"Our grant for our communications tower fell through," Sherrell told Justices of the Peace as their meeting drew to a close. "Butch Callahan (of the Department of Rural Services) let us know that Izard County, in the last four years, has had our share of grants, and we did not apply for anything concerning communications during this time. So we are out right now (for new grants)."
Izard County is faced with switching to "narrowband" radios required by the Federal Communications System by the start of 2013. It also badly needs to replace its communications tower, which is outdated and in poor shape.
Because past administrations had ignored the 2013 deadline, Sherrell inherited the communications upgrade issue when he took office in 2011. Last summer, after a meeting with Governor Mike Beebe, it appeared the state would provide grant money which would help with the cost.
While state help has fallen though, Sherrell told J-Ps the county would find a way to get the job done.
"We're back, for lack of a better word, to the "hillbilly solution," Sherrell said. "It's going to take a little more money and effort, but we will be compliant in 2013. so we won't get fined for using the airwaves."
The "hillbilly solution" is a back up plan to use a 100 foot portable tower, to broadcast the required narrowband radio transmissions, until funding is found for a permanent tower.
There was better news about another long-time problem -- the county courthouse's leaky roof. According to Sherrell, a contractor will begin work soon to remove old layers of the roof, taking it down to the first layer. There will be $40,000 left in a grant received to do the work. That money can be rolled over into another grant the county will seek in March, allowing a new roof to be installed on the historic building.
In other business, Quorum Court members decided to appropriate $36,000 to the County Assessor's Office to upgrade its digital maps, to show the boundaries of the counties 31,000 parcels of land.
The improvement will make it easier for citizens to look up property information by computer, and allow the Assessor's office to compare new and old satellite photographs to identify changes in properties that can increase or decrease the amount a property is assessed.
The council took the proposal under advisement last month, with the promise it would make a decision in February.
The $36,000 appropriation will be the county's share of a grant. The mapping upgrade will actually cost $90,236, and a $54, 141 state grant will cover the rest of the cost.
Assessor Tammy Sanders promised that all but $3,600 of the county appropriation will be returned to the treasury near the end of the year, when the county receives it's final settlement, state monies due the county.
Another vote taken at the meeting, added a revision to the personnel handbook for county employees. The change, approved by the court, requires employees to undergo a drug test after any work related acccient that requires a trip to the hospital. The change was said to be needed to address liability issues that could arise from lawsuits or workman's compensation claims.
Justices of the Peace passed a resolution declaring the District 8 JP seat vacant. JP Paul Phipps resigned after moving out of the district, and a resolution was needed to allow Governor Beebe to appoint someone to fill the seat.
During the meeting, Judge Sherrell proposed donating a room in the old county hospital to the Izard County Historical and Genealogical Society. The society wants to create a space where it can store family histories and other historical information, to offer to people who are doing genealogical research about their families.
Judge Sherrell found a room at the front of the hospital, which is not being used, is not under a long term lease, as earlier thought.
JPs unanimously approved the proposal to allow the historical society to use the room. In return, it will paint and renovate the room, and put up a sign at the front of the hospital.
After the meeting, Bud Cooper, President of the Historial Society, said the new space would first be used to plan a major project. The organization has raised $10,000 to install a series of new historial markers around the county.
According to Cooper, the donated room will be used to house historical and genealogical information that members currently keep at their homes.
"By having the records in one place, people interested in genealogy can have access to free information to help them in their search to complete family histories," Cooper said.
Sheriff Tate Lawrence presented a year end report to the court. According to Lawrence, his department came in under budget, despite higher fuel and food costs.
A spike in gas prices in 2011 caused the department to exceed its gasoline budget by $13,000.
However, the cost of housing youthful offenders at the Batesville Regional Juvenile Detention Center was only $4,680 last year, compared to around $15,000 in years past.
Lawrence praised his jail staff for holding down inmate medical costs. Last year, the county spent just $3,400 for inmate medical care, a much lower amount than most counties.
Looking to this year, Lawrence indicated another budget struggle is ahead. "Fuel costs are going up. Food costs are going up every day," Lawrence said.
Quorum Court is still discussing finding a new day for its monthly meeting, but the March meeting will still be held on the first Tuesday of the month, March 6 at 6 p.m. The public is invited to the meeting in the courtroom.