Board mulls whether to release old checks to city

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Mississippi County Quorum Court Finance Committee discussed whether to release payments they owe the City of Blytheville (some checks are up to a year old), the need for new voting machines, an update on the county landfill's leachate pumping system, the county's current financial position and various other items during its meeting Monday afternoon.

Committee Chairman Michael White announced that with 33 percent of the year completed, expenditure percentages of the entire yearly budget are: County Judge (31 percent), County Clerk (29 percent), Circuit Clerk (31 percent), Treasurer (26 percent), Collector (35 percent), Assessor (30 percent), Sheriff (28 percent), County Jail (29 percent), County General (34 percent), Road Department (33 percent) and County Landfill (19 percent with $1.452 million of debt service that has yet to be spent).

White said, "Sounds to me that we're just right on track, everybody is just tracking right along with all the elected officials watching their budgets very closely."

White said that the county has been holding back payments owed to the City of Blytheville, in some cases for an entire year.

"The premise on holding that money back then was that we were in litigation regarding the city jail fees and that was the only way that we were getting some of our money...we've moved so far along now, me personally I don't like holding bills back for very long...do we want to continue holding and not pay them?," White asked.

Carney asked how much was currently being held back.

"$122,742.87," County Finance Director Kelli Jones answered.

"That's not much," Carney said.

"I don't know why we would give it to them. When they haven't... I just don't," Justice Barry Ball said. "I don't understand why we are even discussing it to be honest with you."

White explained that the money the county owes the city of Blytheville is the portion split from circuit courts for the district courts. White said that when the county gets its bills, it cuts the checks, but holds them back.

"I'd say just as long as we make sure that we've got accurate paperwork and know exactly where...dot every 'I' and cross every 'T'," Ball said.

"I agree with Barry," Justice Ken Kennemore said.

"I agree with Ken," Justice Sylvester Belcher said.

"In the [Blytheville] city council meetings, I bet you that they haven't discussed whether or not they were going to pay us," Ball said.

Justice Bill Nelson replied, "(A city official) said that Mr. Callens said that they have over a half-million dollars in an account for us in the event that they lose this general suit."

Ball added, "But I understand now that the Mayor has instructed not to put any more in there, that's what I've been told."

Chief Financial Officer for the city of Blytheville John Callens confirmed to the CN Tuesday that the city does indeed have "about a half million dollars in a special account called jail fees."

White also announced that the county transferred $177,976 for the month of April from County General to Jail Operations, raising the transfer total for the year to date to $457,644.

"So, it takes a lot of money to run that jail. And all of this started when the City of Blytheville thought that the quarter of a cent that we kept to maintain and help operate the jail should have been enough to run it. And it just doesn't. It never has and wasn't intended to. So right now we have already transferred almost $500,000 out of county general and into the general operations and maintenance," White said.

"Are they going to have a new jail inside their justice center?" Nelson asked.

Ball said, "The answer to that is going to be no. I would say no. Why would they?"

Mayor James Sanders told the CN Tuesday that there would not be a jail built in the new Justice Center. He also said that he didnít instruct that no new funds be set aside for jail fee payments, but rather that Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mike Mosley had told the city to stop. Sanders also said that Mosley told city leaders that the court has ruled and said that the city shouldnít have to pay and that unless the courts give a different ruling, to make the payments would be an "illegal exaction."

Justice Neil Burge asked for the balance owed to the county by Blytheville to date and the sheriff said around $1 million.

In other business, White also told the committee to be aware of the state's request that all county voting machines be replaced.

County Clerk Janice Currie announced that the state sent a letter last week stating that it will pay half of the cost.

"We got a letter saying that they are going to pay...our total was almost $500,000 and they were going to pay $248,000 and the county would be responsible for the rest," Currie explained.

"What are the impacts, ramifications...what if we do and what if we don't?," White asked Currie.

"The problem arises when we try to consolidate elections, which is what they want to do. With the old machines we will not be able to cross boundaries across school districts and all of that and separate them," Currie explained.

The new machines would allow registered voters to vote anywhere in the county, not just their home polling location.

"If we had the new equipment," Currie said. "If we go to voting centers. The school districts have been funny about letting us cross over zones to vote. Like if you were in Zone 7, they didn't want you going over to Zone 5 to vote. I don't know why, but they wouldn't allow that. But because they are trying to consolidate all the elections, they have passed an amendment to a law that would allow them to go to another polling locations that crosses election lines."

Curie said votes would be counted in the district the voter is registered in. She also said that the state wants the changeover to happen before the next election cycle if possible.

"Okay, so what if we don't spend a quarter million dollars in this year's budget...What if we don't have a quarter million dollars to spend. Because some of the counties are simply saying that they donít have it...so what happens? We keep going like we're going?," White asked.

Currie answered, "We keep going until we run into a lawsuit, I guess."

White also announced to the commitee that a 6-inch sewer main on county property, just north of the County Road Department, burst and had to be fixed during the weekend.

"It shut everybody out there down. It shut down the state penitentiary system; it shut the sheriff's department, the landfill, the road department...it shut everybody down because this main 6 inch line failed...nobody wanted to take responsibility, apparently including the Burdette Water Association...but they got Farrow and Farrow Plumbing out there...It took about two and a half days to repair the line. Now Farrow has sent us a bill for $10,623.36," White said.

County Judge Randy Carney said, "Well, we do need to visit with the Burdette Water Association because the county does spend about $2,200 a month on our water bill every month on average."

"So then my first question is it really Mississippi County's to pay Judge? And if you determine that it is Mississippi County's to pay, then who pays? Because we have so many different entities [out there]," White asked. "Marsha out at the Sheriff's Department suggested maybe we should split it three ways among the county entities and then somebody else said well maybe we should include the state for their share too."

"As well as the Burdette Water Association," Carney added.

"If you can make that happen it needs to be a five-way split. In my opinion...every time in the past they have come to us and we've had to pay for it out of our pocket...I haven't felt that it was right for the Sheriff's Department to have to eat it when there are four other entities involved in it," Sheriff Dale Cook said.

White agreed, "Like I said I think the city of Burdette should have to bear some of the burden of it, if not all of it."

Carney said that he would meet with Burdette Mayor James Sullivan.

Jones announced that the county landfill is currently paying $1.50 per ton for its quarterly ADEQ fees, but that it is likely to go up to $2.50 a ton. White also added that the county processes around 100,000 tons every year.

It was also announced that the landfill has paid $11,000 for the leachate hauling trailer and received two invoices from the city of Luxora of $2,500-$3,000 each for leachate disposal.

The rate Luxora charges the county is 10 cents per gallon.

Burge then gave an update on the landfill, "You should be seeing that [leachate hauling] increase significantly... because the pumps on the new cell have not been right. And the installation on the pumps on the old cell was supposed to have been a week ago and there was a death in the family. And they are supposed to be there today to start installing the pumps on the old cell. And if they don't I'm going to call FTN today because we are going to end up in serious trouble if we do not get that completed."

"They are coming to install the pumps, have we already paid them?," Justice Howard Norvell asked.

"No; we paid for the pumps but we havenít paid to have them installed," White answered.

"ADEQ is not going to be happy with us," White warned.

"No, they are not happy," Burge agreed.

"But where we are fortunate is that Wil Allen has an excellent rapport with ADEQ. Because he reports to them on a weekly basis and sometimes a daily basis. They probably get tired of hearing from him, probably like some of you do," Carney said.

"They have been lenient with us, I'll say they have been lenient with us but you know, you just don't know when their patience will be gone," Burge replied.

thenry@blythevillecourier.com