Two candidates are vying for Sharp County Judge: incumbent Democrat Harold Crawford and independent challenger J.R. Murphy.
The Villager Journal asked the candidates to respond to questions about what they each hope to accomplish in office. The questions and their answers follow:
The Villager Journal: What are the greatest needs for roads in the county and how do you intend to address those needs?
Murphy: 1. Establish an ongoing Road Committee of 11 to 13 people in the nine districts other than JPs.
2. Every year there should be rotating individuals that are knowledgeable of the past year's progress.
3. The Road Committee should be able to function on their own. The Road Committee will make recommendations to the Quorum Court on what roads should be worked and maintained better.
4. The decision should not be left up to the road foreman or the judge just because it is not on their agenda.
5. There should be a plan made 4-5 years in advance of how many miles of road could be surfaced each year with black top.
6. With so many new people moving into the area, this would enhance the growth in Sharp County. And in closing, the roads should be patrolled by the judge and the road foreman each and every day.
Crawford: The greatest needs for all Sharp County roads will always be more gravel, more paving and more money.
From the time I assumed office on Jan. 1, 1999, the road department has hauled over 300,000 cubic yards (450,000 tons) of gravel and has paved or re-sealed 45.09 miles of roadway.
Limited resources must be spread thinly over the county's 1,100 miles of unpaved roads. These 1,100 miles also have brush trimmed, several hundred bridges and just as many culverts that require maintenance.
The 1.8 mills assessed for the road department on county taxpayers' bills nets $181,000 annually. State turnback funds account for $750,000 per year, and state aid funds from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, to be used solely for roads, averages $196,000 per year. The average annual revenue available to the road department, therefore, is approximately $1,127,000.
The 2004 Road Department budget topped out at $1,456,270. This amount includes, with personnel, all that it takes to operate the road department for 12 months. It should be obvious that the millage paid by taxpayers on their annual tax assessment would not allow the road department to open the shop every morning, much less send out graders and trucks, with material, and loaders to maintain county roads.
To chip and seal one mile of roadway eats up $40,000 of revenue, and to pave one mile of road with hot asphalt laydown costs $72,000.
Through aggressive pursuit of aid available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), Sharp County has been able to supplement the first several years of the road department budget beginning with the first year, 1999. These supplemental funds will be very limited in the future and will impact the road department budget negatively.
Given the dollars involved, revenue and expenses, Sharp County has done a creditable job of managing to maintain roads with the resources available.
The Villager Journal: What will you do to promote economic development in the county?
Murphy: Sharp County is very fortunate because we have an enormous resource of people that have moved into this area that had a tremendous business experience elsewhere. And I feel these resources have never been tapped. As judge I would have town hall meetings throughout the county asking these people for any information they would give us in helping Sharp County develop business and employment for the local people and the people moving into our area. This is the only way we are going to enhance economical growth in Sharp County. Egos, jealousy and power will have to be put aside to accomplish this. It will take hard work and new thinking to achieve this goal.
Crawford: Water, sewage, natural gas and an industrial park are all components of the base to promote economic development. The Sharp County Judge's Office has worked hard to promote all of these issues. Presently, a grant to do a feasibility study for natural gas is pending in the regional office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. My office works on a regular basis with the Planning and Development District to continue searches for grants in all these areas. Proof is the $1,112,774 grant secured for the extension of the Grange-Calamine water line from Poughkeepsie to Ash Flat. Sharp County was one of four of Arkansas' 75 counties able to secure such assistance. Sharp County has also participated with the city of Highland to ensure that grants came to Highland to expand both its water and sewer systems.Within the past several months, the county worked with Cave City administration and state legislators to bring the Uni-First plant back on line. When the plant re-opens in the near future, it will restore 150 lost jobs to the Cave City area. Within two years, Uni-First hopes to double that amount … 300 jobs that will contribute to the county's economy.