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Letter from the Judge

By Staff, 01/10/18 8:39 PM


Happy 2018 Hempstead County!
It has been an honor to serve the good Citizens of Hempstead County for the past 3 years. 2017 was a very active and productive year for Hempstead County. Probably the biggest story of the year was that we bought Farmers Bank as the new home for the Courthouse. As many of you know I have been working on this project for over a year and a half. I was told early on to leave it alone and let it go, because we are not going to do it. But I did not believe that was in the best interest of the people of Hempstead County, so I pressed on. It was stated by some people that it would never happen, then it was stated later on by the same people that we would have to raise the millage or have a special sales tax. However, my position on this a year ago was that we could do this without any tax increase. On December 20, 2017 we signed a purchase agreement with Farmers Bank & Trust to purchase the main building in Downtown Hope for the future Courthouse, for $1,500,000. The approximate cost for renovations is $1,700,000 for a total cost of approximately $3,200,000. This was accomplished with no tax increase or no sales tax, just like I proposed a year ago. Farmers Bank intends to build a new and smaller building right across the street from the current one. They believe it will take 16-18 months for construction. The agreement includes a lease back to the County for nearly $44,000 for the first 12 months and then a month by month lease after that. In the time leading up to this I plan on having the architect drawings done and approved and the bid process done and approved. So when they tote the last box across the street and hand us the keys we can start renovations A.S.A.P. Hopefully, the renovations can be completed in 6-8 months. With this timeline we should be in the new Courthouse around the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. If you look around Downtown you can see how much excitement and revitalization is currently going on from just the anticipation that we might move the Courthouse. Now that we have purchased the Bank and the Courthouse will be moving Downtown, then what we have seen so far, is just the beginning.
The Bank purchase is just one of several large projects we have been working on this year. Some large projects can be completed within the year, some next year, some take 2-3 years or more. Like the Bank purchase, this could have been done last year and the Bank would be well into construction and we could have been moving in by the end of 2018, but it was held up by a small group.
The SAWS water project Spring Hill phase #2 has been in the works for 8-10 years. We got this project off the ground and moving in 2015. In June of 2016 Gov. Hutchinson presented the water district with a grant check for $1,970,000 for this project. This is over a $6,000,000 project with 55 mile of pipe and the construction of a new water tower, Serving 100’s of people. It took till the Summer of 2017 to get all the paperwork done, Bids awarded and construction started, partially because 1 induvial refused to sign an easement for 5 months. By by the end of December 2017 this project was 30% complete, with estimated completion in the Summer of 2018.
As far as County budgets go, 2017 County General anticipated revenue was just over $6 million with a $4.8 million budget. In 2018 we have $8.9 million anticipated revenue with a $5.3 million budget. If you count all County budgets for 2018 we have an anticipated revenue of $26.4 million and a budget of $17.1 million that leaves an excess of $9.3 million for 2018. Let me explain a little bit about taxes. Hempstead County operates on a 3.6 mil tax this tax has not increased since 2015. The State allows up to 5 mil and that is the amount that most Counties charge. The breakdown of this millige as mandated by the State is, 80% goes to the public schools, 7% go the municipalities (remember there are 11 municipalities in Hempstead County), 8% goes to County General (this is what funds County operations the Courthouse, Sheriff Office, Jail, Court system and long list of other operations), 2% goes to the Library and 3% go to Roads so for every $100 you pay, $3 go to Roads.
As far as the County Road budget is concerned in 2014 the year before I took office county road’s had $6.3 million in reserve with a $2.9 million budget. It has been stated that I am spending too much money on county roads, but if you look around the County you will see that many road projects have been completed since I took office 3 years ago. In just 2017 we have completed 7 overlay or reseal projects, and we have one on hold waiting for the weather to warn up. We have done a complete rehabilitation on about 15 gravel roads, improving their drainage and raising their elevation. We have replaced over 200 driveway culverts and cross pipes across the County. We finished up a $150,000 hazard mitigation in January of 2017 and we are currently in the middle of a $300,000 hazard mitigation project on County Road 3. That should be finished up around the middle to end of February. We have done complete rehabilitation on 3 bridges this year. The statement was made that I am spending $710,000 a year more than the budget. But the numbers show that we have $7.5 million in reserve for the road department for 2018 and a $3.1 million budget. But the Quorum Court chose to cut $825,000 out of the road budget. If you look at the numbers from 2014 to 2018 it shows an increase of $1.3 million in reserve, not a decrease as the ones from this same small group is implying. We consistently apply for state aid money and grants to do projects with. To save local tax payer money, which has been one of my goals since I have been in office. We have completed many road projects, but there many more to be done.
For 2017 we were able to give $500 Christmas bonus for employees
For 2018 we gave $1000 raises to County employees,
We are doing a $13,400 software upgrade in the County Clerk’s office,
Hire a full time mapper for the Assessor’s office,
Hire more personnel for the Sheriff’s office and the Jail,
Purchase all new voting equipment for the County. $135,000,
Construction was started on the new Library,
All of this above was done without any tax increase or sales tax added. Even though some individuals tried multiple times to do a sales tax or tax increase. Contrary to some articles published Hempstead County did not raise any taxes this year. The City of Hope and the City of Ozan did vote to raise their millige. All the County did, was vote to agree to collect and distribute them. Hempstead County has a 3.6 millige which is one the lowest in the State.
Some people will try in tell you that Hempstead County and Hope, AR is dead or drying up, I say to you we may not be growing as fast as Northwest Arkansas, but we are still growing. We only have an unemployment rate of around 3%. Tyson Foods completed a $20 million plus expansion. New Millennium Steel is building a $6 to $7 million office complex. We have growth Downtown. They are building a Chicken Express and a strip mall out by the Interstate. There’s a Dollar General under construction in Blevins and we have over $10 million in infrastructure improvements. I don’t think we are dead or dying. We may be a little slow, but we are steadily moving forward.
Again, Thank You for allowing me to serve you as your County Judge for these past 3 years and I look forward to serving you this year. I think we have Hempstead County on the right path. I hope that you will continue to allow me to serve you as we move Hempstead County forward in the future.
Thank You,
God Bless You and God Bless Hempstead County

Judge Haskell Morse

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