Arkadelphia, Ark. –

The Clark County Budget and Finance Committee met one last time Tuesday before submitting the county’s 2010 budget to the Quorum Court, revisiting items tentatively approved in recent meetings, talking over a payroll adjustment for county employees and hearing Sheriff David Turner’s comments on recently addressed issues at the fairgrounds.

Friday, Brown Hardman had told the committee he would contact State Sen. Percy Malone and Bill Wright, CEO of Southern Bancorp, about the county’s funding of the 2025 Commission for the upcoming year. His suggestion was to keep the funding the same as in previous years, at $25,000 for projects. Mac Neel seconded the motion, which carried without much discussion.

Representatives from Southern Bancorp recently asked the committee to consider pitching in $15,000 for one year’s operation of the Diamond Lakes Regional Visitor Center in the former Elk Horn Bank branch in Caddo Valley. The committee tentatively approved the request in September to see if funds might be available. The center is expected to receive funds from each municipality in the county, as well as the Caddo Valley Advertising and Promotion Commission. One question committee members raised was if Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist universities would also give money since they, too, would be promoted at the center. It was learned Tuesday that each university has vowed to give $25,000 apiece.

The idea for such a center, Hardman reminded the committee, would be to give prospective industries a location to send a site scouting group to go to “scope out” the county and what it has to offer. The committee approved the funding.

In 2008, the committee submitted a proposal — which was passed by the full court — to give county employees a one-time, $600 “payroll adjustment” for 2009. For next year, however, the committee agreed to reconvene in May 2010 to consider a similar increase. The salary increase will not be included in the 2010 budget, but is expected to be given.

Turner then joined the meeting to address recent complaints the Clark County Fair Board had against the sheriff’s office and its using a part of the Arts and Crafts Building at the fairgrounds. The board met with the committee Friday, armed with documentation of phone bills, alleging that the lease the county has with the Fair Board is costing the board more than the amount contracted for (the contract states that the board should see a monthly profit of $300, but president Ray Smith said it is only seeing a profit of $171 per month).

Francis McGill told Turner, “I feel responsible for the county being down there in the first place.” Prior to last December, county prisoners were fed by Baptist Health Medical Center. According to the Fair Board, she said, things at the building are “being destroyed.”

“How’s it being destroyed?” Turner asked. McGill, noting what the fair board members told the committee, said there was a burned countertop. Turner said a microwave fire was the reason for that damage. McGill also told him of another apparent place where a Formica countertop was damaged because of hot pans being placed on top of it. She said she was also concerned that there are people going into the unleased portion of the building and turning on an air conditioner that belongs to the fair board. “They don’t have permission to be there,” she said, adding that employees of Tiger Foods, the contractors who prepare food, are not allowed there, either.

Turner laid the blame on the agency that gives driver’s tests. He said he was there recently after a large group of people left the building, and the lights were left on and the door left open. He said his and Tiger Foods employees are out at 4:30 p.m. and are not back until 6 a.m.

McGill asked him to provide a schedule. Turner said the workers pick up food trays at 6 a.m. and take them to the kitchen, where the food is prepared and brought back to the jail at 7:30 a.m. They return to the fairgrounds at 8:30 a.m. and return to the jail at noon for lunch. Then, food is prepared at the kitchen between 3-4:30 p.m., when the food trays are brought back one last time and left there until 6 a.m. the next morning. Neither his employees nor the Tiger Foods supervisor, he said, loiter in the unleased part of the building. “I don’t know who’s touching the thermostat.”
Regarding others who use the building, he noted that there was a Halloween party held there recently.

Fair Board members also complained about the phone bill, saying there are two phone lines. Turner said he read an article in the Siftings that noted there were two phone lines in the building. One of those phones, he said, is locked away in a front office and is used solely by the fair board. The other, which was placed in the building for the senior adult center, is now used for Tiger Foods to make food orders and fax reports once a week.

McGill said she understands that the Tiger Foods supervisor needs a phone at the building, but said she disagrees that the county should be billed for it. “It is Tiger’s responsibility.”

Other allegations against the sheriff’s office included not keeping a grease trap clean and allowing drains to be clogged. Turner said grease traps are kept clean and that the drains are kept unclogged.

With no other business, the committee adjourned. The final budget will be submitted to the full court’s final approval in the December meeting.