County Finance board discusses Big River

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Mississippi County Quorum Court Finance Committee met for their regular monthly meeting Monday afternoon to discuss issues ranging from Internet bandwidth needs, new iPads for Quorum Court members, a request for a new four-lane highway to Big River Steel, new state legislation, new voting machines and a request by the Sheriff's Department for a new drug control fund account.

State Senator Dave Wallace (R-Leachville) indicated that Big River Steel would like to create a four-lane highway that leads straight to the mill from Interstate 55.

“The roads going through Wilson and Osceola are being torn apart by the massive loads that the trucks are carrying,” he explained.

Also, they would like to propose a bill that will increase the capacity of the trailer loads to one ton with a yearly permit, rather than the monthly permit that is currently being used.

“This bill has already been passed for local farmers,” Wallace stated.

Wallace also discussed two bills that have recently been passed by the Arkansas General Assembly - the "Big River Steel Bill" and the STEM bill.

“The first phase of the bill was $1.2 billion and this second phase will bring over $9 million to Mississippi County as well as 500 jobs,” Wallace explained. “Also, this bill will possibly bring a one of a kind custom rebar system that could also generate another 200 jobs for the county.”

Regarding the STEM bill, Wallace said, "This bill will allow high school graduates in Arkansas to obtain a tuition free Associates Degree from any college in the state, that will allow them to apply their skill set to factories and other establishments within the state.”

This, in turn, will not only enable Mississippi County to promote more job opportunities and economic growth, but will also keep employees within the county. The only stipulation is that the graduates must reside and work in Arkansas for at least three years after the completion of their degree.

Committee Chairman Michael White spoke about the sheriff’s office wanting to create a new drug control fund account that is similar to the one that has been established in Randolph County. The sheriff’s department would solely oversee the account, as opposed to the drug task force account, which is shared between the sheriff's department and various area police departments. The funds provided would cover the costs of investigations, sting operations as well as drug busts. The Committee also once again covered the need to make upgrades for the county's internet network equipment. The county is currently having issues due to insufficient bandwidth for its offices. Justice Ken Kennemore proposed that the data plan be upgraded to 40 GB of data (rather than 20 GB), which would cost around $1,500 a month. The committee agreed. County Financial Management Director Kelli Jones also discussed the 11 new iPads purchased for QC members and County Judge Randy Carney.

"Each iPad is equipped with 8 GB of data and the tablets would be used for communication purposes that include email notifications as well as sending out informative documents,” Jones said.

White brought up the need to replace the air conditioning unit in the extension office building at the courthouse. The proposed bid from DNL would include a 7 ½ ton unit, two furnaces, commercial air handler, pads, disconnect, and materials to repair damaged duct areas. The committee, believing that the DNL bid might be too high, decided to seek more bids. The committee also discussed the need for new voting equipment for the county to accommodate the state upgrade that is being rolled out soon.

County Clerk Janice Currie informed the commitee that the equipment would cost roughly $400,000. Wallace added, "There is a growing sentiment in Little Rock to figure out how to help counties with voting equipment...The problem that we’re running into is the legislators of the richer counties in the northwestern and central parts of the state have already paid for their voting equipment and are unwilling to send money this way.”

rvaden@blythevillecourier.com