An appropriation ordinance that would transfer a total of $147,800 that had been allocated for salaries and benefits for jailers was approved by the Quorum Court Monday, but not before some debate.
The money will be used to replace funds used earlier this year to help make the payment on the loan to finish paying off construction of the new Sheriff’s Office adjacent to the jail.
Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger asked why take the money, which included $120,000 in salaries, when the Sheriff’s Office will come back to the Quorum Court for additional funds when they run out in September.
County Judge Gerald Robinson said that due to the dire financial situation of the county, transfers like the one that the justices of the peace were being asked to approve had become necessary.
“We don’t want to do it this way, but we have to piece it together,” Robinson said.
Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, who is chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said that when the 2020 budget process begins, there is a possibility that some slots (positions) will be funded only at a small level because they have been difficult to fill, thereby saving money for other needs.
Justice of the Peace Roy Agee, who works for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said that the jail slots are mandatory because state law requires that a guard be on duty for a certain number of beds. The more beds that are filled, the more guards are necessary, he said.
Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. said that it takes $4 million annually to run the jail, and during the 2019 budget process, the Quorum Court cut the jail budget by $500,000, and then took additional funds to make the loan payment for the Sheriff’s Office.
In other business, at the request of Stuart Soffer, secretary for the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners, the Quorum Court adopted a verbal resolution saying that Jefferson County wants to remain a county that uses electronic voting machines instead of using paper ballots.
The verbal resolution was adopted without accompanying paperwork, causing Justice of the Peace Alfred Carroll to say he wasn’t “sure I want to go on record doing business by voice resolutions,” to which Robinson replied that the resolution would be in the official minutes of the meeting and would be signed by him. The vote was 12-1, with only Carroll voting no.
Also Monday, an ordinance imposing a hiring freeze in county office through the end of the year was approved without dissent. The freeze will apply to all vacant positions except the chief administrators of the circuit and district courts, commissioned law enforcement offices in the Sheriff’s Office, custodial and correctional officers at the adult and juvenile detention centers, juvenile intake probation and correction officers, any position funded entirely by one or more grants and temporary positions within the elections division (poll workers).
The ordinance also provides that the Quorum Court may make an exception to the freeze if the position is determined to be necessary to satisfy a legal mandate, to perform a critical health or safety function, for efficient and cost-saving operations, or is substantially funded by a federal or state grant or other dedicated revenue source and is necessary to carry out a county obligation under a related grant or contract.
The county’s legislative body also approved a resolution sponsored by Hardin that calls for the national motto of the United States “In God We Trust” to be displayed on a plaque or similar wall hanging in the Quorum Courtroom.