Nonpayment of taxes by Emerson, updates to the jail and repairs to the Sharp County Courthouse parking lot dominated discussion during the Sharp County Quorum Court meeting held June 10.
After accepting the minutes as written and dispensing with the reading of the minutes they moved on to department reports, having no questions for Treasurer Wanda Girtman, County Clerk Alisa Black was next.
Black said she wanted to draw the court’s attention to a document regarding a recent audit conducted by the State Board of Election Commissioners.
“..They did an audit on us and we got 100 percent, Tonya does a great job and I think she needs to be recognized. They came and chose five of our DS200s and counted a total of 968 ballots and everything was spot on. We got 100 percent,” Black said.
County Collector Michelle Daggett said everything was going well with her department.
J.P. Chuck Murphy directed a question to the room, inquiring as to whether or not the county had received any tax money from Emerson in the last two years.
After being informed by the county had not received any tax dollars from the company, Sharp County Judge Mark Counts said he planned to address the issue later in the meeting.
“We gave them a bill, $325,880.50 was due. $166,918.50 is past due but by October 15 it’s another $158,970 [making the $325,888.50],” Secretary Denise Frame said.
County Attorney Larry Kissee said his attempts to speak with Emerson’s lawyers had been unsuccessful.
Counts said he had contacted Graycen Bigger, who was instrumental in securing the fortune 500 company’s presence in Ash Flat.
“Last week I was on the phone with Graycen because she worked on this project. I talked to her to to find out as far as what kind of deals were made. She asked if we’d heard from them and I said no, and she said she was going to call and talk to their attorney, but I’ve not heard anything since,” Counts said.
It was also noted after reviewing the lease, it expires Dec. 31 of 2025 which is less than a year and a half away.
“We had talked about calling White River Planning and Development [WRPD] and getting with them. Looking at the lease today, we see where the lease expires December 31 of 2025. We need to know where we stand with them in case they decide to walk away,” Frame said.
Counts said he would be contacting WRPD first thing the following morning and that he would also write a letter.
Attorney Kissee said the company continued to “drag their feet” concerning paying the taxes owed to the county and that he had been told by Emerson’s lawyer she would speak to the company, but there was still no resolution to the issue.
It was also noted as part of the initial agreement, due to the investment Emerson had made in the county, no taxes were expected in 2021, however; payment was to begin in 2022.
Treasurer Wanda Girtmen stated it was not necessarily taxes, “It was in lieu of taxes.”
Frame explained per the contract, “It’s called payment in lieu of taxes and it’s a signed and filed contract, they are supposed to pay 35 percent of the value. In lieu of of Ad Valorem property taxes, the company will pay the county an annual sum equal to 35 percent of the amount which will be payable as Ad Valorem taxes that would be paid on the project to Sharp County, City of Ash Flat and Highland Schools.”
After further discussion, county employees and members of the court expressed concern as to what would happen if Emerson were to abandon Ash Flat as they had done to Batesville years ago.
J.P. Briana DiIorio said this same issue was discussed at a meeting she had attended in recent years and recommended the county contact the Arkansas Association of Quorum Courts.
Other suggestions such as contacting Emerson’s corporate officer were also made, however; Counts said he felt the best course of immediate action would be to contact WRPD.
With no more discussion about the Emerson issue, Sharp County Sheriff Shane Russell provided his report.
“The NCIC and Tiger Total amount for this month $2,818.09, nicotine sales $6,402.74, Arkansas Department of Correction Housing $28,840, total medical reimbursement $615, commissary sales $1,545 and total revenue $40,221.89,” Russell said. “We received $3,936 for Narcan. The Block Grant we received for $7,400 we used to purchase a new restraint chair, unlock kit, PBT..”
Russell said he also anticipated receiving a grant from the health department in the amount of $46,000 for cleaning supplies as well.
Moving on to old and unfinished business Russell addressed the ongoing camera system issues at the jail.
“As we went through last time, our other people were not able provide the service the jail is requiring and we did find out Homeland Safety Security Systems is on the state bid list,” Russell said.
Russell reminded the court the company which is also listed on the state bid list was also the better of the options discussed at previous meetings offering more services at a lower cost.
“They will take over everything we already have, it will have a two year warranty and then after that it’s the 10 percent every year that will not go up. The other company for four years it would cost nearly $100,000 for four more years of warranty and just didn’t add up,” Russell said.
Questions were asked about the issues with the jails HVAC system.
Russell said he had made several calls, due to excessive humidity and repairmen had come several times, replacing thermostats and more.
He noted the jail was actively using dehumidifiers which were emptied twice per day with each holding close to two gallons of water at a time.
Russell said there was a recent meeting held in the courtroom located in the jail and the moisture was noticeable and was also negatively impacting equipment such as printers.
“I don’t know what the fix is, I just know it’s an issue. If you keep the AC down to about 65 it helps knock it down, but then it is so cold in there and come August the electric bill will be sky high,” Russell said.
Discussion was held briefly about possible solutions to the humidity issue and increase in moisture. Russell said he would contact the HVAC company and hold a meeting to look deeper into solutions and costs.
Discussion then returned to the camera issue, with the court voting unanimously to contract with the new provider.
Russell had one final order of business which was a recent replacement of the server system in 911 at a cost of $6,000 to restore services.
The next item of business was to revisit last month’s discussion of whether to pave or renovate the courthouse parking lot.
“I asked three different companies to bid it and I got one from MoArk Asphalting and Trico Asphalt. When we added the extension, Trico went to $120,000, MoArk went to $104,349,” Counts said.
“I asked the road department if they’d help replace the sidewalk when we laid the asphalt and they said they would. We’re looking at a couple thousand dollars for the sidewalk.”
Removing some existing trees to create more parking was again discussed, with new trees to be planted at a later time, however; removal of the trees would allow for another 37 parking spaces.
Curb work to deal with the wet weather flooding and pop up pond was also discussed. One item of note was MoArk offered to build an asphalt curb at no additional cost and striping was included.
Some discrepancies on the presented bids were discussed with the primary explanation being the issues had been resolved by phone rather than on paper.
When discussing the financing of the project, Girtman said there were still American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funds set aside with $50,000 of the remaining funds dedicated to courthouse property improvements.
“There is $60,000 in the budget that is already appropriated and I’ve got $69,500 in that account we can use, anything above that will have to come from county general,” Girtman said.
CARES Act funding was also discussed as there was approximately $373,000 in that account.
“ARP funds have a timeline on it but CARES Act funding does not,” Girtman said.
Counts requested the court approve an expenditure of up to $120,000 for the paving and sidewalk project.
A motion was made and approved to use the available ARP funds in the amount of $69,500 toward the project and the remaining funds to be pulled from the CARES Act fund for a total of $120,000.
Under new business, the court discussed appropriation for road department grader sale proceeds.
Counts said he had been working to obtain three new road graders and two of the old graders had been sold. A new grader had arrived and two more were on the way.
He said he had spoken to the local banks about better interest rates on various loans and discussed equipment that had recently fallen into disrepair.
Counts said the county’s track-hoe was beyond what he deemed reasonable for the county to attempt to maintain and that he had received quotes for a new one with the bid from Catepillar coming in $244,000 which was $50,000 lower than other bids.
Counts provided the local interest rates he’d received from local banks and requested the court allow him to take out a loan for the purchase of a new track-hoe.
A motion was made to appropriate $116,747 from the sale of the old road graders and sale of other equipment to be put toward the purchase of new equipment in the near future.
The Sharp County Quorum Court meets the second Monday of the month at 6 at the Sharp County Courthouse in Ash Flat.
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