The Cleburne County Quorum Court convened last Thursday evening at 6:00pm at the Waychoff Center for the February regular meeting.
The topic of major concern was the ongoing issue of the Sheriff’s Office providing patrols for the eleven federal parks that exist in the county. An ordinance sponsored by Alan Malone (R-District 5) would create two full-time permanent deputies that would be dedicated to patrolling the federal parks. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) enter an interlocal agreement annually for four part-time deputies to patrol the federal parks at a rate of $22.50 per hour.
Sheriff Chris Brown explained that the hourly rate paid by the Corps doesn’t cover the full costs for deputies and equipment resulting in the county making up the difference. Brown is in the process of renegotiating the Corps contract to cover a period of two years and at an increased rate of $26.00 per hour. He assured Court members this rate would adequately cover the salaries, benefits and equipment costs for the permanent deputies.
“Previous deputies patrolling the federal parks weren’t certified, "said Brown. "Permanent deputies are required by law to be certified. Creating two permanent positions for deputies to patrol the federal parks would correct this problem."
Several members of the Court thought it wasn’t fair for the citizens of Cleburne County to provide law enforcement services on federal lands. Some asked if the county was legally liable if the Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to a 911 call.
“That would have a chilling effect on tourism and families have actually loaded up and left because they didn’t feel safe," said Brown. "The federal parks in Cleburne County are the most profitable in the state. My department is morally responsible for responding to calls where a shooting or a fight is in progress.”
Sam Heneger (R-District 2) asked if the Corps had approved Sheriff Brown’s new contract proposal.
“I’ve been in discussions with them, but I don’t have a signed contract with them at this point in time,” Brown replied.
The Court voted to reject the ordinance creating the two permanent deputy positions until Brown had a Corps contact with the new rate. Sheriff Brown stated that he felt he should have a contract from the Corps by the March meeting.
The Court voted unanimously to appropriate funds for the purchase of thirty-one new tasers for the Sheriff’s Office. Brown explained the current tasers have a shelf-life of five years.
“They’ve all expired four years ago, and are very unreliable. They don’t work half the time,” he said.
Brown gave a demonstration of the proposed taser, pointing out they are $400 less in cost, have no shelf-life, and use pepper spray instead of an electrical charge, making the new taser compliant with new law enforcement regulations.
The Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee determined in 2015 that the Cleburne County Detention Center was inadequate and failed to meet state regulations. County Judge Jerry Holmes invited South Build Team, an architecture and construction firm exclusively for the design and construction management of rural detention centers, to present their company to Court members.
The firm has been in business for twenty years. Since 2000, the SB Team have completed more detention center projects in Arkansas than any other construction firm. Arkansas counties that have contracted with SB Team for their detention center projects include Washington, Crawford, White and several smaller counties.
In other business, Brent Foust (R- District 8) sponsored an ordinance to clean up the 2016 budget for a total increase of $23,888.98. Mr. Malone questioned why there was an increase of $31,501.75 in General Supplies for the Election Commission. Former Cleburne County Clerk Paul Muse explained the State had purchased new voting machines and that was the cost to program the machines. The ordinance was unanimously approved.
The next regularly scheduled Quorum Court meeting is March 9, at 6:00 p.m., in the Cleburne County Court Building.