Several residents of Ozark Acres were present as Deb Lumley, the woman who filed the lawsuit against the Ozark Acres SID for illegal tax exaction last week, spoke to the court. Lumley asked if the county would take the Acres in if the SID were dissolved. Several option for the future of the SID were discussed, but none were resolved.
By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Several agenda items were resolved at the monthly meeting of the Sharp County Quorum Court.
County Treasurer Wanda Girtman began the meeting with good news. She informed the court the county had made a bond payment on Sept. 1. In 2019 the bond started at 10,340,000. And after the payment, the county now only owes 5,100,000. The county had excess money from the construction coming in under cost on the jail to pay on the bond. “The $2 million made a big dent in the bond and interest payment,” she explained
A request from the Highland Assembly of God for $20,000 to help fund Celebrate Recovery was discussed. Justice Brianna Diorio, who had recently attended a conference, explained how the county would soon be receiving funds from the Opioid Lawsuits.
Funds from opioid lawsuits that began in 2018 will have an 18 year payout and begin filtering into Sharp County in the coming months. She said there will be three settled by the end of the year. Arkansas is the only state in the U.S. who opted to divide the amounts coming in equally to assist in the education, enforcement and training to assist with the epidemic. A third of the money will go to the state, county and city. Diorio explained how programs such as Celebrate Recovery and the sheriff’s department will benefit from the suits. She advised the court to be aware of the incoming funds prior to making a decision to allocate money from the county budget on funding the program.
Girtman said the distribution of the funds will be done by county population. Judge Gene Moore’s secretary, Denise Frame said she was under the impression that several of the big pharmaceuticals had filed bankruptcy. Diorio said at the time of the conference she attended they had not and that the funds are already earmarked for the county. Arkansas is one of only states in US to sue collectively, with all 75 counties suing the drug companies together. The funds are to improve the fight against illegal drugs, and could include using the funds for radios. The court decided to table the funding until the funds
Stop the Cycle
Carmen Gilchrist, with Stop the Cycle Spay and Neuter Clinic explained her organization began providing certificates for $15 spay and neuter for pets at delegated veterinarians who accepted the vouchers, including Dr. Langley at Thayer, Mo. She said Fulton County had already provided them with funds for vouchers and would like Sharp County to match the $6,000 Fulton County provided them. The court explained they would like to wait until next month to discuss the request.
Sharp County Conservation
Brian Neal with the Sharp County Conservation District board requested $15,000 in funds to match funds provided from Arkansas Natural Resources. Neal presented the court with an annual report covering their activities for the year and many accomplishments as well as the dollars brought into the county as a result of the Conservation District and Arkansas Natural Resources. The state provides the Conservation District with matching funds. He said over the last year, they were able to purchase equipment for land owners to rent. He spoke of special projects that will bring in money to farmers in the area. The money they are requesting will bring in over $1.75 million for their programs. It is a match from the state and helps with their mission to conserve and preserve the land. “For every dollar the county provided last year, the county received $173.75 in return,” he explained. He said the Conservation District has also received $5 million that are coming in.
District Conservationist Becky Long spoke to the court next.
Long explained there is a lot of silt and nutrients flowing down the Strawberry River that is valuable and allows the district to seek and write grants. They currently have three grants from the Mississippi River Basin area for three of the county’s four watershed areas. The grant’s bring in a lot of money and anyone who owns a farm or land along those watersheds can receive 75 percent cost share for pasture practices. This includes brush and weed control, watering systems, pasture plaining, cross fencing and prescribed grazing. The county’s over 80 poultry farmers can also receive funds for storage sheds and composters. Long said it is the hope of the district there will be another $300,000 project in 2024-27 in the Southeast part of Cave City off Hwy. 230. Over the next five years, these projects are expected to bring in over $5 million to the area. She explained that they also partner with other counties. People who own land in the districts are encouraged to come in and sign up.
The amount of proposed funds will be allocated during budget time. Estes asked Long if the District received funds from the state. She said the state only provides them money for day to day operations, they are required to write grants to obtain the funding for the program she spoke of in the county. The money is then allocated from the state per project to the county in which the watershed is located. In Sharp County, they are all along the Strawberry River.
Ozark Acres SID
Debra Lumley, who recently filed a lawsuit against the Ozark Acres SID for illegal exaction of taxes was next to speak. With her was a large group from Ozark Acres. She explained the district is seeking long term answers for the future of Ozark Acres. She explained some residents felt it was best to allow the county to take over Ozark Acres, but said they were looking at multiple options. “How does the county feel about absorbing the Acres and in reality, what type of money is available as far as the budget goes, to do any upkeep? This will help all of us as a community to home in on the best option we have to look at, ”Lumley asked.
County Attorney Larry Kissee explained the SID is represented by attorney James Lyon and said he has referred anyone with questions to him. Kissee was made aware of the pending lawsuit last week. “This is something we just need to pass and not make a comment on at this time, until we see what is going to be happening. I have advised the judge until the Arkansas Association of Counties tells us exactly what is going on, we need to just lay back and stay out of this.” He also referred Lumley to Lyons for comments.
Peter Martin, who films the county meetings, explained to the court that before Cherokee Village was incorporated and became a city, the county supported them. He asked if Ozark Acres was the same. Justice Tommy Estes said, “I don’t think the county ever supported Cherokee Village in any form or fashion.” Martin said he was under the impression that before they became a city, Cherokee Village’s taxes collected weren’t given to the city and were a part of the county. Estes assured Martin that was not the case. Estes explained being a SID doesn’t allow them to collect the state taxes that the county is already collecting for them. Estes said the county gets a prorated share based on population. Martin said he was trying to explain the county is still responsible for them and Cherokee Village because under the SID rules they don’t have powers to have police protection, they can have security, but they are absent the power of arrest, and the county still polices them. Martin’s intention was to state that the county is already their government but that Ozark Acres is collecting two taxes, the county and the SID taxes and is already under the county’s protections by police. Estes said they are actually a private subdivision in which the county provides policing but does not maintain their roads and streets, or lake, that this something the SID is supposed to do per their contract.
A resident then asked who would care for their streets and lake if the SID were to dissolve and become part of the county. Estes said, “The county, in my opinion, is not going to take over the streets in a subdivision.” Kissee further explained it would be a budget decision the quorum court would have to decide at that time. Justice Todd Price explained the county would not get any more tax money by taking Ozark Acres in as a town of 663 residents. There is not a business base within the Acres. Lumley said they are facing the option of incorporating or allowing the county to take them in. “The majority of us don’t feel it is a good idea, because looking at your budget, we are not going to be taken care of. We just wanted to clarify that, there is better options we can look at than the county taking care of us.”
Justice Jackie Pickett explained the county couldn’t help them any more than other cities in the county because if they did, all the other cities would request the same and it was economically not realistic.
Diorio conference findings
Justice Diorio discussed other things she learned about various things at a recent conference and attended a workshop on grants and offered the paperwork and information to other justices. She also explained that at her conferences the speaker said many had not updated their personnel policies in many years and offered suggested update.
Dissolving allocation to former Judge Larry Brown for advisor fees
JP Dienst made a motion for the county to stop paying the advisory fee of over $700 a month to former Judge Larry Brown from funds from the American Recovery Plan. Treasurer Wanda Girtman explained the appropriation was made in an annual amount, but that Brown is paid monthly. Dienst said, “I don’t see any reason to keep depleting that fund when we are not needing or using an advisor, or getting anything from one when our fund is nearly depleted. That is just my thoughts. We will wait until budget time if that is what you want to do and stop it at the end of the year.” Dienst then recalled his motion.
Justice Chuck Murphy then went back to Dienst’s recalled motion asking how many months the county has left to pay Brown. Girtman said the county had three months left to pay. “So we have $2,100 we are paying for nothing?” Murphy asked. Girtman said, “I don’t know that you would say ‘nothing’. He was gone last week to the County Judge’s Association meeting.” Dienst explained that the funds that paid Brown for that did not come from the ARP funds.
Estes then asked if anyone ever looks to see what the grant opportunity links in emails or publications from the Arkansas Association of Counties. None of the justices indicated they had been looking at the grants available. Judge Moore said, “Judge Brown does look at that those and inform us on some.” Discussion ensued that the county utilizes White River Planning and Development to writes grants for the county. Estes explained if there was “money left sitting on the table,” he felt it would be a good idea for the county to explore grants available to them.
$20 Assessment for Poughkeepsie
Volunteer Fire District
The county then passed Ordinance to levy annual $20 assessment in the Poughkeepsie Volunteer Fire District. The county voted unanimously to pass the assessment, which will appear on residents in the district’s personal property taxes for fire protection.
Radio Equipment funds
Frame explained that there is $300 million available for radio communications and radio by Governor Hutchinson. She added that county funds will not have to be used as the county’s insurance has paid $10,000 for a tower damaged at Sidney.
The county has only received one bid for replacement of the tower. Frame explained the money, when it comes in to the county, will help the county upgrade their read and communications equipment.
Sheriff Mark Counts added the county is up over $100,000 on housing state prisoners. He also announced that Sheriff Elect Shane Russell will be taking the position of Chief Deputy Aaron Presser on Oct. 1.
The Sharp County Quorum Court meets the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the main courtroom of the Sharp County Courthouse in Ash Flat. The public is always invited and encouraged to attend.