Quorum Court Reviews Finances, Updated on Jail Issues
Throughout the early months of 2019, financial issues continue to dominate the regular meetings of the Clay County Quorum Court—and Monday night's meeting at Corning was no exception. With six of the eight JPs in attendance, an ordinance was approved to “cleanup” the 2018 budget, in what has become an annual ritual. Later, Judge Mike Patterson and Sheriff Terry Miller reported on recent meetings they've attended in other counties, as many others in the region also wrestle with the rising costs of operating and maintaining detention centers.
After calling the meeting to order, and dispensing with the consent agenda items, the justices turned their attention to Ordinance 2019-06, which was drafted to amend the 2018 budgets for cleanup. This adjusts end-of-year totals, and moves funds as needed.
Waiving the stipulation it be read on three separate occasions, the ordinance was approved on a roll call vote of 6-0 along with the accompanying emergency clause. The complete ordinance may be found elsewhere in this edition.
Later in the meeting Miller and Patterson updated the justices concerning the ongoing issues at the Clay County Detention Center, and one plan which could be used to address them. Miller noted they had attended a number of meetings concerning similar issues in other counties, and possible remedies.
“The jail is our biggest problem, it's mainly the building,” Miller explained. “Jail standards have changed a lot since it was built, there are a lot more regulations on space and which prisoners can be housed together and such.”
Patterson noted Cross County, Sharp County and Faulkner County are all facing similar situations. On the other hand, Lawrence County has constructed a new 100-bed detention center.
“It was bid at around eight million dollars, but the project came in at just over six,” Miller explained of the costs of such a facility.
Miller indicated the state had found a number of issues during their most recent inspection, including deficiencies in space, problems with HVAC and being able to classify prisoners based on their charges.
“I just don't see any way that we can do what they want with what we have,” Miller offered.
He noted many of the counties they had visited sought sales tax increases to fund new facilities, and pay for their continued maintenance and upkeep.
“We visited Forest City and they have formed a commission to find solutions, and that's probably what we need to do here,” he added.
He also indicated the inspectors would be returning in the coming weeks, and hoped to be able to offer them a plan for improvements.
“We're already at 10 percent, I just don't see how we can ask for an additional sales tax,” Justice David Cagle offered. “”We need to try to address some of the issues we can, like the lights and HVAC, but I just can't see us asking for an additional sales tax.”
“That's why a lot of these counties are using a citizen's commission,” Miller added. “It's different when it's suggested by a citizen's commission and not the quorum court. We're not going to lose anything for trying.”
Judge Patterson observed that there are no grant funds for jails, but agreed a plan needed to be formulated for the future. He also suggested a tour of the detention center by members of the court, which will likely take place in conjunction with the regular May meeting.
During his update to the court, Patterson reported the Clay County Housing Department had advertised in the two county newspapers in the past month, with good success. “Thanks to the ads in the paper, we've added four or five new sign-ups, and there are several more interested,” he explained. “That's good, we don't need to let that money go to waste.”
Patterson also reported the bridge project on the Knob Road was postponed due to the recent wet weather, but will be getting underway soon. He indicated the $92,000 price tag is being shared with the state, with the county providing labor. He also reported on the dumping of over two dozen old tires along a ditch west of Highway 49, north of Hargrave Corner.
“I'm going to check with the county attorney and see if we can offer a reward, this has to stop,” he observed. “If we can find out who is dumping stuff around the county we're going to fine them as much as we can.”
He also reported on other dumping, including a chest type freezer full of rotting food found in a ditch.
“We need to be out digging ditches and fixing roads, not cleaning up stuff like that, it makes me mad and I'd love to catch them and prosecute them,” he said of the situation.
Patterson also reported the economy at Corning is getting a bit of a shot in the arm, as Dollar General has announced they'll build a new store in the city.
In other business, Tricia Johnson, of Corning, was chosen to serve a term on the Clay County Library Board.
Justices on hand for the meeting included Dennis Haines, David Cagle, Jody Henderson, Richie Culver, Duane Blanchard and David Hatcher. Justices Jeff Douglas and Mike Hill were absent from the gathering.