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Quorum Court gets ask for better fire equipment, approves K9 fund during Tuesday meeting

The decision to grant taxpayer money to the Mountain Home Saddle Club continues to loom over the Baxter County Quorum Court as JP Dirk Waldrop and Fire Commissioner Tony Chamberlain referenced the decision when addressing other county needs.

During a presentation by Heather Powell of the Twin Lakes Literacy Council, the court was told the county receives a return of $5 for every dollar currently invested in the organization’s reading program, prompting a strong reaction from Waldrop.

“How far would $275,000 go for your organization? It would go a long way, wouldn’t it,” said Waldrop during the presentation. “That’s a $1.375 million return to the community.”

The Twin Lakes Literacy Council has been operating in Baxter County since 1986 and has received several awards for its work in helping children and immigrants with learning to read. The organization also helps new immigrants to the county with obtaining citizenship.

Powell said the council has helped four children receive their citizenship this year.

The council, which now has a newly expanded board of 11 members, started with the help of 20 volunteers and is now composed of 35 tutors, though Powell noted that number was down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council is funded through a series of grants and donations, and JP Cameron Davis expressed a desire to see the county contribute more money to the literacy council.

“Judge, we need to look into some ways to fund some money to them. That’s a direct investment in our people and in our community,” said Davis.

That sentiment of spending money to the benefit of the community continued that night after the court adjourned.

In a surprise move, Fire Commissioner Tony Chamberlain of the 101 Gamaliel Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners took to an open mic as several Justices began to file out of the room to ask if the court could find more money to help replace old equipment throughout Baxter County’s fire departments.

“Turn-out gear costs $2,500 per turn-out gear,” Chamberlain said. “And it needs to be replaced every 10 years. If it’s not replaced, then your ISO, which is your fire insurance for every domicile in your area, their insurance prices go up. If by chance, we got another $275,000, we could buy 110 turn-out gears, which equates to about seven or eight turn-out gears per volunteer fire department.”

Baxter County’s various fire departments have received additional funding for equipment, much of which went to purchasing new radios. The Baxter County Fire Chiefs Association also received $94,000 that came from the same funds as the $275,000 given to the Mountain Home Saddle Club.

In other court news, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office’s request to establish a K9 fund for the department was granted by the court. The fund will be paid for by an endowment created by an unnamed donor and will receive a yearly payment between the amounts of $9,000 and $11,000.

BCSO does not currently have a K9-trained officer on staff. Sheriff Montgomery said the endowment would help train officers and purchase a trained K-9 in the future. Current police dogs run about $10,000, not including maintenance, medical, and food.

The court also approved an ordinance to allow the county to continue to conduct business with Benny Magness and Magness Oil Company. Outside of owning an oil company, Magness is a deputy with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office and serves as the department’s helicopter pilot. His company has also overseen the inspections of the department’s airport fuel tanks.

The approved ordinance will allow the county to purchase gas from Magness’s company for its vehicles and equipment.

Lastly, the Baxter County Quorum Court approved Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass to sign off on a grant with the Federal Aviation Administration on behalf of the Baxter County Airport Commission to the tune of $323,000. The Baxter County Airport Commission is working with the FAA to expand its runway through a five-year project and recently approved the grant. The Airport Commission will also be receiving $35,000 from the state to expand its runways.

While the grant covers a portion of the project, Paul Fagras, airport administrator, said the county would eventually be required to pay into the project.

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