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Cautious JPs look at contract service

With still-fresh memories of being grilled by the Joint Legislative Audit Agency about the no-longer-collected volunteer tax for service organizations, some Justices of the Peace are skittish about funds to non-profit organizations.

However, some feel the Lonoke County Museum has a case for payment that is not skirting the law, but well within the requirements of the law. The matter was returned for consideration from the Feb. 20 meeting.

County Judge Doug Erwin and Justices of the Peace Brent Canon, B.J. Weathers, Henry Lang, Tim Lemons, Lee Linville, Mike Verkler, Roger Lynch, Bill Ryker, Mike Dolan, Matt Sanders and Larry Odom attended the meeting.

In early matters, Ryker questioned the assessor’s payment of $3,900 for a service that would search out residents claiming the $300 homestead property tax credit in more than one county. There would have to be at least 20 violators just to break even on the expense. But, neither should the Justices of the Peace “micromanage” the conduct of the county’s elected officials, Ryker said.

On the other hand, there were six 4X shirts bought by the assessor, “I imagine they were all for one person,” he remarked.

When does good stewardship become “micromanaging,” Ryker asked. These are areas that must be considered during the budget process, he said.

The matter was tabled to the April 17 meeting to have assessor Jack McNally present to answer questions.

Lonoke County Museum curator Sherryl Miller again spoke to the quorum court concerning a request for funds to the museum. At the Feb. 20 meeting, Miller asked for $6,000 annually to cover the cost of storing county documents.

Erwin spoke about pictures taken Thursday by Verkler during a visit to the museum to survey the documents being stored.

“This is just a small portion of the records they are storing for Lonoke County,” Erwin said. “It makes it little clearer why they are asking for money.”

Miller said the museum wants to maintain the documents. “We are proud to have the documents and books over there. We’d like to continue keeping them and we would like even more documents,

“We feel we are doing the county a service,” Miller said. Anyone who comes researching their history can see the records, she said.

Not only does the county get the storage, but also visitors get access to records without adding to the workload of the county offices, Miller said.

The records include wills, marriage records, divorce decrees, land transactions and all the other county transactions, Miller said. “You can find out in court records when grandma and grandpa got divorced, but we can tell you why they did.”

But it is not solely family history, “It is the history of the county,” Miller said.

Museum volunteers are indexing all the records to make it easier to find information, Miller said. “So it is not just storage the county is getting, but managed records, too.”

The records are frequently used in genealogical research, which is part of the museum’s services, Miller said.

County attorney Geoff Thompson said the county could find itself again facing the question of fees to non-government organizations. However, a contract between the county and an organization for payment for services rendered is right and proper, he said.

In this instance the service would be the archiving of documents, Thompson said.

Verkler pointed out that while the documents are county property, “There is no way we have the space for it, the man hours for it, to preserve it.”

The museum is providing a service that the county can afford to pay for, Verkler said.

Dolan, as budget committee chairman, said payment for the service would have to come from the offices from where the documents originated, but the only official with the authority to enter contracts is the county judge.

Sanders questioned the equitability of each office paying an equal amount when most the records would likely be from one office.

Weathers said his concern is in the museum being a private entity rather than public or commercial.

Sanders pointed out that contracts are administered alike whether with private, public or commercial organizations. “Move ‘non-profit’ away from it, look at it as just a private company,” he said.

The museum will store the documents just as if it is a commercial storage unit, Sanders said.

A motion to have the Museum develop a contract for services for review at the April 17 meeting was approved, with Weathers voting against.

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