Leader Blues

Monday, November 19, 2007

TOP STORY >>Lonoke JPs pass $6.1M '08 budget

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With little discussion, the Lonoke County Quorum Court on Thursday night approved a $6.1 million budget for 2008, including 3 percent pay raises for county employees.

Budget committee chairman Mike Dolan thanked the members of the budget committee members for their hard work, but committee member Lynn Clarke objected that Dolan and County Judge Charlie Troutman pushed through the budget, pay hikes and all, even though Sheriff Jim Roberson received about $200,000 less than he said he needed to run the jail and his office and the jail budget received appropriations totaling $84,000 less than the sheriff said he needed.

Appropriations for other offices came up about $140,000 shy of the amount that county officials said they needed.

“In the course of a year, it will work out,” said Troutman.

Clarke said the committee heard from all elected officials about their office budgets, then just did what they wanted to.
“I oppose the budget,” Clarke said. “We’re going to have to postpone necessary county business to give salary increases.”

She was joined by fellow Republican women Jeanette Minton, Alexis Malham and Donna Peterson in voting against the budget, but it got the nine votes it needed to be approved in a single sitting.

“That’s money we actually needed to do the operations,” Roberson said Friday. “They were saying we didn’t have the money.

Roberson said if the jail addition gets built anytime soon, he’ll have to hire at least four new jailers at a cost of about $160,000 to accommodate the additional 20 inmates it can hold, plus they’ll have to feed them and provide healthcare.

Roberson, JP Larry Odom and Troutman all complained about the architects, Taggert and Foster, who they say brought the project in more than a year late.

The job was ready for bids to be let, but the jail standards committee said first there must be handicap-accessible cells and restrooms.

“I told them three times,” Roberson said. “I wanted to terminate the architects. This is ridiculous.”

Over the objection of Odom, who wanted to hold on to all money until the county is sure it can pay for the jail addition, the court also approved replacement of the obsolete computer systems in the offices of the county clerk and the treasurer.
Odom is head of the county building committee and has single-mindedly pursued fixing the old jail and expanding it in lieu of building a new one.

The quorum court agreed to pay $28,000 worth of overtime earned by deputies this year and raised the pay to $50 a day for sitting jurors.

JP Hollon Crum, just appointed to a vacancy by Gov. Mike Beebe, proposed an increase for jurors called but not chosen to $25 from the current level of $15, but the court postponed consideration of that until after the first of the year.

Also, Minton said she would not bring her motion for a county employee salary study before the court again until after the first of the year.

The meeting followed a reception for the quorum court members hosted by circuit judges Philip Whiteaker and Barbara Elmore in the new courtroom that the county had remodeled when the state create a third circuit in Lonoke County.