Budget Concerns Dominate Quorum Court Discussion

County finances were the main focus of discussion during Thursday night’s Hempstead County Quorum Court meeting, though the court did address a couple of other items, including an ordinance to appropriate more than $40,000 from a grant for the Circuit Clerk’s Office to aid in scanning records into the AAC Auto Records System.

AAC Auto Records System Grant

Hempstead County Circuit Clerk Gail Wolfenbarger and her staff have been working to get Hempstead County Court records online. The office applied and was awarded AAC Auto Records System Grant in the amount of $43,065.21.

Ordinance 2019-16 sponsored by J.P. Ed Darling was brought to the Hempstead County Quorum Court to be considered. The ordinance appropriates the money for the Circuit Clerk’s Office budget to hire contract labor to scan records for the county for 2019.

The ordinance was read and passed unanimously by all attending Quorum Court members.

County Budget and Tax Revenue

With the upcoming budget for 2020, the court took action to form a budget committee to start hammering out the financial details. Judge Jerry Crane appointed J.P.’s Ed Darling, Cherry Stewart and Olen Dorman to the committee.

During discussions, Ed Darling brought up the impact the county has felt, and will continue to feel going forward, as a result of sales tax rebates implemented by the state legislature which cut around $900,000 from anticipated tax revenue in the last year. This is an issue, Darling said, that isn’t exclusive to Hempstead County but is affecting counties all over the state.

The issue, apparently, is that large construction projects tend to pay their sales taxes up front and then file for the reimbursements provided for through state incentives. The state isn’t providing the counties with information either, according to Darling, about what projects and what companies the reimbursements are going to either. According to Darling, the records of the state Department of Finance and Administration are sealed but they do know it has something to do with electrical construction projects. Treasurer Judy Flowers said that they believe it is the Turk plant in McNabb because the only other possibility would be Hope Water & Light and they were ruled out because the City of Hope isn’t showing the same numbers.

Several J.P.’s expressed consternation at the issue and how it is being handled at the state level. Several J.P.’s expressed the opinion that what the state did to help spur investment and growth by companies has had a negative impact on county governments. Tax revenues that were usually paid in to the counties each month are being held back according to Darling who said the county gets those payments quarterly now, and often late. Treasurer Judy Flowers said much of the money that is supposed to come to the county is very late and is tied up in investments that Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan has reportedly bragged about.

Sylvia Brown, a county resident in attendance, asked about contacting our State Representative and Senators and inquired whether the Arkansas Association of Counties could act as an advocate. Ed Darling said that they have talked to both Representative Watson and Senator Teague about the issue and were essentially told that this is just the way it is.

Judge Jerry Crane said that although the county has been negatively impacted, Hempstead County is in a better situation than many counties in Arkansas. Judge Crane said that the county was able to fall back on the funds that the county has held for decades from the sell of the county hospital. $1,000,000 was invested, and the county has spent interest off of it over the years, but recent financial issues have caused the county to take more than $200,000 from the bank funds, which Judge Crane said is now at around $750,000. While the funds have helped keep the county’s head above water, Judge Crane said that they want to avoid relying on it as anything more than a stopgap in order to avoid depleting the account.

Ed Darling said that the county will have to be more mindful of how the reimbursements are impacting anticipated revenue and budget accordingly. The Budget Committee will be meeting at the new courthouse on Halloween night to begin the long process of preparing next year’s budget.

Maleah Davis Dedication

Sheriff James Singleton notified the Quorum Court that a ceremony to dedicate and rename Red Lake Bridge in Fulton as the “Maleah Davis Memorial Bridge” will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 9. Sheriff Singleton said they have reached out to some of the relatives of the murdered 4-year-old who went missing from Houston, TX on May 31 of this year and was located four weeks later in the ditch on the Exit 18 onramp of I-30. The Sheriff said that there will also be representatives of the City of Houston in attendance.

Weather Warning

A question was raised during the meeting about the status of weather warning sirens out in the county. According to Judge Crane, there are several that do not work and there isn’t any money to get them working currently. The county adopted the Code Red system which will notify residents via text or phone call, even on a landline, of any emergency weather conditions.

If you would like to sign up for Code RED, click the link https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/BFB49E575B77 .

Railroad Crossing Highway 195 in Fulton

A Fulton resident expressed concern over a lack of any sort of signs, lights or gates for a railroad crossing on 195 in Fulton. He said that it is a concern for many in his congregation who travel through the area regularly. The pastor also expressed concern because the rail traffic isn’t frequent, and many are used to it being clear and even thought the track wasn’t in use. Judge Crane said that they would look into the issue and try to get it taken care of.  Judge Crane said that too many people have died in collisions with trains in Hempstead County and he doesn’t want the cost of having something done to be more lives.

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