NEWS AND UPDATE FROM LAST WEEK:
The County Services Committee of the Washington County Quorum Court met Tuesday evening. You can watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv0pX2G7Siw&t=6283s
Sheriff Cantrell’s report starts at 7:00 in the video. Sheriff reported the jail expansion, “...has been scaled back to eliminate 96 beds.” This is due to the $6.8 Million Dollar budget overrun when the bids came in. They’re, “looking at a new set of plans.” “Seeking remedies.” Sheriff estimated the reduction would be about $7 Million.
We do not need to be adding jail beds and it is illegal to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money for jail expansion. Yet, that’s what we’re doing here in Washington County. Instead we should be looking at the root problems of why we have such a high incarceration rate (poverty, drug addiction, lack of opportunities) and we must implement the policy changes and recommendation of the Criminal Justice Assessment Study of 2020 https://www.washingtoncountyar.gov/government/departments-a-e/county-judge/criminal-justice-assessment. We’ll never build a jail big enough otherwise and that should be our last option.
My ordinance to require online publication of all Washington County ordinances and resolutions finally passed out of committee (I wrote the ordinance in January!) and will be on for final approval during the June 15th full Quorum Court meeting. The following JPs voted against this ordinance: JP David Wilson; JP Kyle Lyons; JP Lisa Ecke: JP Charles Dean; and JP Butch Pond. Discussion starts at 25:11 in the video if you’d like to listen.
Unfortunately, my second ordinance to allow certain nonprofits to have due process and address the court on why they think their ARPA applications were wrongfully denied did not make it on the agenda. The majority voted against adding it. Voting for were JPs Washington, Coger and Rios Stafford. Several of these nonprofits have told us mistakes were made in determining their eligibility for ARPA grants, but the county judge has consistently refused to allow them to bring these issues to the court. I say the county judge because he could have just placed an agenda item on the County Services agenda in May and/or June (I asked him both times and he refused) to give these organizations a chance to speak to the court. That’s exactly what he did in May with the eleven nonprofits that were deemed eligible.
To refuse to allow people to be heard, to be given a chance to right a wrong, is not fair and it is not equitable. Two nonprofits - Returning Home and Upskill NWA received $1.9 and $2.9 Million, respectively, and didn’t even have to file an application to receive their ARPA grant funds.
Jim Petty, the developer of the Patriot Park development gave an update on the status of the project. Nothing has been done in the three years since the lease was signed. Constituents had reached out to me and I asked Mr. Petty to come and let the court and the community know what’s going on. We learned that the plans have completely changed since the original plans were presented. The development now includes cottage-like buildings. There will be twenty-four one bedroom apartments at $400 monthly; twenty-two two bedroom apartments at $500 monthly; and twelve three bedrooms at $600 per month. This starts at 36:32 in the video.
JP Lyons presented an ordinance to allow appeals from the County Planning Board to go directly to Washington County Circuit Court, completely bypassing Quorum Court. As it is now, an applicant must file a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application or a Large Scale Development (LSD) with the Washington County Planning Commission. After a Planning Commission hearing, the application is either approved or denied. Then either the developer or the surrounding neighbors may appeal that decision to the Quorum Court.
I am against this because I believe it will give an unfair advantage to developers and Conditional Use Permit applicants. They will come with lawyers, engineers, and money whereas it will create an undue and unnecessary burden on neighbors and adjacent landowners who won’t have those resources. Hearing appeals is our job and we knew it when we ran for office. Let’s just do our job and help the people we were elected to serve. I would appreciate very much any feedback on this from the community.
EVENTS THIS WEEK, JUNE 4, 2023:
FINANCE & BUDGET MEETING Tuesday, June 6, 2023, 6:00 PM, Washington County Courthouse. The meeting will be livestreamed on YouTube: Meetings are live-streamed on the County’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/washcoar
The agenda is here: https://www.washingtoncountyar.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/29282
The agenda includes the following ordinance proposals:
$429,527 addition to Sheriff’s Budget for 2023 to cover overtime for certain employees. Item 7.1
$259,207 to clean, caulk and seal the outside of the Washington County Courthouse. Item 8.1
$2,230.54 transfer of funds in County Clerk’s 2023 budget to cover retirement contribution for eligible employee. Item 9.1
$50,000 for peer support specialist for Judge Beaumont (Drug Court). Item 10.1
$33,441.30 to create HR Generalist II at Sheriff’s Office and eliminate Corporal Flex Position. Sheriff requested this to help with employee retention and hiring. Item 11.1
$3,827.84 addition to HR Budget for 2023 to cover an increase in pay for an employee transferring from another department (Quorum Court) to HR. Item 12.1
$41,820.01 addition to Jail Budget for 2023 to fund the position created for a Mechanic. Sheriff hopes to save money on routine maintenance of vehicles by having a mechanic on duty, employed by the county. Item 13.1
$564,681 from ARPA funds to be disbursed to eleven nonprofits that were deemed eligible by the NWA Economic Development District and the county to receive ARPA grants. Item 14.1 I’ve been asking for this ordinance since early March.
$50,000 to purchase new x-ray inspection machines for security purposes. Item 15.1
If you’re able, please attend this F&B meeting Tuesday night. It means a lot to us on the court to see the community attend and invest in county business.
The Washington County Planning Commission meets Thursday, June 8, 5:00 PM. You should review this agenda and see if any of these variances or large scale developments will impact you or your neighbors.
I welcome your questions and comments, also suggestions you have for any county related business. You can reach me at email@example.com or text or call 479-306-9994.
See you at the courthouse!