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The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management has awarded the Baxter County Office of Emergency Management with the 2023 Arkansas Whole Community Preparedness Award for exemplifying distinguished leadership in preparing Baxter County communities for disasters.
The award was presented to OEM Director David Stults by Gary Regan, ADEM’s community preparedness coordinator, during a presentation at the Baxter County Quorum Court’s regular Tuesday session.
Stults and 40 members of the county’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) were credited for their roles in helping Baxter County win the award.
“Every year, the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management recognizes individuals or entities that exemplify distinguished leadership in preparing their communities for disasters and in community resiliency. This year’s award recognizes Baxter County’s Office of Emergency Management, under the direction of David Stults, for accomplishing many community preparedness activities this year,” said Regan.
During Regan’s presentation, Baxter County OEM was praised for its purchase of the county’s Mobile Communications Unit, or MEVO Kit, which allows local dispatchers to set up a mobile 911 call center through a technique called geofencing.
This new technology will allow the center to have a backup in case of a natural disaster, as well as cover major events like the Baxter County Fair, without putting an increased burden on dispatchers on watch at the county’s main call center.
In addition to being praised for the Mobile Communications Unit, Baxter County OEM was highlighted for their quick thinking and response time in creating a 400-gallon potable water tank cooling station that can be used to supply residents with water during an emergency or accident.
The water tank came about after the attempted installation of fiber lines in Cotter damaged the city’s water line, resulting in a loss of water for many residents as well as a prolonged boil water order.
Lastly, Stults and his department were praised for bringing back the county’s CERT program, resulting in two volunteer emergency response teams totaling 40 members.
“It’s not one person. It’s not one group of people. It’s everyone in this audience. It’s everyone sitting up here, everyone outside these walls is why we got this,” Stults said after receiving the award. “We are fortunate to have a lot of great employees and a lot of great individuals like the ones behind me.”
Other court news
During the opening committee reports for the Baxter County Quorum Court, Justice of the Peace Dennis Frank presented news from the budget committee over their review of budget requests for 2024.
To start, the county will look at continuing funding for its veterans suicide prevention contract at $25,000 annually. In addition to that contract, the county will also look to raise the Baxter County Day Services budget from $35,000 to $50,000 to cover costs of equipment and vehicle repairs.
Both Baxter County and the City of Mountain Home are currently working to keep the Day Service open following a steep decline in the cost of recyclables over the last few years. Baxter County currently owns the majority of the Day Service’s equipment and vehicles.
Baxter County’s 911 Department is asking for an additional $122,000 in its budget to fund equipment updates. Frank also notified the court that the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office’s $3.4 million annual budget will be rolling back into the county’s general fund next year. BCSO was funded through the county’s ARPA funds last year.
Lastly, Frank notified his fellow Quorum Court members that next year’s general election will cost a heft $175,000, before reiterating to the public that the Quorum Court had not taken action on the Baxter County Republican Committee’s request to oversee a committee to research transitioning the county back to paper ballots.
Frank, who found the cost to be too high for the county after conducting research on the matter on behalf of the Quorum Court, was the only potential volunteer for the BCRC’s proposed committee.
Members of the BCRC have been attempting to force the issue onto the court since May’s special millage election. In that same election, the Baxter County Election Commission was found to have violated FOIA law while setting up a hand recount/audit of the election that in their own words was to “aid the commission to make better preparations for next year’s elections should the paper ballot issue be passed by the quorum court.”
In the build-up to the May millage election, the BCRC held a presentation by Colonel Conrad Reynolds, a conservative activist who founded the Arkansas Voters Integrity Initiative after failing to win office in Arkansas multiple times. Reynolds is heavily connected to MyPillow billionaire Mike Lindell.
Reynolds sued the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners and Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston over the use of voting machines in Arkansas Elections.
BCRC 1st Vice Chairman Mary Ellen Anderson said she would talk about the committee in next month’s Quorum Court meeting before the court broke for the evening.
In addition to Frank’s update, Jeremy Ragland of the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District gave a presentation of a $500,000 grant awarded to Baxter Health during the 2020 COVID pandemic, prompting a back and forth with Justice of the Peace Dirk Waldrop.
The grant was a heated topic during 2020 due to layoffs at Baxter Health.
During their back and forth, Waldrop pushed Ragland over what the hospital purchased with the grant, with Ragland giving one example from a binder full of invoices. When asked if any of the money went to help people keep their jobs, Ragland responded that the money went to “eligible expenses.”
When pushed further on the matter, Ragland said he would have to let the hospital answer the question.
“I just want to know what it was spent on, everybody on the nursing staff and the lower end of the payroll were getting laid off. Because of this, they got $500,000 and can’t explain what they wanted it for,” Waldrop said.
Following Ragland’s presentation, Brad Runsick of the Baxter County Extension Office updated the county on his office’s 4H program in honor of National 4-H month.
Runsick said the program currently has 150 members in five clubs around the county. Enrollment is up from 115 last year. Runsick said new leadership is responsible for the rise in recruitment.
He also praised the Master Gardeners for being one of the largest volunteer organizations in the state.
After the presentation, the court took up its new business by appropriating an additional $5,000 into the recycling project budget to cover a deficit. The court also approved an additional $4,500 to cover payroll expenses for the OEM Department.
The court also agreed to pass an ordinance to allow BCSO to purchase a specialized firearm from JP Waldrop, who owns Ozark Dynamics. The firearm is equipped with a suppressor the department needed to quietly kill a wounded or distressed animal instead of having deputies use their traditional sidearms.
Waldrop had the firearm in stock and agreed to sell it to BCSO at a loss.
Wayne Roth was reappointed to the Gamaliel Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners.