The Fulton County Quorum Court met in regular session on Monday, Nov. 8 and the new county jail was the big topic of the evening, followed by the passing of the 2011 county budget and county taxes.
"As you know, we received our award letter last month for a $1.7 million USDA loan and a $300,000 grant for the jail project," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett. "I have visited with the mayors of the area cities to discuss how they can assist with paying for this project. The county passed a one percent sales tax to pay for the hospital expansion project back in the 80s. Once the five-year payback time limit was met, that sales tax reverted back to the county, with the cities receiving a portion of the tax off the top, based on their population. The cities get roughly 36-37 percent of that one percent sales tax. We have approached each of the cities and asked them if they would pledge their percentage of that sales tax to paying for the jail project. Our payment on the loan for the jail will be $7,190 a month. The amounts we are talking about are about $1,000 for Salem, $700 for Mammoth Spring, $500 for Cherokee Village and the small cities get less than $100 a month from the tax. This way, we can pay for the jail with existing tax monies. This means no new tax burden for Fulton County residents. However, everything has to be finalized by March 30, or we lose all of our funding."
Quorum Court member Jim Bicker emphasized that the new jail will be run with the same number of employees currently running the existing jail. "That was important to me," said Bicker. "We could not afford to hire additional staff. We looked at outsourcing, but we can't afford to do that. It looks to me like, if we don't build this jail, the county will go bankrupt. This jail will be safe for people to work in, we can staff it with the people we have and we can build it without raising taxes. We can't house women right now, but with this new facility we will be able to house eight women, which means we will save money that currently we are having to pay to other jails to house them."
Darrell Zimmer with the Fulton County Office of Emergency Management also pointed out that the new jail will enable the county to raise funds by collecting on existing outstanding fines.
"We have roughly a million dollars in outstanding fines that we are not able to collect, because if we go and arrest that person and then have to shift them to Izard County and pay for Izard County to house them, we're actually losing money," said Zimmer. "This way, having the jail space we'll have in the new facility, it will encourage people to come and pay their fines."
Sheriff Walter Dillinger also added that the new facility will save the county a significant amount of money that is currently spent on housing prisoners in other facilities.
"When you're paying $28,000 to $30,000 a year to house prisoners in other jails, that's a good source of revenue that will be gained by the county once this jail is built," said Dillinger.
The court then stressed to the assembled audience that the county would be paying for the facility with an existing tax, and that no new financial burden would be placed on the citizens of Fulton County.
"There is absolutely no new tax for this," said Willett. "With the special election, we are just asking the people of Fulton County to allow us to use a percentage of this existing tax to pay for the jail. We need to stress that this tax has been around since 1984. It is nothing new. Whenever you buy something in Fulton County today, you are paying this tax. It is merely a reallocation of an existing tax. It was the only way to pay for this facility without burdening the citizens of the county."
The cost for holding the special election, according to County Clerk Vickie Bishop, would be between $15,000 and $18,000, which the county has budgeted for.
County Attorney Dewayne Plumlee pointed out that the election would take place 65 days after the county passed the ordinance calling for the election, anticipating that it will be held in late January or early February.
The members agreed that voting should be available at all polling places for this special election. "Since this is for the whole county, all the citizens should have an opportunity to vote," said Willett.
The current plan still calls for the jail to be built as a free-standing building behind the old nursing home on Highway 9, just north of the town square.
"The newly elected Sheriff has been looking at the old nursing home to see how the existing building can be used," said Willett. "Several entities have inquired about renting space out there as well."
According to Willett, once ground is broken for the project, the jail will take approximately nine to 12 months to build.
The court members levied the following taxes for fiscal year 2011 during the meeting:
Mammoth Spring School District No. 2 has a 35.0 mill real property tax and a 35.0 mill personal property tax.
Salem School District No. 30 has a 31.5 mill real property tax and a 31.5 mill personal property tax.
Viola School District No. 15 has a 40.62 mill real property tax and 40.62 personal property tax.
Highland School District No. 42 has a 30.0 mill real property tax and a 30.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Horseshoe Bend has a 5.0 mill real property tax and a 5.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Viola has a 5.0 mill real property tax and a 5.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Salem has a 5.0 mill real property tax and a 5.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Mammoth Spring has a 5.0 mill real property tax and a 5.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Ash Flat has a 2.0 mill real property tax and 2.0 mill personal property tax.
City of Hardy has a 2.9 mill real property tax and 2.9 mill personal property tax.
City of Cherokee Village has a 2.0 mill real property tax and 2.0 mill personal property tax.
The Municipal Improvement District of Horseshoe Bend has a 22.0 mill property assessment against benefits.
The Cherokee Village Suburban Improvement District No. 1 has a 100.0 mill real property assessment against benefits.
Fulton County Library has a 1.0 mill real property tax and a 1.0 mill personal property tax.
Fulton County Roads has a 2.0 mill real property tax and a 2.0 mill personal property tax.
Fulton County General has a 3.0 mill real property tax and a 3.0 personal property tax.
Next up, the court members passed the 2011 Annual Operating County Budget.
In the Fulton County General Fund, anticipated revenues in 2011 are $2,076,053. Anticipated revenue carryover from 2010 is $226,948. Total fund revenues for budget purposes are $2,303,001.
The following is a break down of the budget by department:
County Judge - $47,746.
County and Circuit Clerk - $122,450.
County Treasurer - $75,047.
County Sheriff - $639,667.
County Collector - $166,237.
County Assessor - $409,644.
Circuit Court - $8,098.
District Court - $115,918.
Quorum Court - $45,072.
Juvenile Department - $24,900.
Deputy Prosecutor - $19,060.
Prosecuting Department - $11,000.
Health Department - $19,690.
Coroner - $12,468.
Emergency Services - $31,331.
Ambulance - $20,000.
Maintenance Department - County Buildings - $59,963.
Veteran's Service Officer - $20,322.
Grants and Aid - $89,480.
The 2011 County Budget Total is $1,938,093.
Copies of the annual budget are available from the County Clerk's office.
Court member Jimmy Marler brought up discussion on the increase in the budget for the Extension Office, pointing out that no other department received raises in the budget. Looking at the 2010 numbers, the Extension Office had increased their budget by $3,080. The court agreed to place the Grants and Aid budget back to it's 2010 amount of $86,400, changing the overall budget total to $1,935,013.
The next item on the agenda was to appropriate $500 to pay for the attorney who represented the county at Terry Walker's grievance hearing.
The members then voted to appropriate the $15,000 grant to the Sturkie Fire Department for their new turnout gear.
The court was also notified that they would be asked to appropriate $2,500 for the county's prosecuting attorney to travel to Mountain View for the Richard T. Gordon trial in March, after the first of the year.
With that, the court adjourned for the evening.