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Fulton County Jail two steps closer to reality

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fulton County is two steps closer to getting approval to build the new jail that voters approved in Nov. of 2011.

Judge Charles Willett announced during the Aug. 13 meeting of Fulton County Quorum Court that the USDA, which is providing a low interest loan and a grant, had approved a proposal that will allow SouthBuild, a Tennessee company, to design the jail and oversee construction.

Willett asked for the appropriation of $20,177.66 to pay the company for the work it has recently done on the schematics, for the jail design. While the money will come from the county general fund, it will be reimbursed once the USDA funding is finalized.

"We are in the process of trying to get all of the loan closings done," Willett told Justices of the Peace. "We have been approved by USDA and Jail Standards, now we've got to go to the fire marshall, the state fire marshall, and the health department."

"Looks like we're on a pretty good (path) to go?" Justice of the Peace Jim Bicker asked of the long delayed project, which has put a $300,000 grant in jeopardy.

"So far," the Judge responded. "Also, they've done our compaction test (making sure the prepared jail site base is suitable for construction). Finished it up today with drilling, and last Thursday and, so far, all compaction tests have passed."

The $20,000 payment to the architect was approved, subject to final approval by the USDA.

Justices of the Peace also approved another jail related appropriation -- $800 to Smith-Doyle Contractors, which reviewed the jail construction plan to confirm to the USDA that the jail can be built for the $2.1 million budgeted.

The court approved another appropriation, $1,950 to pay Hughes, Welch and Milligan to conduct a federal audit.

In other business, Judge Willett discussed the lease with the Army Corps of Engineers which obligates the county to maintain the Boggy Point boat launch and camping area on Lake Norfork.

"Every year, we have to replace (picnic) tables. They burn all the wood tables in the fire pits. We put concrete tables back in. They took hammers, sledge hammers, and busted them in the middle," Willett said. "We have trash pick up, and mowing. I hate for us not to have it for the people that live there, but it's a big expense to our county."

Willett explained that each year the Corps of Engineers inspects the site and gives the county a report on repairs that must be made to keep the site up to its standards.

"I don't know if we want to continue the lease or if we just need to get it to the point that they (Army Corps of Engineers) will accept it back," Willett said.

When asked the amount of the lease, the Judge explained that the financial obligation is to keep the park up. While the Judge did not give an exact amount the county spends each year, he said picnic tables cost $500 apiece and at least six have been replaced in recent years. There is also the cost of mowing the property, repairing or replacing parking signs and parking lot cable. A trash dumpster is $150 a month so, "it's a pretty good expense to the county," the judge said.

The Judge did not know if the site would be closed, if the county ended its agreement to maintain it.

Justices familiar with the Boggy Point site indicated that many Fulton County residents use the site to launch their boats and camp. They suggested that the Judge discuss with the Corps of Engineers whether the amount of tables in the park can be reduced, since they are frequently abused and are so expensive to replace.

The matter was tabled with no decision made.

Fulton County resident Mary Rivera was on the agenda. She had asked to address Quorum Court on the topic of grants.

In a lengthy presentation, Rivera pointed out that Quorum Court recently accepted a matching grant from Arkansas Parks and Tourism for improvements at the Athletic Complex on Highway 9 North. While the county's match of the funds is to use county workers for part of the labor in place of dollars, Rivera pointed out the grant agreement requires Fulton County to maintain the complex for "public outdoor use in perpetuity -- forever. The use of this property as a park cannot be revoked," Rivera said. She added the county is locked in to an agreement to maintain the park, whether or not a citizens group continues to help fund or maintain it, as it now does. She also warned federal and state parks services can change rules at will and, no matter how costly, the county will have to comply with the requirements.

Rivera said the athletic complex is just an example of how grants the county accepts contain requirements that could come back to haunt the county later. She asked J-Ps to look more closely at grants before they authorize the county to pursue them. Rivera suggested that Quorum Court form a committee to review grants before seeking them. Later in the discussion, J-P Marjorie Rogers made a motion that a committee be formed, but it died for a lack of a second.

The discussion between Rivera and other audience members and J-Ps was often testy.

Judge Willett said the athletic complex, with its four baseball fields, are badly needed and, "I've been here for 47-years and we don't ever have nothing for kids...The county has not paid out one dime for those ballfields in Fulton County."

"I am not against the ballfields," Rivera replied.

"Yes, you are," the Judge insisted.

"Sir, I am against the strings that go with the grants," Rivera persisted.

Rivera ended her appearance with a plea for the court to stop "breaking the law."

"These meetings, that are going on in the Judge's office before the Quorum Court meeting, are against the law," Rivera said. "The Freedom of Information law says that you are not to meet with the Judge (before meetings), and you are not to meet with each other (as a body before meetings) to discuss county issues..."

"Who said that we do?" J-P Michael Barnett interrupted.

"You are not to meet like that," Rivera replied.

"We talked about the weather a while ago (in the Judge's office)," Barnett replied.

"I doubt it seriously," Rivera shot back.

"You calling me a liar?" Barnett continued.

"In June of this year," Rivera said...

"I move we adjourn," Barnett interupted.

There was laughter but not a second to the motion, and Rivera continued, "In June of this year, the Mayor and three Alderman of Bono were fined and ordered to attend Freedom of Information classes. It is a misdemeanor...but it is still breaking the law. I am putting you on notice."

"I make a motion that we adjourn," Barnett said again.

"Excuse me, but I am not through," Rivera said.

"I'm not a liar either," Barnett interjected.

"And that's the kind of arrogance that makes the people of this county not even want to come and listen to you guys...I am through," Rivera said.

As Rivera passed out Freedom of Information handbooks to J-Ps, Bicker noted she had given them to the court before.

"I think if you sit down and visit with friends, that's not hardly a secret meeting," Bicker told Rivera.

"I'm telling you what is in the Freedom of Information," Rivera said.

"That's your opinion," Bicker said.

A loud period followed in which audience members and court members exchanged words.

Paula Taylor, a spectator, said the court needs to treat speakers and citizens with dignity and respect, instead of smirking or laughing at them. "I am ashamed of y'all," Taylor said.

"Well, the same goes for the people sitting here from the Quorum Court, Paula," Judge Willett responded.

Interspersed through out the meeting, the Quorum Court made the following decisions:

* J-Ps approved the appointment of Steve Hall, a Fulton County resident who works for North Arkansas Electric, as a member of the Fulton County Hospital Board of Governors. A position became vacant when Sue Hertzog's term ended in June. Others asked to take the seat declined the appointment.

* J-Ps approved a resolution authorizing the Sturkie Fire Department to seek a $12,000 matching grant for equipment. The department has $12,000 in reserve to match the grant. A compressor, hose reel with hose, a breathing apparatus and three wildlife protection suits are among items the departments intends to purchase if the grant is approved.

*Under the health care reform act, Fulton County received an $8,018 rebate from its health insurance company. J-Ps approved distributing $1,236 to employees and spouses covered under the counties policy.

*The court authorized County Clerk Vickie Bishop to seek a grant to upgrade the automated recording system in her office.

*J-Ps accepted a bid of $31,395 for five tanker cars to be used in a project to replace a Sturkie Road bridge, about a mile and a half off of Highway 62-412. A $75,000 matching grant from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management will pay for the project.

The meeting ended with Judge Willett passing out a proposed ordinance to respond to "inquiries about filming our Quorum Court meetings."

In August of 2011, the Quorum Court passed a rule banning the video recording of meetings, becoming the first known government body in the state to forbid video recording.

The Judge did not elaborate on the proposed ordinance, but asked Quorum Court members to review the proposed law for possible introduction at its September meeting.

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