Sharp County Sheriff outlines cost saving options for jail, receives facility dog and permission to pay part time jailers overtime

By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor

Changes and increased revenue at the Sharp County Detention Center were the main topic of the June 12 Sharp County Quorum Court meeting. New method for inmates to see doctor Sheriff Shane Russell explained the jail received nearly $33,000 in revenue for the month of May. This included revenue from inmates use of the county’s NCIC inmate communication system which include phone, video and messaging systems. Other revenue included nicotine patches, housing state prisoners and medical reimbursements except for doctor visits and medicine to the jail. Russell said the county saved or re-couped $864 in May alone by utilizing the system and a recently implemented methods of addressing inmate illness in the facility.

Russell explained the county had previously utilized a nurse practitioner who made rounds at the jail. A few months ago, the jail began having Dr. Burns visit patients through phone or online link. “Things are running a lot smoother with this,” the sheriff explained during his presentation to the court. “Dispatch is running well, jail is running well, starting to pick up a few things and working better.” He said nurses fill scripts through phone or links. Prior to the agreement with Burns, the jail had a verbal contract, but the sheriff said and have been working things out and this method has helped tremendously in keeping costs down for the jail.

He said inmates medications are paid for by Medicaid or Medicare and the county used to have to pick up the cost but now they are charging the in-mate’s commissary fund. Now they have to pay $15 to see a doctor out of their pocket. That is the reimbursement fee to have Burns on contract.“ It shouldn’t have to be up to our county people to come inhere and have to pay for something when they did something wrong,” he said of the county’s previous history of having to pay for inmates ill-nesses while housed in the facility. Russell explained the county still has the “Pay to Stay” program for inmates who have already been sentenced and it is an additional revenue source for the county. “If they don’t pay, we are working at different angles to get that setup with the court to make sure they pay.” The amount is $35 a day for inmates to be housed at the facility.

Facility animal Training

In other business related to the jail, the court appropriated $2300 the sheriff’s department has previously raised for training a jail service dog. Sheriff Russell explained the a dog was donated to the jail for a service dog that will be the facility animal. Strutter is a golden doodle. Chief Deputy Bart Simpson explained, “When a prisoner comes in, it helps in a lot of ways. One who really acts up, when they see the dog, it changes their whole demeanor. It really calms them down.” Simpson said that therapy dogs of this type are widely used throughout the United States in detention facilities. Simpson explained that prisoners who have behavior issues are sometimes placed in isolation. Last week he witnessed one such isolation inmate interacting with Strutter. “I walked in there the other day and one of the inmates who had been acting up, was throwing a ball through the slot to the dog. It really calmed him down.” Simpson explained a group in West Plains will take Strutter for training which would have been $6000 for the two, one month long training sessions. Sheriff Russell explained since employees of the department have worked with the training company in the past, they were offering the county a 20 percent reduction in cost. The Sheriff’s Department has currently raised $2300 toward the first month’s session. Treasurer Wanda Girtman explained that the state’s legislative audit requires the Quorum Court to approve the allocation, even though the sheriff’s department has raised the funds through donations, to allow them to spend the proceeds on training. The quorum court voted unanimously to allocate the money for Strutter’s first session. Russell explained when they raise the funds for the second session, they will return to the court for the al-location to send him for the second session.

Overtime pay approved for jailers

A second allocation was voted on by justices to pay jailers overtime. “We are like robbing Peter to pay Paul because we are having to call in part time help because we can’t keep full time help. The ones who do work are working their comp time or overtime starts at 171 hours on a 28 day pay scale. Some are working 200-210 hours a month and they are getting this comp time. At some point, we are either going to have to pay them or we are going to have to pay part time help to come in so they can still take off their comp time. They still got vacation and holiday that they can take off I am not against this at all. I am all for the good employees that is at the top of my list. But at some point I have got to figure out how to keep from doing this if we can pay them some overtime, that would save on the comp time from having to call in part time help if we got it to work these shifts. If not, I am fixing to have to start pulling deputies off the road to work back therein the jail. It is just that, its a struggle. I am not complaining but it is, its a struggle over here in dispatch. We are the lowest paid county in the whole state, the lowest,” Russell explained. Russell explained the county set an amount to keep the reigns on the over-time cost. He admitted he did not have the figures ready and should have had them prepared for the court, but said he could have them to the justices by the July meeting. There are 12 employees in the jail and only 4-5 who are willing to come in at the drop of a hat. While the sheriff said while the county is saving a little with part time, it isn’t much. Denise explained many counties have county allocations worked in to their budgets for overtime. Russell referred to his experience as chief at Highland and the same type of issues and never went over budget. The sheriff estimated around $15,000 – $20,000 could possibly account for the over-time cost but said he would get exact numbers by July’s meeting. The court voted to allow Russell to begin the overtime pay for the jail employees immediately and not be retroactive for already accrued time. Russell assured the court by the next meeting, he would have the exact number to be allocated to the overtime for the remainder of the year. “You have got to have someone manning the jail, you aren’t going to want part time people with no experience come in,” former Judge and now Justice Larry Brown said. The motion was seconded by Justice Tommy Estes and passed unanimously.

In other business, an upgrade or a complete renovation of the concession stand at the fairgrounds was discussed. Last year the court allocated $25,000 to upgrade fairgrounds concession stands but discussion has been amongst the fair board to build a new concession stand for the rodeo and fairgrounds to both utilize. Discussion began as Secretary Denise Frame explained that they were unaware they had the funds until a few days prior and said they would like to demolish the building because they wanted to apply for a grant. There was still remaining allocated funds for education and pageant building that haven’t been spent. Discussion amongst the court about adding that money to $25,000 with the approval by other committees, if their projects were completed, would make the amount for a. new building around $35000. The court voted to move forward with a new concession stand and forego the previously planned remodel of the concession stand.

Eclipse Planning

Spring River Area of Chamber of Commerce Vice President and Solar Eclipse Committee chair Hazel Whited appeared and explained the Chamber has restructured under Fred Holzhauer who said the communities agree they need for the chamber be more proactive in the community development. Whited explained that helps growing community and economic development in the area. The Chamber began looking at the 2024Solar Eclipse and its impact on the Sharp County area as they will be in the area of totality and the resources that will be available to them through the chamber about the eclipse. The committee was created and involves several community leaders. She said Horseshoe Bend has already got reservations, Whited explained area towns like Heber Springs have already reserved about 75 lots with people arriving a week prior to the event. She explained that many who are lodging in surrounding areas but will be making their way to Sharp County as there is two more minutes of coverage than in the nearby areas. Whited explained the Chamber will continue to alert the area about the happenings and the preparations businesses are encouraged to make for the expected influx of tourists arriving for the eclipse.

Ordinances to do business with relatives of county employees

Judge Mark Counts then announced the requirement of the passage of two ordinances that would allow the county to do business with people who are related to county employees. The first was Frank Voldness, Frank The Computer Guy, who is married Tara Voldness who is employed by the county in the clerk’s office. The auditor explained an ordinance is re-quired to use him for their repairs as they have in the past.“ He is the only one I know we can call on that does a good job,” Judge Counts said. A second event was that a trans-mission went out on one of the trucks and I wanted to take it to Gale Weaver.“ The auditor walked in about that time and told me about this situation. Todd Price works for me, he was JP, and that is his father in law. So, before anyone says anything, I am asking tonight that I can do business with Frank the computer guy and Gale Weaver because they…and its also hard to find somebody to do a transmission anymore. You know if you go up there to the dealership you are liable to spend $10,000 and wait six months or a year to get it done,” Counts said.

Both ordinances were presented separately and read to the court. The use of any vendors related to county employees is against state law unless an ordinance is created to allow the county to conduct business with the individuals and specifies they are the only or most feasible business to conduct the business or sell the product or products to the county. Motions were made and seconded to approve the ordinances. The court voted unanimously to allow the county to do business with both business owners. Final announcements Judge Counts announced the county received a $27,192 grant to do some work to Big Creek Road on the Ash Flat side. He said the work will begin in the coming weeks. The county also received a Courtroom Security Grant for $17,512.63 from the State Supreme Court. Counts said the county will get magnetic locks, keycard locks and handcuffs for the courtroom.

The Sharp County Quorum Court meets each month on the second Monday at 6 p.m. in the Sharp County Courthouse main courtroom in Ash Flat. The public is always welcome and invited to attend the meetings.

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