Phillips County's quorum court held its first meeting of the year Tuesday evening. The agenda for the meeting included Treasurer Becky Gattas' report, a discussion of an ordinance to amend the personnel policy on health insurance, a presentation by Justice of the Peace Theotrice Mitchell, and a lengthy presentation by David Marsh on the location of a proposed new jail.
Phillips County's quorum court held its first meeting of the year Tuesday evening. The agenda for the meeting included Treasurer Becky Gattas' report, a discussion of an ordinance to amend the personnel policy on health insurance, a presentation by Justice of the Peace Theotrice Mitchell, and a lengthy presentation by David Marsh on the location of a proposed new jail. Gattas opened the meeting with her report. She began her report by noting that the county will have $495,000 in carryover funds, but she noted that overall incoming revenue is down. She said that, "With the closing of our jail, we lost almost $70,000... which includes prisoner housing and commissary sales." Gattas continued, "We are close to the same amount in the county general [fund] this year that we had last year." Gattas then said, "I heard that in the December meeting, there was some controversy about my office being audited. In front of me here is every audit that was ever done since 1996, which is the year that I came into office to the last audit that was done in December 2011. In fact, in the August meeting of 2013 you actually voted to accept the audit of 2011." She continued, "compared to last year's revenue, the county is $70 to 80,000 short in revenue; our health insurance has gone up and everything else is going up and you cannot continue to spend more money than you are taking in." Justice of the Peace Teresa Morgan asked, "Are you saying that we have?" To which Gattas replied, "Yes, that is exactly what I am saying... in 2010, according to the legislative audit, the county general's revenue was 3,172,000. We spent 3,353,000, so you spent $220,000 more than you took in. In 2011, (and these aren't my figures, this is the legislative audit), we took in 3,306,000. We spent $3,347,000." Following a discussion on the 2014 budget, Gattas said that, "We should be building our reserves, not reducing our reserves. We started out with $1 million in reserves and now we are down to $152,000 in reserves. We have to have that to create a cash flow during the lean months...and we need to get our jail back open." She relayed that the county will have the old jail paid off in March and that has been costing us about $15,000 a month and that was taken into consideration when I did the revenue projection." The 1-cent sales tax is funding prisoner care at other facilities through the state. The county has paid approximately $526,057.50 from April 30 through Dec 31 for the housing and care of inmates at facilities across the state, including $192,780 to the Arkansas Department of Corrections at Brickeys; $9,390 to the Ashley County jail in Hamburg; $203,410 to the Cross County jail in Wynne; $540 to the Green County jail in Paragould; $230 to the Marianna city jail, $11,075 to the Monroe County jail in Clarendon; $330 to the Poinsett County jail in Harrisburg; $2,166 to the White County jail in Searcy; and $1,155 to the Woodruff County jail in Augusta. After addressing his concerns regarding the housing of inmates across the state and the increasing need to address the jail issue, JP Mitchell noted that "I would like to make a motion that we make a [jail] committee because meeting once a month on this is just not going to work. We need to put this out in front of us where we can hold on to it and see what we can do but we cannot do it just once a month." He continued, "We come in here like we are now and on out the door." County Judge Don Gentry noted, "We need to go ahead and vote on this." Morgan replied "We can't vote on this until we talk to our taxpayers - the only thing we can do is put it on the ballot." Gentry continued, "The only way we can do this is through a 1-cent sales tax. Without that you won't have the money to do it." After some debate and discussion, a jail committee of 5 was created and the JPs voted to pursue a new jail. David Marsh then gave a presentation on a proposed new one-story jail that would be located in the parking lot adjacent to the Phillips County Sheriff's Office. The new 7,000-8,000 square-foot jail would house 50 inmates and parts of the old jail would serve as office space to cut the costs to build a new facility. The new design would include the implementation of new technology, including cameras and computers as well as skylights to decrease energy requirements. The new site would house both make and female inmates. The quorum court also voted to pass an ordinance "to amend ordinance No. 77-10, as amended, to revise the policy concerning health insurance; declaring an emergency; and for other purposes." The passage of the ordinance put Phillips County in compliance with federal law, changing the wordage from "All permanent county employees are eligible to participate in the plan after completing 180 days of employment" down to 60 days.