The Fulton County Quorum Court was faced with limited options as the financial soundness of the county was discussed during the September meeting of the court. "I don't think we'll get through the year -- that's my opinion," said Judge Charles Willett. "If we go the way we are, it will be very close to being in the negative at the end of the year."
According to county financials, as of Tuesday, Sept. 8, the county had $129,388.99. The cash receipts for August were $81,307, and the amount for warrants paid was $143,934, making the county $60,000 short. According to Judge Willett, this problem really began back in 2007, with the county spending more than was coming in.
After much deliberation, the court decided to ask each office that receives funds from the county general fund to cut their budgets by 20 percent for the remainder of 2009. And, come the new year, it was discussed that the 2010 budgets might need to be reduced versus last year's budgets by around 25-30 percent.
Judge Jim Short addressed the court, asking if each office would be allowed to make the cuts as they saw fit, as long as the cuts totaled 20%, and the Quorum Court agreed.
Next up was the impending jail situation. The report from the Jail Standards committee cited various violations occurring at the present jail, including no area to house female prisoners; no place to separate juvenile offenders; inmates are not separated by class as required by law; cells do not meet square footage requirements due to overcrowding; visitation area is not secure; and the absence of holding cells.
"We contacted South Build, who specialize in building jails," said Judge Willett. "They have a direct construction cost (DCC) and for adding on to the old facility that was $3.1 to $3.5 million. But the total capital cost (TCC) is $3.64 to $4.1 million." For building a brand new jail from the ground up, the estimates from South Build were $3.3 to $3.7 million DCC, with a TCC of $3.8 to $4.2.
"Al Roark and I visited with them, and we knew that if it was over $3.5 million, we couldn't afford it," said Judge Willett. "I asked Jerry Blevins to come with me to the old nursing home facility and look at the possibility of adding cells to the rear of the facility. That estimate was roughly $1.9 million to complete that construction. We're looking at $190 a square foot and this building is 10,000 square feet, and this is with Howard Lee and Associates. That is a turn key price. That will not go inside and do the administration offices, but we can look into grant money for that. We're looking at 24 male cells, 10 female cells, same as Izard County and two holding cells for violent offenders."
The representative from Howard Lee and Associates told Judge Willett and Chief Roark they had just built 10 cells on a juvenile facility in Batesville and the cost ran around $177 square feet. "But, until you put some numbers together and get a sketch on what you're going to do, it would be hard to say what the actual cost would be," said Jerry Blevins.
The jail cells would be a new facility on the east side on the back of the nursing home that will attach to the kitchen part of the current building. Basically, it will be a new wing with a hallway attaching to the old part of the building to use the kitchen and have a courtroom in the existing facility.
"By building it separate, you don't have to put sprinklers into the entire building -- only the jail part," said Police Chief Al Roark. "The cost of that sprinkler system in the nursing home part would be astronomical." Roark also expressed the need for the 24 male cells, 10 female cells and two holding cells to be up to date with the type of criminal element now facing the county.
"You need two holding cells for problematic people -- people with mental problems, sexual problems, medical problems. You have to isolate your misdemeanors from your felonies. We're dealing with a different clientele now; they have more propensity toward violence," said Roark. "It is imperative in today's world that you can see an inmate at all times. He must have no place that's private or they will get into mischief. It's imperative to the safety of the inmates and the officers that they have no private place in that cell. This will be designed as 10 female and 24 men. The advantage, as we were told by the jail administrator over the state of Arkansas, is that we would have room for females, which many jails do not have. You can house federal inmates in this facility, particularly females and that will pay you something, too. "
Due to current jail overcrowding, Fulton County houses several inmates in other area jails, paying a substantial sum for their housing. "Currently, we have three inmates in Izard County, and 11 here. Izard County charges $45 a day for females and $40 a day for men," said Joann from the Sheriff's department. "We have paid $21,890 this year for housing inmates elsewhere. In 2008 we paid $35,313.10. Most of it will be for housing females. The state gives us $28 a day after they are convicted and sentenced in court, which does not cover the daily fees charged by other counties."
Turning to how to pay for the new jail, the court looked at both a possible bond issue and a half cent to 1 cent sales tax. "Typically, jails financed with sales tax revenues, are paid off more quickly than other sources of revenue," said County Attorney, Duane Plumlee. "You could implement a 1 cent sales tax to pay off the jail, then drop it to a half cent to pay for maintenance."
Based on the half cent sales tax that the Fulton County Hospital receives, a one cent sales tax could generate approximately $55,000 a month for the new jail. The issue of staffing was also brought up, as Judge Willett recounted the story of a new jail in the state that had to shut down because the county had neglected to budget for the additional staff required by the state. "You have to consider the staffing requirements also, as we'll need approximately $150,000 more per year in salaries for the required staffing for the new jail to be in compliance," said Judge Willett.
Judge Willett expected to receive firm construction cost estimates from both firms for utilizing the old nursing home site this week, so the issue was tabled until the court could review those estimates and also review all current sources of revenue coming into the county.
Jeremy Roland, from Triple R Bail Bonds requested to speak to the Quorum Court to discuss revenue options for the new jail. "The reason why I asked to speak to the Quorum court is to get some information out to you, where the bail bond business can provide some additional revenue to the county as it does in the other counties within the state," said Roland. "There's nothing that has to be imposed -- it's all law now. I think it will help generate money not only for the county but for the jail."
Roland started the discussion by bringing up the Show Cause option available to the circuit and district courts. "We are an insurance agent to the district and circuit courts of Arkansas. When we post a bond, it's a binding contract between me, the company owner, and the county. We're guaranteeing that said individual is going to go to court each and every time until that charge is dispensated," said Roland. "If he fails to appear, there's a call to order where we get 120 days in district court and 75 days in circuit court to bring that individual in. If you impose the show cause, and we don't apprehend that individual, then we have to pay the bond. If it's a $5,000 bond for circuit court or just a $500 bond for possession, I have to pay that. You still have that warrant, and if you arrest him and he bonds out again, we're responsible again." According to Roland, once there is a judgment entered, that money would go to the county general fund.
"On the state books is a $50 warrant fee that Sheriff Dillinger can charge," said Roland. "Every time an officer serves a warrant, no matter what county it is from, you are serving it, so you get $50. If you arrest someone with three warrants out on them, then that would be $150 in warrant fees."
Roland then brought up the Fulton County fee structure and compared its fees to those of Sharp County. "Driving on a suspended license is $315 here, and its $420 in Sharp County. It's an $820 fine in Sharp County for possession, while it's $325 in Fulton County. A DWI is $820 in Sharp County and its $795 here. In Izard County a DWI is $1,000," said Roland.
Roland also brought up that if the individual fails to appear, and is found in a distant city such as West Memphis, the bond company is responsible for paying for transport for that individual to come back to Fulton County. According to Roland, the bond company is responsible for up to the bond amount to reimburse for transport. However, if the individual is found out-of-state, the bonding company has the first right of hiring an outside agency to go pick them up and bring them back.
Roland also suggested that the county consider lowering the bond for minor offenses, allowing more individuals to make bond and not cost the county a daily fee to keep them incarcerated until trial.
The court thanked Roland for his input and agreed to review the matter further.
In other court business, money was appropriated for Tri-County Recycling in the amount of $4,550.63 and for Fulton County Hospital in the amount of $14,544.06.
Darryl Zimmerman from the office of emergency management told the court about two grants that have been received. "This is the stay at home land grant security money we get each year. For law enforcement they are awarded $12,458.14 for communication equipment and personal protective equipment," said Zimmerman. "We also received $18,845.03 to put together three disaster response trailers to be placed throughout the county. The money is in, it just needs to be appropriated to the office of emergency management." The court then appropriated the amount to the OEM.
Finally, the lease of the old health building came up. "We discussed a lease last month for the old health department building," said Judge Willett. "We made a lease with LHC. Shortly thereafter, the administrator of the hospital and several board members came to me and said this building was very important for the future success of the hospital. I talked with Christy Kinslow at North Arkansas Home Care and she agreed that supporting the hospital was of great importance to the community. She withdrew their request to lease the building, and we now have a new lease with the Fulton County Hospital for $800 a month plus the amendment that they maintain the building."
The court agreed to the new lease and then moved to adjourn.