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Baxter County Judge Kevin Litty paid a visit to the Mountain Home Rotary Club Thursday afternoon to give Rotarians insight into his thoughts on the county’s direction after serving one year in office.
Litty, who started his first term last year after defeating former Mountain Home City Clerk Brian Plumlee, is a former Mountain Home Police Officer and a former member of the Baxter County Quorum Court.
He is a lifelong resident of Baxter County and has served the community in some capacity for almost 30 years. He also runs a local cattle company alongside his brother, Steve Litty. He is married to Brandee Litty and has two sons, a daughter, and five grandchildren.
“This is one of my least favorite things to do, but it’s getting easier,” said Litty as he joked about public speaking. “I always said that as a police officer, before becoming judge, that I could stop any stranger on the street, give them a chewing and send them on their way without having to think twice about it. Things are a little different when you’re in this role.”
During his presentation to the Mountain Home Rotary Club, Judge Litty said that he had a full plate when taking over the county from former Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass.
His first order of business, he said, was to focus heavily on getting the Road and Bridge Department to work on fixing the county’s potholes and roads.
“It doesn’t matter if you fill 100 potholes, if not one person talks about those 100, it means nothing to nobody,” Litty said. “What means something to somebody, is when they call about that one pothole and you fix it, and they know it. They don’t forget. I realized that in my first year.”
In addition to fixing potholes, Judge Litty said he was also focused on grading roads and mowing the right-of-ways.
On the mowing front, Litty said that mowing wasn’t really profitable to the county but that it meant a lot to taxpayers. Litty said problems arose last year with mowing after the county’s equipment broke down. The judge said the county would be taking possession of a new tractor and mower in April, with plans to buy additional tractors and mowers over the coming years.
When it comes to grading roads, Litty said the biggest highlight of last year was the completion of the Denton Ferry Road Project, which was initially started underneath Judge Pendergrass. That project saw work done on the Denton Ferry Road Bridge as well as three miles worth of newly graded road. He plans to grade an additional mile each year and is currently looking to work with AGFC to grade some of their access roads that connect to Denton Ferry Road.
Litty contributed to the county’s ability to address major projects and purchase new equipment to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a surge of federal money enter into the county’s coffers.
“In the early 2000s, the county didn’t have any money back then, but it does now. COVID made Baxter County flourish. We have lots of money now, it’s good. We can take care of our people and take care of our infrastructure.”
After discussing roads, Judge Litty addressed tearing down First Baptist Church along 6th Street. The judge said that while he received criticism for the demolition, the decision to tear down the church was being discussed as far back as 2015.
He said that the pros of the demolition outweighed the cons, and that the property looks much better now that the dilapidated church is gone.
“I wish we could have used it, but it was too far gone,” Litty said.
With the church gone, Litty said his focus would be building Baxter County’s new Health Department building at the corner of 6th and Buttercup. He said that the county has already met with the architect over the project and expects plans to be wrapped up by Feb. 12, with bids going out soon after.
According to Litty, Baxter County has roughly $4 million set aside to complete the major project. He hopes to break ground on the new building by Spring.
Following his speech, Litty took questions from the crowd.
The first question came from Mrs. Deborah Knox, who asked the judge what projects the county and City of Mountain Home were currently working on together.
Litty said that the two governments were not currently working together on a project but noted that Baxter County and the City of Mountain Home did come together last year to fight back against the reopening of the NABORS landfill.
“The biggest project I worked on with the city was helping them in making progress towards closing our landfill,” Litty said. “The landfill made an agreement, prior to me being here, to sell to LRS for a very low price. But as the people spoke and the state got involved, the price went up from about a million to well over $20 million. They backed out of that agreement to buy it, so hopefully we can get that final permit closed on it one day.”
After discussing NABORS landfill, Judge Litty was asked by MH Rotary President Mike Stockton to address the current animal control situation in Baxter County.
In his answer, Litty noted that the county was not required to provide the service to residents and that the service was offered because residents wanted it. Litty said that the service was previously poorly run but was now on track after Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery agreed to take over and run the service last year.
Litty said that the service receives around $70,000 a year in donations, which helps cover a large portion of the costs to run the service. Litty did push gently back on expanding the animal control center’s building, stating that the county does not want to run a pound of 40 to 50 animals.
The service can currently hold 14 dogs. Litty did reveal that the City of Mountain Home is currently not paying the county for the service it is providing to city residents.
Following his discussion on animal control, Litty fielded questions about the Baxter County Airport and the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce’s contract request for economic development.
On the issue of the Chamber, Litty said that many members of the Quorum Court believed that tax dollars should go to infrastructure. He also noted that those who were strongly opposed were much louder than those in favor.
He further noted that it’s hard to discern what way a member will vote due to peer pressure during meetings.
“You can have a conversation or a meeting prior to a Quorum Court meeting and think you have enough votes to get something accomplished,” said Litty. “And when you go in there, it goes the complete opposite. Peer pressure gets to folks.”
On the Baxter County Airport, Litty said that while the airport staff and board are working towards a runway expansion, he is unsure if the Quorum Court will be willing to pay out the $2 million or more needed to cover their end of the project.
The judge said that could change over the next few years as members move in and out of the court due to elections. Four seats on the court are currently being contested in this year’s election.
“I think the county could probably financially do it. I really do. Now, getting the support of the Quorum Court to do that will be a different story,” said Litty.