FC Quorum Court finalizes verbiage of sales tax ordinance

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Fulton County Quorum Court met in special session on Tuesday, Aug. 28 to review the proposed verbiage of an ordinance that would propose a special election to raise funds for the sheriff’s department from the implementation of a one percent sales tax.

A good crowd greeted the JPs as they arrived, along with Sheriff Al Roork and several deputies. A person from the audience asked the court to explain the amount of money that could be brought in from a one percent sales tax. Judge Darrell Zimmer explained from past half-percent sales taxes currently being collected for both the fire departments and the hospital over the last three years, approximately $350,000 is collected, meaning a one percent sales tax would bring in approximately $700,000. He went on to state the current budget for the sheriff’s department is $629,000.

Former state representative Lori Benedict asked the court if the money in the proposed ordinance would go solely to the sheriff’s department, “that no part of it will go toward some type of county slush fund.” Judge Zimmer replied, according to the way the ordinance is currently written, all money from this proposed one percent tax will go to the sheriff’s department.

The proposed ordinance, as presented for review at the meeting, reads as follows: “A levy of a one percent Sales and Use Tax within Fulton County, Arkansas beginning Jan. 1, 2019 to be used to improve, equip, staff and provide for the operation and maintenance of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and Fulton County Detention Facility and to pay for the costs associated with the housing of prisoners.”

Another member of the audience then asked what would become of the $629,000 currently being allocated for the sheriff’s department. “The current funding, the way it will work is, once this goes to law enforcement, anything above and beyond what they need will be supplemented from county general, and then whatever we have left will stay with county general,” explained Zimmer.

Sheriff Roork told the court he feels his department needs close to a million dollars annually to operate, noting that Izard County’s Sheriff Department currently has a budget of $1.6 million. That would require $300,000 from the county, along with the money brought in from the proposed sales tax. With that budget, he feels he can hire an investigator, which he desperately needs, and give his employees the pay raises they need. He also informed the justices the cost of the required overtime from now to the end of the year would be around $10,000 for between 600 and 650 hours of overtime, though that could go higher depending on if another deputy gets injured. Roork also mentioned Jail Standards inspectors have recently been inspecting the jail and have brought up a lack of staffing, which could also impact that cost.

“We’re stretched pretty thin right now,” said Roork. “It’s down to just me and my chief deputy and two other deputies right now. The Drug Task Force officer is going to help me a couple nights, and I’ve got some reserves that I’m going to be using. John and I know we’re going to be on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day until the first of the year. I’ve got one in the academy and one position I haven’t hired for yet, because I was waiting to see what would happen with this. Here’s the thing – if one of us gets hurt at this point – unfortunately some of the tools we have don’t work on these folks. We’ve tasered several people and they reach and pull them out – 50,000 volts have no effect on them because they’re taking fentanyl patches, shooting up bath salts, you name it. You guys, with all due respect to everyone in this courtroom, you have no idea what you’ve got out here in your community. I’m trying my best right now, but there are too many things that are against me and my department. We need to keep the community as safe as we can. If we get another injury, we’re going to be in real trouble. The only thing I can do right now is reactionary law enforcement. I do not have time to do investigations. I cannot spread myself or my officers any thinner. There are just not enough resources for that right now.”

Several members of the audience then inquired about a guarantee from the court that, should the voters approve the sales tax increase, the sheriff would be given the additional monies from the county general fund to pay his employees what he needs to pay them. “If this thing passes they’ll get that money, plus additional help, and then the rest can be used in other areas in the county that it’s needed,” said JP Lynn Guffey.

Sheriff Roork then asked to speak. “I believe these guys will work with me if this thing passes. I think we can work through it. I’m not going to ask them for anything unreasonable. I believe they are reasonable people. I definitely want to work with you guys – that’s what I want to do. I think this situation is partly my fault, in that there’s no reason for the public or ya’ll to know what’s going on, unless I have told you what it is, shown you what it is. What I have done in the last couple of weeks is, through great frustration and getting really pissed off, I finally had had enough. Ya’ll listened to me, you were patient with me, and I appreciate that, and I feel that you and most importantly the public have heard me, apparently, because I have just about had to replace my cell phone from talking to people from all over the state of Arkansas. I’m not a political person - I’m a real outspoken person - but I’m a fair person and I’m an honest person. If you go down to my jail right now and talk to the thugs in there, they’ll tell you Al Roork’s a good guy, he’s a fair guy. I’ve worked with (county attorney) Eric Bray and the county defense attorneys to save this county money. We try to find solutions other than jury trials, to try and save money, because it’s expensive to have jury trials. I have a difficult job. It is by far the most stressful job in the county. I’m just asking for what I need to protect this county. We have a fine bunch of people in this county – they’re real diverse. This is the biggest blessing in my life, that I got to do this job. I want good help that understands the impact of what we do on people’s lives. It is very important to me that we keep the public safe, but I don’t have the tools to do it right now – I don’t. I appreciate the fact that ya’ll and the public did not understand that, and I’ve been trying to show you why I can’t do it anymore. I’m destroying myself, my health, trying to do this thing. If it wasn’t for John Cawvey, my chief deputy, I couldn’t do this job. He is an excellent officer. With that said, we’re going to try to educate the public on why this is needed. If they turn it down, I’m good with that; we’ll just have to come up with some other way to make this happen. It has to happen, some way, somehow. I’m asking you to do this because we need to preserve what we’ve got in Fulton County. We are losing it. It’s a locomotive that’s speeding and it’s going off the tracks. For the safety of our community, our children, our churches – we need to do this.”

County resident Marie Wells then stressed the importance of educating the public on the ordinance. “I think if this ordinance is publicized, so that all the people in the county understand that we will be voting on an ordinance that will give us the one percent sales tax – they need to have it explained to them that this is exclusively for the sheriff’s department,” said Wells. “I think if people understand how it is going to be used, I think most people will agree with it, but they need to be told. It has to be publicized. It has to be explained.”

A question was then brought up, asking if an emergency clause would be needed to ensure the ordinance, when passed at the Sept. 10 quorum court meeting, would go into effect soon enough to hold the special election on Dec. 11. County attorney Eric Bray said he would look into it, and if it was required, it would be included in the final proposed ordinance presented at the September meeting.

With that, the meeting adjourned. The Fulton County Quorum Court will meet and vote on this ordinance on Monday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

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