department, voicing concern for the costs associated.

“There would need to be a contract, and we'd need to know who is responsible for the cost of extra equipment and phones and such,” he offered. “If we're going to be picking up the load we need to be able to generate some income from it, we can't just break-even.”

Noting he understands the financial issues with the City of Corning, Blanchard inquired about the current agreements with Piggott and Rector.

Justice Jeff Douglas, of Rector, is also a member of the Rector PD and he reported their department dispatches locally after the 911 call is routed through the detention center. It was also noted the Piggott PD is dispatched from the detention center as well, based on agreement between the county and the city signed following completion of the jail project. Under the agreement, the city provides part of the detention center utilities and pays for a portion of a dispatcher's pay.

“We need to know if we're going to need more dispatchers, and we need some room,” Blanchard added. “We can't afford to lose anything, we need some type of a plan.”

He also inquired about the cost of cell phones for the sheriff's department, which equates to about $1,000 a year for each of the 12 phones.

The justices also heard from dispatcher Natasha Mauldin concerning the new policy for sick time and paid time off. The issue was also the subject of a heated discussion at the February meeting, as members of the sheriff's department were displeased with the prospects of losing accrued time.

Mauldin indicated she had missed work recently due to a bout of laryngitis, and inquired why she was forced to use vacation time as opposed to sick days. She was informed the new policy required employees to use all their paid time off first, before utilizing sick days.

When asked if there could be an exception to the rule, Judge Patterson noted any changes afforded her would have to be offered to all employees.

Blanchard noted the new system seems unfair, but protects the county in the event of an employee leaving with a large number of sick days to their credit. He also noted his employer, First National Bank, had the same policy in place for its employees.

Mauldin responded that she felt it was unfair to require employees to use their vacation time while they have sick time to their credit, noting it was going to make it difficult to enjoy a family vacation as a result.

Late in the meeting, Patterson updated the court on several issues. He noted the recent audit had found four minor infractions within his office, and that the matters had been addressed. He also reported on meetings in Little Rock concerning recent discussion on the Clay County Housing Department, noting the local office will see some changes.

Justice David Cagle reported on some of his research into the matter, and indicated the county would need to “start from scratch” and set up an oversight committee and system.

“We'd also like the public to know that Clay County has about $120,000 available through HUD and we're not using it,” Patterson added. “If you have a rental property, or know someone who does, or if you know someone who qualifies, have them contact the Clay County Housing Department. If we don't use that money we lose it.”

The matter of maintenance and upkeep on vehicles, primarily those of the sheriff's department, were also reviewed with Blanchard offering, “it seems they need a mechanic.”

The possibility of using manpower at the county road department for such efforts was briefly discussed, with Patterson noting the employees who take care of such matters are also responsible for other jobs as well.

“We've got some good guys at both the Corning and Piggott shops, they do a good job and help us pinch pennies,” he concluded with the agreement of the other court members.

Blanchard also inquired about the GPS systems on the sheriff's department vehicles, and how they might be utilized to determine where deputies are spending their time—especially during the overnight hours. “I am a firm believer in supporting our police, fire and ambulance personnel, but we have to manage as best we can,” he offered.

Cagle also indicated the costs of housing females at Greene County are running at about twice the amount budgeted by the court. “Last month the bill was $9,700 and we've only got about half that in the budget,” he noted.

When asked why the county is being charged to house inmates who have been sentenced to prison, county prosecutor Mike Trial indicated issues with paperwork are the leading cause. He noted that any incorrect information meant the prisoner could not be transported, and changes often had to be approved by the sitting judge.

He also indicated the court system was already seeking to identify those who would likely receive probation, and not be sentenced to prison, in an effort to cut the prisoner numbers.

“I can tell you, the ones that are in jail are the ones we feel need to be there,” Trail offered. “You sure don't want to let someone out so they can commit another crime. Some of them have been charged with four, five or six felonies.”

“Each elected official has a budget, and that's all there is to it,” Blanchard surmised. “We approve their budgets, but they're expected to make them work. If he (Sheriff Terry Miller) is out of money it will be his job to figure out where he needs to make cuts and such.”

“We don't have much room, we've already cut it to the bone,” Cagle added of the budget. “In fact, we still need to find a little more.”

Justices in attendance included Cagle, Blanchard, Douglas, Dennis Haines, Jody Henderson, Richie Culver and David Hatcher.

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