911 funding reconciled

For a brief moment at the Van Buren County Quorum Court meeting Thursday night, Dec. 12, the county did not have an approved budget for 2019.

One of the final acts of the meeting, marking the final meeting for several Quorum Court members as well as the county judge, was a vote to approve the 2019 budget. The budget presented had been via a series of meetings by the court’s budget committee in months leading up to this court meeting as it reconciled a $5.5 mil budget against $5.3 mil in revenues. The committee was forced to trim expenses in several areas due to this gap.

State law mandates a county may not budget for more than 90 percent of its revenue.

At the meeting, one of the final discussions before the vote was the county-provided funding for a 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force (DTF) officer. County Prosecutor Chad Brown, joined by incoming 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews explained how the county had worked out funding for a DTF officer in a budgeting arrangement with the Van Buren County Sheriff’s office while removing $7,000 from its budget for 2019.

When it came time for a vote, two JPs abstained, the first being Dale James, who will become County Judge Jan. 1 and directly impacted by the budget, and JP Jackie Sikes. Sikes explained to the body that she had applied for a position at the library and was concerned it would be in conflict if she voted on the county budget.

Justice Gary Linn was not present.

When the vote was made JP Todd Burgess voted “No” to the other “Aye” votes made by present, non-abstaining, JPs. This was enough to remove the quorum needed to pass the budget.

A discussion ensued.

Burgess, when asked, explained his vote was due to the nature of the DTF agent funding.

“There’s not enough cuts in the budget,” Burgess said, calling the DTF funding a “backdoor appropriation.”

Further discussion was regarding Sikes’ abstaining. The court agreed that the library, funded as it is by millage, was not impacted by the vote that evening, indicating that Sikes could vote without ethical concerns.

Sikes agreed and, after a series of procedural votes, the budget was passed with her “Yes” vote. Burgess again voted “No” in this second round.

An earlier vote that evening was the establishment of an ordinance charging municipalities for housing prisoners in the Van Buren County Jail at a rate of $53 per day. The ordinance passed unanimously.

As the ordinance was presented, the Court was told that Van Buren County was one of two counties in the state which did not have such an ordinance.

“We should have done this 10 years ago,” JP Dell Holt said.

JP Dale James, who begins his term of County Judge Jan. 1, said during a break in proceedings that this fee was an offset to the so-called “Fair Share” 911 funding requested from the City of Clinton earlier in the year. The fair share amount of $41,000 was in debate by Clinton, which had stated during the 911 funding planning that it was not sure it would be able to provide the funding.

The prisoner fee now in effect, James explained before the meeting re-convened, would offset the fair share for Clinton. Fairfield Bay had agreed to pay its fair share sum and this, coupled with the contribution from the county and now the prisoner fee, would provide the revenue for continued 911 operations.

As the court was in session, incoming Sheriff Lucas Emberton told the court that part of the planning for the prisoner fee would be his office presenting a detailed monthly billing to the court at its meetings.

In other Quorum Court matters:

• County Judge Roger Hooper, in his final address to the court, shared his office’s accomplishments during his eight-year term, including 320 miles of 4-6” gravel, 85 miles of (each) new chip and seal, chip and seal overlay and asphalt overlay and 17 miles of low bridge and water crossings.

Additionally county unemployment went from 13.8 percent in Jan. 2011 to 4.6 percent by Aug. 2018, along with additional accomplishments.

• Karla Fultz, with the library, told the court the library will begin offering Driver’s License tests every Monday and a free tax service would soon be available for Van Buren County residents.

• End of year appropriations were made for various departments and budgets in order to balance the budget through 2018.