Bi-County Jail Dominates Discussion at Franklin County Court Meeting
By Connie Ls Schneider
Two items were removed from Thursday’s Quorum Court agenda including discussion on Sunday liquor sales in Franklin County and an ordinance to adopt the county’s personnel policy, but the controversial bi-county jail was discussed at length and four Appropriation Ordinances and two resolutions were approved.
All Justices were present as were two officials from Logan County, some candidates for Franklin County Judge and other offices and a number of county residents.
As expected, the main topic of debate was the proposed bi-county jail.
A 10 member committee from Franklin and Logan Counties had their first meeting two weeks ago to start preliminary discussions on building a 200 bed bi-county jail with separate quarters to house prisoners from each county.
Committee Chairman and Logan County Justice Mike Schluterman said the committee has just started "taking baby steps" and has not even had time to investigate if a bi-county jail would be good for both counties. He also noted that with only one meeting, the committee "doesn’t know where or if we would put it or how much the facility would cost."
Although these discussions have just begun, several Franklin County Justices raised "red flags" at Thursday’s meeting and said sentiments voiced by their constituents has been overwhelmingly negative toward a bi-county jail.
South Franklin County residents Mary Sue Riley and her sisters Betty Lou Riley and Johnnie Mae Kohler spoke in opposition of proposed locations for the jail, saying they had safety concerns and were worried that their property values would go down if the jail was built in Caulksville or Branch where each have residences.
Justice David Hewitt raised the objection that it would be difficult to run the jail with two elected county sheriffs and that even if the first set of sheriffs worked well together, future elected sheriff’s might not. He also wanted to know if jailers would be County Sheriff’s employees or hired independently and how that would work.
Schluterman answered that a bi-county jail administrator (warden) and jail guards could be hired and managed by a bi-partisan board of directors. However, the committee has not yet discussed these options and it might be advisable to hire a consultant to study these issues, he added.
Franklin County Attorney Jim Mainard said he had not been asked to do any research into the legalities of a bi-county jail and didn’t know yet if Franklin County even wants to go ahead with the project.
Logan County Judge Gus Young said whether Franklin County decides to participate or not, Logan County will go ahead with plans for building a new jail, since the Logan County jail is out of standards with state requirements and must move forward to correct the problems.
Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Boen said Franklin County has not yet been cited for its overcrowding problems and recently reduced the number of inmates in the jail to 35, but also said he was in contact with an official of the AR Department of Corrections who told him "we are going to written up and will need a bigger jail."
Franklin County Judge Janet Powell called for a vote to see if Justices wanted a second bi-county jail committee meeting, and Justice Lacy Neissl said she would be willing to attend another meeting since no details have been discussed at the first meeting. Neissl sits on the Jail Committee along with Justice Rusty Cagle, Sheriff Boen and Janet and Joe Powell and five Logan County members.
Ending the discussion, six Justices approved further discussion by the Jail Committee before they "threw in the towel" while three Justices voted against continued discussion. Voting yes to continue the Bi-County Jail discussion were David Bowles, Rusty Cagle, Chad Harberer, Lacy Neissl, Freddy Ree and Paul Schaffer. No votes were given by Mary Jane Cains, David Hewitt and Garrett Shepherd.
Ordinance 2014-10 appropriated $2,084 in ACT 833 first quarter grant money to the Altus Fire Department and passed unanimously without discussion.
Ordinance 2014-11 also passed unanimously and appropriated $1,800 to the county’s Agri-Extension building fund for an insurance reimbursement for weather-related property damages.
Ordinance 2014-12 passed by a vote of 7/2 after discussion on funding a temporary (six month) full time employee for the County Collector’s office in Charleston. The position will be fully funded by the Collector’s automation fund, said County Collector Sylvia Edgin.
Edgin will retire at the end of 2014 and said the requested position is needed to adequately train a replacement and will fill-in during Edgin’s two upcoming surgeries. Edgin also said the Collector’s automation fund is used at the discretion of the Director and that funding the position is a legal expenditure.
Cains questioned the Collector’s office need for another employee when the department has already budgeted for one part-timer (which has not been used) and said she didn’t want to set a precedent of hiring an extra person in a tight budget year. Hewitt also voted no.
Ordinance2014-14 to appropriates $8,000 for architectural plans for a state-mandated awning to cover the ER entrance at Mercy/Turner Hospital. Franklin County owns the building and pays Mercy Health Systems $350,000 per year to operate the facility. The ordinance passed 8/1 with Neissl casting the no vote.
Justices voted unanimously to approve a resolution declaring May 2014 National Historic Preservation Month.
The second unanimous resolution filled two vacancies on the Pleasant View Water Board. Joe Powell will fill a term ending December 31, 2014 and Marsha Battles will fill the term ending December 31, 2018.