Trash woes continue in the county as Drew County Judge Jessie Griffin addressed issues in his opening statement to the Drew County Quorum Court Monday, March 13. The court members passed an ordinance to raise trash rates and impose late fees in the county.
Griffin informed the court the trash generated in the city of Monticello and Drew County was too much for the transfer station contractors to handle. Drew County made the decision to split costs with the City of Monticello by using the transfer station when the cost to dump trash in Ashley County raised in 2022. Griffin announced while Monticello Mayor Jason Akers works with contractors to get more drivers and containers to handle the amount of trash or, a solution is found, the county will once again be using the Ashley County landfill twice a week.
Later in the meeting, the court voted to increase trash collection fees in the county. An increase in fees was discussed throughout the tenure of the previous County Judge Robert Akin. The county has tried to keep costs down but continued to lose money year after year with the continued increase associated with trash collection and disposal. Ordinance 2023-06 raises the collection fees for residential units to $20.50 per month, plus applicable sales tax effective Saturday, July 1, 2023. The ordinance also added a 10 percent late fee if the quarterly billing for services is not paid in full by the 20th day of the month following the quarter in which billing was made. Landfill usage fees were also increased to $30 per ton of solid waste delivered to the landfill, plus applicable sales taxes with a 10 percent late fee added to any use charges that are not paid when due. An emergency clause was also passed by the court allowing the increase in fees to take effect on July 1.
Trash volume and fees were not the only solid waste and sanitation issues brought up in the meeting. Griffin also informed the court he made a mistake when hiring a part-time employee for the land fill, inadvertently breaking the county’s nepotism policy. The employee hired is the mother of another employee of the sanitation department, who works at the landfill at times. While the county currently has the landfill separate from sanitation on the books, the two are essentially one department. After discussion between Griffin and County Attorney Cliff Gibson, Griffin asked for 30 days to find a replacement and to allow the employee to find another job. The decision was made to let the two-week notice stand in order to avoid any future conflicts with the policy.
During his opening remarks, Griffin also announced a meeting he had with the State to bring broadband in to Drew County, asking anyone in the county who is interested in being involved in broadband installation in Drew County to contact the County Judge’s Office. Griffin announced the State was interested in ensuring access to broadband in all houses in the county but still needed to work out how to get access to some harder to reach areas.
Griffin’s remarks were followed by the County Treasurer report with Treasurer Charlie Searcy announcing the County General Fund at the end of February had a $107,000 balance compared to a deficit of $41,000 at the end of February 2022. The quarter cent sales tax sits at $4.9 million compared to $4 million in 2022 and the general excess at $1.23 million compared to $1.27 million in 2022. The AARPA fund which are being used for the Sheriff’s Department and Jail is at $888,000 compared to $1.3 million last year stating we are in much better shape this year compared to last year.
After wrapping up the treasurer’s report, Griffin addressed rumors about the hospital. While no hospital report was given, Griffin assured the court and those in attendance that the hospital will remain in Drew County. He stated that while talks were ongoing in solving the problems at the hospital, many options were still on the table and that although he is not a voting member of the hospital board, he still is able to ask questions, give input, and will keep the County updated as they are available. He reiterated that nothing is being hidden and that Drew County would continue to have a hospital. This was followed with an update from the Southeast Arkansas Regional Library Monticello Branch by Judy Calhoun, regional director, who reported over 103,000 visitors to the Southeast Regional libraries with 29,000 of those visiting the Monticello branch with over 900 new library card holders in the last year.
Calhoun was followed by Hazalene McCray with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. McCray announced the beginning of the “Walk Across Arkansas” program which began on Monday, March 13. She also announced the availability for scholarships for families, youth and single parents available through varying program throughout the State. Many of the programs will pay milage, $15 an hour for part time working students, and laptops. McCray stated no one in the county should have to miss out on a college education unless they didn’t want to go to school. The division is also working on an obesity grant to have walking paths by the courthouse for a safe place to walk.
The extension office is currently running five 4-H clubs in the county. Current clubs cover everything from livestock, horse riding and shooting clubs. McCray encouraged members of the court and the community to recruit kids to be involved in the clubs.
Following McCray, LaToya Williams of the Drew County Health Department approached the Court for permission to move forward on acquiring a grant for the Drew County Health Department to make improvements to the current building including a drive through. The county would be required to match 10 percent of the funds with Griffin stating the road department could do work to help with construction for the county to meet their match. While there are no estimates of the cost at this time, the court gave Williams permission to apply for the grant and to continue exploring the plans and cost for improvements.
Finishing up with old business, Griffin announced the county had made an offer to the City of Monticello to purchase the building currently housing the County’s 911 system for $85,000 and in-kind ground work for Monticello when they begin work on a smokehouse. The building appraised at $120,000. The item did not make it on to last City Council agenda but should make it on to the upcoming agenda.
Griffin also announced the county could have the employee handbook rewritten for $2,500 and announced county officials needed to review the handbook with employees and make suggestions to the court for any changes that need to be made stressing the importance of hearing from employees about improvements that can be made to existing policies.
Moving into new business, the court passed Ordinance 2023-04 unanimously to further clarify the definition of “domestic animal” to include, “without limitation, domesticated dogs, cats, birds, poultry, horses and cattle,” for use in Emergency Ordinance 2022-16 which addressed vicious dogs in the county.
Ordinance 2023-05 was introduced and approved unanimously. The ordinance cleans up accounts in the 2022 budget. Following the unanimous passing of Ordinance 2023-06 to raise rates for solid waste and the landfill, the court then moved to pass Ordinance 2023-07, introduced by Justice Joe Williams. The ordinance prohibits the use of Rose Hill Cut-Off Road from being used by log trucks and other commercial trucks. Residents on the road have reported being run off the road by fifth wheel trailers hauling hay and other big trucks, even though signage is already present at both entrances to the road. Former Drew County Judge Robert Akin addressed the court and stressed the construction of the road was originally gravel before it was paved and is not built with the foundation necessary to support heavy trucks and machinery also stating the paving process narrowed the road and it is not wide enough to safely handle big truck traffic. While the need for a cut-off road leading to U.S. Highway 425 for commercial business is understood by the county, Rose Hill Cut-Off Road is not sufficient and illegal use of the road by log trucks and large commercial trucks will be punished by fines ranging from $100 to $1,000. Griffin stated the County would begin to look for solutions to access issues for commercial trucks.
The court also approved the reappointment of David Funderburg to the Public Facility Board and agreed to allow Gabby Owens to serve full time as a custodian for the county.
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