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COVID-19 affecting county budget

By Staff, 04/22/20 9:25 AM


PRESCOTT – Financially, Nevada County is in trouble because of COVID-19 slowing down the economy.

This was brought up Tuesday afternoon at the April meeting of the Nevada County Quorum Court. The tables the justices of the peace normally sit at during meetings were split. Some JPs wore masks and chose to sit in the jury box. Others, though, didn’t observe social distancing and sat at the same table well within six feet of one another.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to approve an ordinance for the operating budget of a wholesale fuel tax and with solid waste management funds for the county. This is new funding from the state. The fuel fund is $45,000, while the solid waste management budget is $113,000. The ordinance was approved.

Nevada County Treasurer Susie Key told the court the fuel tax is new, but the county shouldn’t expect to get more than half this amount the rest of the year. She pointed out the money can only be used for road and bridge fuel. Any other use would require the county to get the state’s approval.

Nevada County Judge Mark Glass said this money helps the road and bridge department. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, he told the panel, it cost the county $9,500 for a tank of fuel instead of the $22,000 the county had been paying, and the last load the county bought cost $9,100.

These new funds, he said, should pay for fuel the rest of the year if prices stay down. The way things are going, he added, a tank of fuel should last two months, but if the weather is good, it would only last a month.

From there discussion went to other topics. JP Pat Grimes voiced concerns about the jail budget which has $1,041 in it.

JP Bob Cummings reminded her the jail will be getting paid for inmates being held for the state later this month.

Jail Administrator Eric Barbaree told the court the state owes the county $35,000 for housing inmates.

Nevada County Sheriff Danny Martin said there are currently 35 prisoners in the jail. Seven are awaiting court dates, six are 309 inmates. “We’re trying not to house new ones. If we can find any who’ve been quarantined 14 days, we’ll bring them in and it’ll mean more money, but we’re selective about who we bring in.” The problem is finding inmates who have been quarantined as the jail has no way to test for COVID-19. Martin said the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is checking with other agencies who may have quarantined inmates they need to house elsewhere.

Glass said the Association of Arkansas Counties is having a conference call at 2 p.m. Thursday to talk about how counties should do their budgets for the rest of the year. All elected officials are invited to attend and the conference will be held in the courtroom where social distancing can be observed. He said it’s been recommended counties have a budget committee to redo the county’s budget. Those appointed to the panel were: Cummings, Grimes, Dennis Pruitt and Chris Fore.

Cummings said the financial numbers aren’t looking good and employees need to realize Christmas bonuses and raises are out the door and they don’t need to figure on getting them this year.

It was said AAC attorney Mark Whitmore has recommended courthouses go back to their normal hours of operation, 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., but keep the doors locked to the public while the entire staff is working.

Glass said elected officials will meet to discuss this and decide what to do.

Cummings pointed out the county doesn’t have the money to pay people to stay at home. Glass said employees could be furloughed as a way to save money. Currently, all offices are rotating staff.

It was pointed out the courthouse’s business hasn’t stopped, but the money coming in has.