Funding continues to concern the Van Buren County Quorum Court, as two funding requests made at its April 18 meeting were denied.
The funding requests were for an assistant in the Treasurer’s office, the second being for money for lawn mowing through the sheriff’s department.
The Treasurer’s office request was for a second employee for that office, an assistant to county treasurer Misty Wilson. In making the request, Wilson expressed concern that the county was without a fallback should something happen to her and she would be unable to do her duties due to, for example, an illness.
Van Buren County was the only Treasurer’s office in the state without an assistant, Wilson told the court.
The matter of assistance in that office had been brought before the court earlier, leading to arrangements being made for a second person being able to sign payroll checks should Wilson be unable to do so. That person’s roll only applies to payroll checks. As such, checks for other matters would not be able to be issued in Wilson’s absence. A failure to issue a check in a timely matter could result in late fees, possibly significant against large-ticket items.
The ordinance was to hire an assistant at $15.52 per hour, or $22,348.80 for the reminder of the year.
Several justices, including the ordinance’s sponsor, Ester Bass, along with Nickie Brown and Brian Tatum, agreed that the position should be filled, but the timing of the request, before the court began its budget planning for 2020, made it difficult to support at this meeting.
A discussion ensued, considering that a part-time person in another department would be able to assist in the treasurer’s office.
The court agreed to table the ordinance pending a review of the budget.
The second matter, to much the same end, came when an ordinance was presented to pay the sheriff’s department for lawn mowing.
Van Buren County Sheriff Lucas Emberton told the court he was requesting the money due to the expense otherwise coming from his department uncompensated, reminding the court that the sheriff’s department had a $298,000 budget cut going into 2019.
“I can’t offer free services anymore,” Emberton told the court.
In the request, the ordinance listed fees for various county buildings, running from $520 for the courthouse up to $900 for the courthouse annex. Emberton told the court the bids were based on his getting quotes from commercial lawn-care vendors and halving that amount. The mowing, he told the court, would be done by Act 309 inmates, as trustees were no longer being used for such tasks due to security concerns.
Discussion covered two subjects, the first being from Bass, who wanted to know where the money to fund the lawn mowing would come from. This was added with some confusion as to which, specific buildings would be mowed. The court was told a letter about the fees had been sent out, and the Senior Center and the Health Department both replied stating those offices would not be able to pay any lawn-mowing fee due to budget constraints.
The library, also facing budget strain, also stated it would not be able to pay for mowing. (A social media post over the weekend, from the library, indicated its lawn had been mowed over the weekend by unknown benefactors.
The ordinance did not pass, with Justices Tatum, Holt and Bass, all of whom expressed concerns about funding specifics for mowing, voting “No.”
(After the vote, a voice from the back of the room was heard to say, “Don’t mow the grass.”)
In other Quorum Court matters:
• The court voted in favor of the Holley Mountain Volunteer Fire Department consolidating with Burnt Ridge Volunteer Fire Department. The ordinance included an emergency clause, putting it into effect immediately.
Justice Tatum, citing his own, ongoing, experience as a volunteer fire chief, bemoaned the lack of volunteers for departments.
Mike Foote, with the Holley Mountain Property Owners Association was on hand for the vote, in the gallery, and said the property owners were satisfied with the consolidation taking place.
• Sheriff Emberton presented to the court that inspectors from Jail Standards had been on site earlier, and there growing concern about the jail being able to meet floor space requirements and future needs in the county.
“We’re overpopulated for the square footage we’re supposed to have,” Emberton said.
Emberton cautioned that the expense of either making an addition to the jail or even building a new facility could be in order so that the facility could maintain certification. Emberton recommended an advisory board for planning the jail’s future be formed.
• Benita Hickman from Media 3 reported to the court, reminding – as she had done a week earlier at Clinton City Council – that customers who expect a refund for cable service outages need to request the refund from the office.