The Van Buren County Quorum Court began its 2019 session with several new faces at the Jan. 17 meeting. Agenda items included a review of service to a local food pantry, and a report from the sheriff which included that department gaining additional resources.

Van Buren County Sheriff Lucas Emberton told the court the department had recently acquired a dog which would be used both for drug searches, as well as overall searches and, if needed, defense. The dog had been given to the department by the 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Emberton told the court.

Emberton had earlier expressed the desire to bring in a K-9 for department use. He told the court that an officer had been appointed for training, and that same officer has begun interacting with the dog. The department had a cage in place for use in a patrol vehicle, he said.

In a later interview, Emberton said he was “ecstatic” about the department getting a dog, the result of his making a request to 20th Judicial District Prosecutor Carol Crews.

“I had planned on doing this [acquiring a dog] to curb the narcotics problem,” Emberton said.

Crews, in a statement, said: "I believe the dog will be very useful tool in Van Buren County's fight against the drug epidemic. The 20th Judicial District's Drug Task Force was honored to be able to give him to Sheriff Emberton today and I look forward to partnering with him to make Van Buren County a safe place to live and raise a family.”

Emberton said he had already spoken with Fairfield Bay and Clinton city police departments, and planned on speaking with the Damascus Police Department soon, in order to coordinate using the dog for city police investigations, as well as sheriff investigations.

An additional matter on the court’s agenda was providing service for Van Buren County Food for Life.

A letter was distributed to justices as part of their meeting packet. The letter, signed by Food for Life board chairman Scott Spencer, asked the county to continue providing a truck from the recycling center to go to Little Rock once a month to pick up food for the pantry.

The letter, dated Dec. 12 and addressed to Van Buren County Judge Dale James, asked for the county’s continued support in providing monthly transport for the food bank.

James, in presenting the request to the court, said he had not been aware of the arrangement between the food bank and the county’s solid waste department, and was presenting it to the court for its consideration.

Justice Mary Philips expressed to the court that the amount represented by the request, at $1,200 a year, was a serious matter, in light of the number of budget cuts the county recently made in preparing its 2019 budget.

The court voted against continuing the service, with Justice Virgil Lemmings presenting the only vote in favor of continuing.

In other Quorum Court matters:

The meeting was video-recorded and placed online on a Facebook feed. James said this would be an ongoing procedure for Quorum Court meetings.

Justice Mary Philips was appointed as the Van Buren County delegate to the Arkansas Association of Quorum Courts.

An ordinance was passed, effective immediately, allowing a voluntary 1 mil property tax, the proceeds used to support the Van Buren County Aging Program. (The program had its yearly contribution cut during the 2019 budget planning.)

An ordinance was passed to correct the budget for Solid Waste. Waste had suffered a deficit due to vendors no longer using the facility due to increased tipping fees, James said. He had re-negotiated tipping fees with vendors, and anticipated vendors returning to using the Van Buren County service, James told the court. The ordinance passed unanimously.

James, in the County Roads and Equipment report, stated that price negotiation for a rock crusher was currently underway. “Hopefully, we will have a resolution in the February packet to authorize the purchase. The approved budget already has a crusher built into it,” the report stated. James had campaigned for county judge, proposing the county should own its own rock crusher.