By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Money matters dominated the Thursday meeting of the Hempstead County Quorum Court as the Justices heard about an audit, a local mayor’s plan for trash collection, and agreed to purchase two road graders, all the while emphasizing that just days ago, on Monday, they had to transfer $200,000 in funds to meet the county’s payroll.
The most contentious and intense dialogue Thursday was when McCaskill Mayor Marion Hoosier took the podium and announced his desire for the town of McCaskill to collect its own trash, thus netting $7,000 in funds for his town’s treasury.
Hoosier’s idea was to get a return on McCaskill’s share of the one-cent county sales tax that is dedicated to garbage pickup, which presently goes to Hempstead County.
Hoosier maintained that approximately $12,000 of taxes collected annually should be returned to town of McCaskill, which in turn, would pay Hempstead County an estimated $5,000 to remove garbage from a designated “McCaskill container,” and he said the balance, or $7,000, could go towards needs within the town of McCaskill.
Hoosier said that there were 26 McCaskill residences, and that he — or a contracted surrogate — could perform residential pickup for less money than the county itself, and then have the county simply collect the designated container.
“This is money we’ve always given to the county; this is no different than any city establishing its own solid waste collections,” Hoosier said.
Hoosier’s plan, which he said the town of McCaskill could implement, if allowed, based on an opinion he received from the Arkansas Municipal League, was met with almost immediate pushback from a number of the justices.
Justice Cherry Stewart asked Hoosier what he intended to do with the garbage, and then asked what he expected in revenues.
Both Justice Ed Darling and Justice David Clayton told Hoosier that if he wanted to get in the garbage collection, then he was on his own to transport it to Nashville.
Justice Keith Steed expressed his concerns that if McCaskill did its own collections, then nine other towns in Hempstead County would follow next, and Darling said that if other towns started opting out following McCaskill that the county’s own solid waste program would be placed in jeopardy.
Darling then said the Quorum Court as a political subdivision of the state of Arkansas could seek an Attorney General’s opinion.
Darling also warned that given the expenses involved in solid waste collections that “In the next two or three years, we are going to have to do something.”
Clayton said, “We just dipped into our reserve fund to meet payroll.”
For his part, Hoosier suggested a “90-day trial period” for McCaskill and the county to see if the plan would work.
“There are things we want to do for our residents. We have no retail; we have absolutely no retail sales in McCaskill,” Hoosier said.
Justice James Griffin, one of three Hope justices on the court, said “The City of Hope provides garbage pickup, and I get a bill every month. If you want to get in the garbage business, then you will need to charge your residents.”
Justice Jessie Henry, from another smaller town in Fulton, said “These small towns here are hurting and need help.”
During the discussion about the county sales tax, County Clerk Karen Smith told Hoosier that she believed most of McCaskill’s residents probably shopped in Nashville, located in neighboring Howard County, and didn’t pay the tax. Nashville is only 13 miles west of McCaskill, while Hope is 22 miles to the south.
During the exchanges with Hoosier, a question was asked about county taxes in general, and taxes going to the University of Arkansas at Hope and Hempstead Hall, in particular.
Griffin said that quarter-cent tax for UAHT was a legacy tax, which was passed as the then-community college was seeking membership in the University of Arkansas system.
The original tax for Hempstead Hall was one-cent, with three-quarters going towards construction, and one-quarter cent remaining for maintenance.
County Judge Jerry Crane, who told the court that he had previous discussion with Hoosier on the issue, suggested the issue be tabled. No formal action was taken, and after he departed the podium, Hoosier also departed the premises, leaving the rest of the meeting.
Crane, himself, then stood up and took the podium, and he described a number of problems the county had now three months into his term.
“We’ve had rain, and we’ve had equipment issues. Not a lot has been done. It is going to take time, and I thank everyone for being patient. Things are not good at the shop, and nearly every piece of road equipment needs repaired,” Crane said.
Crane also described a situation where he said local vendors are refusing to do business with the county because the county owes them money, and he also said the county owes over $200,000 to a vendor for work on a road in Spring Hill, which is already “tearing up,” he said.
“If we can’t pay our bills now, then how are we going to pay them when we get to the new courthouse,” Crane said at one point.
Crane said unity in both county government, and the county at large, was needed.
“County residents deserve better than this,” he said as he noted that four county bridges were in disrepair and several culverts were out.
However, against that backdrop, Darling did say the county road fund was in good shape with $4.9 million as a request was made by the county road department for two John Deere graders, and the justices approved a motion to purchase the two graders from the road fund. Crane said the road department had several other equipment needs, and he would return to the court with more requests.
At the start of the meeting, Smith briefly discussed an audit performed on the county’s federal grant funds. She said that because Hempstead County received a certain amount of federal money, that it was subject to an audit every year. The justices approved the audit, but no other public information regarding it was disclosed during the meeting.
The complete meeting, running at 1:18, can be seen elsewhere on SWARK Today at link: