Picking an engineering consultant was the major business of the March 24 Austin City Council meeting. But before the meeting closed, a justice of the peace spoke his piece about the county budget and sales tax issues.
Mayor Bernie Chamberlain and aldermen Laurel Carnes, Anthony Fible, Randy Ryan, Matt Sheets, Phillip Whiting and Tammy Williams attended the meeting.
Chamberlain reported that the winning bid on a patrol car was $503.
Chamberlain also reported that a city debit card obtained for online purchasing had been destroyed at the advice of auditors. “We could keep our debit card. But we’d have to pay for the audit then… No. We’re not doing that,” she said.
Until an alternative is found, purchases for the city will be reimbursed the individual making the purchase for the city, Chamberlain said.
Carnes said state agencies use a “P” card, a purchasing card, and recommended the city investigate obtaining such a card.
Responses to a request for qualifications from engineering firms were narrowed to a short list of six to be interviewed as consultants for Austin. The firms are MCE, Inc., Miller-Newell Engineers Inc.; PMI; Crafton Tull; and G&E Engineers.
District 6 justice of the peace Lee Linville spoke to the council about the quorum court in general.
He spoke about the current budget and considerations that led up to the final draft. “There were two ‘nos,’ I was one of them,” Linville said.
The disapproval was because of some of the spending decisions, and for the provisions made on the sheriff’s budget, Linville said.
“[The quorum court members] are killing the sheriff’s office in the budget,” Linville said. “They gave him $15,000 this year for cars,” he said in example.
Instead of budgeting for the vehicles, reliance is on forfeitures from seizures made on Interstate 40, “I think that is wrong,” Linville said.
There are many other issues and decisions that he disagreed with, “As a whole, I was against it and the way it was put together,” he said.
In the two recent lawsuits, the one brought by Lonoke is probably the one of most interest, Linville said. The second, brought by residents in the South Rockwood Drive area, was found in favor of the county, he said.
The Lonoke lawsuit was for funding of the district courts, and the judge found that an agreement between the county and the two cities remains in effect although the state law has changed. Because of the agreement, the county takes on a larger portion of the district court costs. The settlement gave each city about $45,000 in back costs, Linville said. The checks were issued last week, he said.
In other funding issues, Linville said mention has been made to re-allocating the county’s portion of the sales tax to give more funds to jail operations. Currently the revenue is divided among the Road and Bridge fund, the Lonoke Prairie county library system and solid waste.
There has been talk of increasing the property tax millage, “But obviously I am not for that, I hope it does not go that way,” Linville said.
Linville said his issue is with balances of $7 million in the Road and Bridge budget, and about $750,000 the collector’s automation fund, and another $250,000 in the treasurer’s automation fund. “I must have heard it 5o times this year, the county is not a savings account.”
“Those are school funds. If not used … they roll back into the school,” Linville said. “There’s a lot of money out there that we are sitting, saving, and we aren’t using.”
“I take issue with [$750,000] sitting in an account. Road and Bridge has $7 million … We could do a lot with that money,” he said. “But 75 percent of the sales tax the county is taking in is going in Road and Bridge [budget],” Linville said.
“Behind the scenes, the backdoor stuff, what’s documented that I know of, I am not aware of anything,” Linville said when asked of possible projects for which the funds could be committed.
“This is ridiculous,” Fibel said.
“We would like to take [the sales tax] to the people and have it re-allocated,” Linville said. “Not increase it. Just change how it is allocated.”
“I would like to see the sheriff’s office receiving more of those funds … Because right now the jail is having to house federal inmates to create income,” Linville said.
As far as using the Road and Bridge funds, “In all counties, the [county] judge is the Road and Bridge god. [Quorum Court] have no control over that budget,” Linville said. “[Quorum Court] have no way to police those funds … the only way we have to police it is by controlling the flow into it.”