Hempstead County Quorum Court passes ordinances for jail repair, resolution to apply for grants, hears from 4-H State-o-rama winners
The Hempstead County Quorum Court met Thursday late afternoon for its regular August meeting to decide several items of new business, including the question of funding sewer line repairs at the County Jail and whether to apply for an Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association grant. It also heard from two 4-H Club students about their winning project. 

Video of the meeting can be accessed here.

Justice of the Peace Ed Darling presided over the meeting because of a rare absence of County Judge Jerry Crane. This was also the first meeting in which Scott Gunter attended. He was appointed by Governor Sanders to the District 5 seat in the stead of Robert Whitlock, who moved out of the county. 

The first item acted on was an ordinance to accept a $100,000 grant, which includes allocations from fiscal year 2022 and 2023 from the U.S. Treasury’s Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund. It will be placed in the county’s budgetary category for asphalt. The court voted unanimously to accept the grant by roll call voice vote. 

Next, the court voted unanimously in favor by roll call voice vote of a resolution to apply for an Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association grant. Darling said the county was allowed to apply for the grant every other year and 2023 was the county’s year to apply.  Just before the unanimous voice vote, it was announced that the grant, if won, would be used only for updating equipment and the electronic scanning of records. 

After that, an appropriation ordinance was read which transfers $50,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act fund to the county’s jail fund to make repairs to the county jail’s sewer line.  

Darling said, “I’ll try to sum up two hours of watching videotape in two or three minutes. Essentially, we have a major plumbing problem in the jail. Over time, our main ten-inch storm drain has become disconnected beneath the jail, and our four-inch line that leads to that has sunk in a couple of places where it’s not draining properly. The six-inch line that serves the back part of the jail where the inmates are housed is pretty well gone.” 

A crew did clean out the main line at a cost of $10,000. But the greatest part of the work will have to wait until personnel are available early next year. It would involve replacing the main line.  While the work goes on, inmates will have to be moved to other regional facilities at a cost of $4,500 a day. A firm estimate on the cost of the entire project is not yet available, but a general estimate would be from $130,000 to $260,000. But the ordinance requested Thursday asks for $50,000 to complete a short-term fix. 

Discussion followed. Justice of the Peace Steve Atchley said, “We might have to look at—down the road—at having to replace the whole facility.  I’m talking about some kind of means of getting grants or bond issues. It being 30 years old, it’s about reached its limit.” 

Sheriff James Singleton said a jail inspector had told him that the 30-year-old building “has pretty well served its life.” 

JP Cherry Stewart asked if new jails had measures to prevent materials flushed by inmates from damaging the plumbing. Sheriff Singleton mentioned a machine called a Monster Mash that crushes these materials before they go through the pipes. Justice of the Peace Griffin said he had heard, however, that jails equipped with this machine had trouble maintaining them. 

Stewart also brought up the possibility of combining with other nearby counties to build a regional jail, but the other justices and Sheriff Singleton went through the list of nearby counties, finding that most had recently built new jails. 

The vote was taken on the ordinance and an expenditure of $50,000 from ARPA funds was unanimously approved by roll call voice vote. Next month’s meeting will likely feature a discussion on an ordinance to finance longer-term repairs, which will be informed by a more precise estimate of costs. 

At this point, Darling introduced new JP Scott Gunter. 

Then Terrie James, Staff Chair at University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Research and Extension, Hempstead County, introduced senior 4-H members Mary Martinez and Madison Comer who, with teammate Madelyn Townsend, entered their interior design for a coffee shop into the state 4-H-o-rama in Fayetteville recently, winning first place in their category. Martinez and Comer showed the JPs their model for the coffee shop’s interior, which had to work within a limited space at a cost of less than $5,000. The court was very complimentary of James, Betty Wingfield, the county 4-H director, and the students. 

James then explained a new program to be put on “in the next several months” meant to help those just released from jail or prison to readjust to live on the outside. Based on programs conducted on the east coast, the county extension service will be setting up a re-entry simulation. “You have different stations. You assume a character and you have to go through the actual game activity. It can go from 23 individuals to all the way to 120,” James said. 

She said she had gotten commitments from First Baptist Church staff and hoped to have participation from the district prosecutor’s office, elected officials and other entities. “It has only been done a couple times in the state,” she said. 

Circuit Clerk Karen Smith pointed out that the next meeting as scheduled Thursday, September 28th would take place on the evening the Livestock Show and Fair will also be going on.  The court opted not to change the meeting date but to have a shorter meeting. 

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