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Quorum Court to tackle property purchase, funds for Federal audit

With only a few sessions left this year, a short schedule has been announced for the upcoming Baxter County Quorum Court session on Oct. 2.

The main focus for the court next month will be on appropriating funds needed to pay for a county jail expansion alongside the appropriation of money to pay for a federal audit.

Brad Runisk of the Extension Office will be the guest speaker for the evening.

First Business of the Night

The first order of business for the court will be an ordinance appropriating fees and reimbursements received by the Sheriff’s Office in August to the department’s 2022 budget.

In August, the Sheriff’s Office collected $6,455.28 in various donations, fines and fees. Through the ordinance, Sheriff Montgomery is asking that $2,074.30 of the funds go towards his department’s General Fund to cover general supplies, fuel and miscellaneous purchases.

He is also requesting that $2,599.73 be sent to the County Jail Fund, to cover general supplies and computer services. The remaining $1,781.25 is being requested for the Sheriff’s Special Projects Funds to cover medicine and drugs for the county jail, along with medical, dental and hospital expenses.

The second ordinance for the evening will cover the appropriation of funds from the County General Fund into the Juvenile Services Department’s 2022 budget. If approved, the court will transfer $2,283.24 to the department.

That money has been marked to be used on “other professional services.”

Insufficient Funds for Federal Audit

The third ordinance of the night will see the court re-appropriate funds from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act Fund (ARPA) to the county’s ARPA Revenue Replacement Fun to pay for the 2021 federal audit.

The ordinance states that the original budget to pay for the county’s federal audit was set up in the county’s ARPA Fund before the “Final Rule” over the use of ARPA money was released in early 2022. That rule removed several restrictions on how ARPA money could be used.

The county is reporting that the federal audit has been successfully completed, with the county getting the thumbs up for the federal government on its use of funds. Moving the funds from the ARPA Fund to the ARPA Revenue Replacement Fund will allow the county to complete the payment of the invoice for the audit.

It should be noted that the audit was originally planned to be paid for by the county’s Coronavirus Relief Fund via Ordinance 2022-18. According to the county’s newest ordinance, that fund no longer has the sufficient balance needed to cover the cost of the federal audit.

Baxter County’s Coronavirus Relief Fund was quickly depleted after its formation, after the Quorum Court voted to use the fund to grant money to several 501(c)3 organizations throughout the county, including the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas and the Mountain Home Saddle Club.

In May of this year, the court, whose members had friendly ties to the Mountain Home Saddle Club, voted to appropriate $275,000 to pay for the Mountain Home Saddle Club’s arena renovation in an 8-3 vote.

The funds are expected to pay for the renovation of the bathrooms to bring them up to ADA compliance as well as new bleachers on the East side of the property, despite the fact that the Saddle Club has knowingly remained out of ADA compliance for over 30 years.

The vote was a contentious one, with the Saddle Club arguing that taxpayers should shoulder the burden of the renovations at its arena. Only three members of the court disagreed with the Club’s request.

While the original request for the renovations was $100,000, those in favor of the project quickly moved to bump the renovation funds up to $275,000.

In December 2020, the county appropriated $388,000 in coronavirus relief funds to three local non-profits.

The Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, one of the largest nonprofits in the area, received $200,000 in relief funding from the county through the CARES Act, while the Baxter County Fair Board received $94,740 in relief. The Baxter County Fire Chiefs Association also received $94,000.

According to ProPublica’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) tracker, both the Food Bank and the Baxter County Fair Association, received PPP loans, with the former receiving $60,800 and the latter receiving $3,600. Both organizations had their loans forgiven by the federal government.

Baxter County’s Coronavirus Relief Fund was originally awarded $1,002,298.10 in funding. Following the court’s various votes to grant the money, the account was left $156,592 in May.

The county had no formal application process or documentation set up during the process of handing out money to these various organizations.

Parking Expansion for County Jail

The fourth ordinance of the night will be over the appropriation of $10,000 to purchase property to expand the Baxter County Jail. The property to be purchased is located at a part of Eighth Street, between Blocks 39 and 40 of Lane’s Addition to the City of Mountain Home.

The county has determined that the property would be suitable parking lot for the county jail.

The Baxter County Jail has come under the spotlight following two separate lawsuits involving employees working at the jail.

In December of last year, Tabitha King, a former jailer and deputy with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, filed a suit alleging wrongful termination after she complained of sexual harassment and a forced sexual encounter by former Sergeant Steven Goode.

Goode was terminated during the course of an internal investigation of King’s claims within the Sheriff’s Office.

King’s lawsuit was initially vague but was further refined by the additional of new legal counsel to unveil several new allegations surrounding her case. Those claims include multiple instances of sexual harassment by Goode, as well as a forced sexual act by Goode while the two were moving inmate mattresses from a shed. Goode was also accused of sending inappropriate photos to King, and of preventing King from receiving medical attention during a miscarriage while at work in 2020.

The trial for King’s lawsuit is set to begin next year.

The second lawsuit involving the Baxter County Jail comes from Steven Ray Gauger, a repeat criminal, who alleges that that on June 18, 2019, the jailers on duty for the night allowed Gauger to be beaten by his fellow inmates in a location that was out of sight from the guards and out of view from the camera.

On June 17, Gauger filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court for the Western District of Arkansas alleging that during the early morning hours of June 18, 2019, that he “was attacked and beaten unconscious by multiple inmates in our pod, out of sight of guards and cameras,” and that he “was left beaten and barely conscious, receiving no medical attention for 10-12 hours while suffering from a broken caved in eye socket and severe head injury resulting in concussion.”

Later that day, Gauger was collected for a court appearance 10-12 hours following his assault. He alleges that he was then cuffed to a bench for two hours before jailers at the detention center determined that he need medical assistance at Baxter Health.

He alleges that Baxter Health determined that he should be taken by ambulance to Mercy hospital in Springfield, Missouri. His filing states that he was then transported to Springfield for medical assistance.

Gauger’s suit states that he was diagnosed with a broken eye socket and a severe concussion. He alleges that he still needs reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his eye socket and bone structure.

Guager is asking the court to have the county cover the medical expenses surrounding his injuries.

The last ordinance of the evening will cover the appointments of Mari Ruegsegger, Jim Scama, and Billy Hale to the Rodney – Jordan Volunteer Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners.

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