By the end of the evening, the Justices were still not on one accord but in a nine-party vote, the ordinance passed with Justice Tina Butler undecided and one nay from Justice Coley Byrd.

One by one county workers, residents and affiliates addressed the Quorum Court during public comments Monday evening at the 5:30 Quorum Court meeting on why the P3 group ordinance should not be approved or approved.

By the end of the evening, the Justices were still not on one accord but in a nine-party vote, the ordinance passed with Justice Tina Butler undecided and one nay from Justice Coley Byrd.

The ordinance would bind the county in a $14 million dollar lease agreement allowing the P3 group to move forward with the project of a new Health Department, Veteran’s Service Office and Coroner’s Office for Jefferson County.

With the cost being the main factor, some didn’t want to be indebted, stating the county should consider other options.

Jefferson County resident, Jack Foster, asked how the county knew that price would be the best one with no other competition bids

Lloyd Franklin didn’t feel comfortable with the budget projection.

“Everything looks attractive on the front end,” he said adding the projected numbers were before COVID-19. “What’s the adjusted projections because we don’t even have a cure for corona yet.”

His concern was high interest rates and the chance of defaulting on a loan the county couldn’t afford to pay, resulting in layoffs.

“Your spending money that you don’t have on a 30 year loan,” he added.

Byrd was also concerned about the cost wanting an amendment added to the ordinance to suffer no penalties if payments were tripled for an early payoff.

Already amended for the county to pay an additional $1 million once payment began, Byrd wanted to increase that amount with no penalty to pay down the principal.

The issue of the monetary figure began to overshadow the need for the buildings until county workers gave testaments to the toxic working environment and the catastrophic conditions of each building.

Jacqueline Reeves, a Disease Intervention Specialist at the Health Department, said the conditions are so bad and every employee has suffered an upper respiratory infection due to the mold.

The unsightly conditions steer away patients who come to the clinic and don’t come back.

“They tell me I’m getting treated for a disease when it looks like I will catch something coming in,” she said.

As visible mold plaques throughout the building, Angela Parker, the Health Unit administrator, said the conditions have been like that for years.

According to Parker, the air has been out since Monday and no one except County Judge Gerald Robinson and Justice of the Peace Brenda Gaddy have taken the time to walk through the building.

“I saw this first hand and it made me sick to my stomach,” said Gaddy. “I didn’t know at first.”

Gaddy said she wouldn’t want her puppy in that building describing the mold and bugs that she witnessed while inside.

“It was so bad I had to go in prayer,” said Gaddy. “I wouldn’t want to work there.”

Beatrice Goodloe with the Jefferson County Veteran’s Office described her building as no better with no air conditioning, water and a bathroom to provide for veterans who come in for services.

Veteran Otis Goodloe explained while veterans are waiting for the bus to go to the VA Hospital in Little Rock, they have to stand out in the weather and there is not a bathroom. Some have even soiled on themselves.

With Jefferson County’s VA Office serving as the hub for healthcare and benefits for surrounding counties, some of the JPs felt not having the basic essentials was a disservice to those who sacrificed their lives to fight for our country.

County coroner Chad Kelly said he has worked for the coroner’s office for 21 years and each day he goes in to work he asks himself is this the day the roof is going to cave in.

Stating multiple roof repairs have been done on the building to no avail, the building is a liability and a safety hazard—a disaster waiting to happen.

Local funeral director, Chuck Fuller, agreed adding the building is old and dated with the same equipment from decades ago.

“We are removing bodies from those same coolers,” said Fuller. “We are seeing an increase in people abandoning bodies, not claiming loved ones. We need refrigeration space.”

Supporters for the project showed up to the meeting in numbers.

Carlton Saffa, the project manager for the Saracen Casino, stated clearly the casino was in full support.

Robinson added the casino, Simmons Bank and other sources have made pledges in support of these projects.

Representative Vivian Flowers gave her strongest support in the effort stating the county “can’t afford not to invest.”

Brian Jackson of JRMC was in full support of the Health Department and the benefits of the building being housed on the hospital’s campus.

After a full house of public discussion that lasted well over an hour, the JPs continued with further comment amongst themselves.

“After considering this issue I just can’t believe banks and casinos would back this,” said Justice Reginald Adams, who researched in detail the proposal pleading for the Justices to get on one accord. “It’s a greater need for the people.”

Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger, who is currently in ICU recovering from pneumonia and COVID-19 called Robinson earlier that day to give his support of the ordinance. Justice of the Peace Alfred Carroll suffered from a severe stroke and is hospitalized.