Nevada County Quorum Court agrees to settle dispute with Riggs; starts process to continue collecting sales tax
The Nevada County Quorum Court Tuesday voted to accept a negotiated settlement of a dispute with J.A. Riggs Tractor Company over a bill for a burned up Caterpillar road grader. The grader’s motor had caught on fire in December of last year after being used near the Pike County line.  It also voted to start the process toward continuing to collect a ¾ cent sales tax set to expire in April. 

The meeting can be seen in its entirety below this story once the video is processed by Youtube.

Due to the transition of the county from one insurance company to another, the grader was not insured at the time it was damaged. J.A. Riggs told the county the repairs could not be covered under a warranty since they fell under an exclusionary clause for damage from fire. The county was not able to have an independent expert determine whether the grader’s damage was indeed caused by the equipment itself or the way it was used. 

At a called meeting April 12th, the court discussed a letter it had received from an attorney acting on behalf of Riggs that requested the payment of a balance of $237,621 for the grader, which the county had leased from Riggs. The letter closed by saying the county could face legal action of the payment was not made by April 19th. 

Acting as the county attorney, District Prosecutor Ben Hale appeared at the April 12th meeting to make sure the court understood its options fully. He pointed to irregularities in the way Riggs referred the county to Arvest bank for financing and then bought the note from the bank. He also referred to Riggs refusing to fix the grader, citing an exclusion in the warranty that might not apply if the fire in the grader happened during ordinary use. At the end of the April 12th meeting, the court voted to put aside $5,000 for a legal fund and Judge Mike Otwell appointed a committee to approach Riggs representatives for negotiations. 

In Tuesday night’s meeting, Justice of the Peace Herbert Coleman speaking on behalf of the committee reported that it had come to an agreement, pending the approval of the full quorum court, that reduced the amount the county owed to $180,000, which could be paid over a five-year period with no interest being charged. Since the county has already made a $5,000 payment, that would put the balance owed to Riggs at $175,000 as of now. The payments would come to about $2,900 a month starting June 1st. 

The payments would be regarded as necessary toward bringing the grader up to the usable condition it needed to be in to be turned in after the expiration of the county’s lease of the grader. The county will not receive the grader after the payment is made in full. 

Hale responded after Coleman’s report that he had been told Riggs had also agreed to repair another grader leased by the county that was not usable because of hydraulic system problems, “which changes my tenor toward Riggs.”  Hale said he understood the court had to make tough decisions. He cautioned that if the court did opt to sue Riggs, an unfavorable judgement could result in the county being responsible for paying the full $237, 621 plus court costs, the cost of its legal representation and interest calculated from the date of the grader’s loss. Still, Hale said, “I feel very strongly the warranty should have covered it.” 

JP Willie Wilson asked if the warranty issue would have been the central reason for taking the case to court. Hale said yes but also acknowledged a reasonable person would have asked why the county didn’t have the grader insured at the time it was damaged. 

JP Eric Jackson asked who was currently holding the grader. County Treasurer Ricky Reyenga said, “They've already repaired the machine and sold it to someone else. So the machine is not there.” 

Hale said the success of a possible lawsuit could also hinge on the fact that when the county’s insurance company changed over from Arkansas Public Entities Risk Management Association (APERMA) to the Arkansas Association of Counties Risk Management Fund, there were multiple chances for county personnel to see whether the grader was on the list of equipment to be insured.  JP Dennis Pruitt said that in the future at least three county offices should get the chance to see the paperwork with the list of insured equipment prior to its approval. 

JP Coleman said, “Any reasonable person who would look at the situation would say we should have had insurance on the grader … I really wouldn’t be for the county to get into a long, costly court case, lose and pay double and the interest from day one plus eternity. We should cut bait, pay the $180,000 and get out of this situation.” 

JP Wilson made the motion for the court to agree to the negotiated arrangement to pay Riggs $175,000 over five years of no interest at $2,900.67 per month starting June 1st. At Hale’s recommendation, the county will solicit a written settlement agreement from Riggs that will include language in which Riggs agrees not to press any other financial claims on the county.  The court will pass an ordinance at a future meeting to make the arrangement official. 

After the unanimous vote in favor of the settlement by the court, JP Wilson asked, “We do have insurance now?” Judge Otwell said, “Every year you’ll be presented proof of insurance.” 

Court begins process to write ballot measure to continue collecting ¾ cent sales tax 

Under new business, Judge Otwell said that the county jail will be paid for by April of next year, meaning that ¾ of a one-cent sales tax passed to pay the bond issue for the financing of the jail would be expiring. He asked the court to think about whether it wanted to continue collecting the ¾ cent tax. If so, it needed to act immediately to hire a law firm, Friday, Eldridge and Clark of Little Rock, to draw up language to appear on the November ballot so that voters in Nevada County can choose whether to approve its continuation. 

The amounts collected would be placed in the county’s general fund, Judge Otwell said, “for the work that needs to be done to the jail or the landfills and the courthouse here in the future.” 

Hale said it was a project he could do but he felt that Friday, Eldridge and Clark’s services were “very affordable.”  Otwell said the Little Rock firm’s language would be reviewed by Hale and then presented at the June Quorum Court meeting. 

JP Wilson asked Treasurer Reyenga, “If this passes, will it sustain the jail without us depending on bringing in inmates from other places?”  Judge Otwell said the jail would continue to do that, but the ¼ cent would continue to be collected for the upkeep of the jail. 

Judge Otwell said, “Over 70 percent our taxes is paid out there on our interstates.” 

JP Coleman said, “Given the financial situation of the county, I don’t see how we can afford not to keep that ¾ cent. If these keep popping up, we don’t have an emergency fund.” 

JP Wilson made the motion to hire Friday, Eldridge and Clark to produce language for a ballot measure to continue the ¾ cent sales tax and for the funds to go to the county’s general budget. The motion carried unanimously. 

JP Pruitt asked after the vote whether the issue of eliminating exemptions for trash pickup would be addressed now, citing meeting discussions that had not come to a decision. JP Coleman said the committee appointed to discuss the issue had not yet met. JP Grimes asked whether the passage of the tax would allow the county to sort out the matter. Treasurer Reyenga said that more would be known about this later. 

In other business, Judge Otwell reported receiving a quote back in October for $12,844.19 to repair air conditioning at the County Health Unit. Treasurer Reyenga said this was already approved by the court to be covered by American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds but the project had only been completed recently. On hearing that Yates Heating and Air was the company doing the work, JP Wilson said it was good the money would be staying local. 

The court also passed a resolution listing the purchases made from the ARPA funds. This is required every year under the terms of the act, but the quorum court did not pass it the last two years, though the purchases are recorded in meeting minutes. County Clerk Tammie Rose said it could do so now. 

The resolution Rose read included a list of the purchases made from the ARPA funds in 2023 and so far in 2024. “A 1999 Mack dump truck, a knuckle boom [crane], a skid steer, a mini track hoe, a lowboy trailer, a semi- truck tractor. a D6 dozer, a 2004 Mack dump truck, two storage boxes, courtroom remodeled to include removal of old and everything new, all courthouse offices computer upgrade, each local fire department $3,000 each.” The cost, noted the resolution, amounts to $1,176,683.38. The resolution passed unanimously. 

Rose noted that another resolution would have to account for the purchasing of new AC units for the health department and would be presented later. 

Earlier in the meeting reports were presented. Jamie Hillery of the Prescott-Nevada Chamber of Commerce submitted monthly reports and calendars of events to each JP.  She said a ribbon-cutting was held for Askew Arms. 

She also reported on the annual meeting for the Nevada County Farmer’s Market.  “As of right now we have 15 farmers registered for this year, which is a really good number. And our grand opening date is going to be on June 7th. So I'm hoping we have a wonderful farmers market this year and can offer some fresh produce for our community,” Hillery said.  The market usually starts at 7:00 a.m. on 1107 West First Street in Prescott across from Family Dollar. Hillery advised customers to get there early. 

JP Willie Wilson asked about the Spring Fling, an event being given at the Prescott Fairgrounds May 18th by the United Methodist Church and the Prescott-Nevada County Health Coalition. He also thanked Hillery for attending the recent Breakfast of Champions for juniors and seniors with 3.8 grade point averages at Prescott High and also the scholarship award presentations. 

A crawfish boil was also announced, to take place May 24th at the Prescott Park Pavilion starting at 4:00 p.m.  The deadline for the buying of tickets is this Friday, May 17th. 

Nevada County Extension Office Staff Chair Stacey Stone apprised the court that Katelyn Kirkham, County Extension Agent - Family and Consumer Science, on Tuesday had taught elementary students at Nevada School District the Farm to Fork program and would be coming to Prescott Elementary to do the same. He also mentioned the field trip taken by Nevada sixth graders to see government offices last week.  The Nevada County Livestock Judging team’s third-place finish in state competition entitles it to a trip to Kansas City to represent Arkansas in national competition. 

A citizen told the court that the condition of roads in his neighborhood is such that residents there are missing work. Judge Otwell replied that several days of dry weather would be necessary before the roads could be addressed. 

Treasurer Reyenga said that due to the requirement that the ordinance be passed prior to the May primary of the general election year it would appear on ballot, the ballot measure to consolidate the offices of Collector and Treasurer would not be on the 2024 general election ballot. He said Ben Hale had spoken with State Senator Steve Crowell to see about having the offices consolidated by the Arkansas Legislature so it can be done prior to the 2026 election.  Reyenga said Crowell would likely be reaching out to each Justice of the Peace soon. 

A citizen asked Judge Otwell about the placement of a Slow: Children at Play sign in his neighborhood. Otwell responded that a sign had been placed there but had not been sufficiently anchored in the ground and was therefore stolen. But he had several signs on order. 

At this point JP Wilson moved for adjournment about an hour and five minutes after the meeting had begun.