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Council prepares to demand payment from Lonoke County for unpaid court debts

The Carlisle City Council voted to move forward with demanding payment of unpaid debts from Lonoke County during the Tuesday night council meeting.

City attorney Mike Stuart told the council that the city of Lonoke recently won their lawsuit against the county at both the circuit court and Arkansas Supreme Court hearings.

He said now that the county is aware they are responsible for a portion of the court expenses, and half the judge and clerks salaries.

It is his recommendation to the council that they move forward in demanding payment for unpaid debts of 2012 and 2013.

According to the legislative law change, effective Jan. 1, 2012, except as authorized otherwise, the county wherein a district court is held shall pay one half of the salaries of the district judge and each chief court clerk of any district court organized in the county.

The quorum court in a county shall at its annual meeting make appropriation of a sum sufficient to pay the county’s proportion of the expenses of any such court. These payments shall be made out of the district court fund and general revenues of the county.

During the Dec. 12, 2011 meeting, the Lonoke County Quorum Court approved the 2012 county budget, by an 11-1 vote, with its interpretation of the a new law which is believed to no longer required to make contributions to the district courts expenses.

By its interpretation, the county has agreed to pay only half the judges, chief clerk and a secondary clerks salary.

At the following Carlisle City Council meeting on Dec. 20, 2011, Stuart informed the council of the county’s decision. He said the county’s interpretation is wrong and a prior agreement between Lonoke, Carlisle and the county still upholds. Stuart said previous agreements were made about salaries and expenditures of the district court, after lawsuits brought against the county by Lonoke and Carlisle in 1989 and the other in 1999. He said even with the new law change, nothing has changed about the agreement.

Despite Stuart’s recommendation to the council that the city move forward with a lawsuit, the recommendation failed by a 4-2 vote during a council meeting on Jan. 16, 2012.

On Tuesday night, Stuart said as he previously stated and in the eyes of the court, the agreement between Carlisle, Lonoke and the county supersedes the change in law.

“The agreement is still binding,” Stuart said.

Now that Lonoke has won their suit, the council agreed they are prepared to demand payment and move forward with a suit if necessary. According budget figures presented to the county during the previous year, Judge Joe Svoboda said the city is owed $22,798.49 for 2012 and $22,652.58 for 2013 for a total of $45,451.07. He said the 2014 budget of $52,630.35 is also ready to submit.

Stuart said he recommends the council authorize him the to write a letter to the county treasurer demanding payment for the previous years within 10 days. He said since the budget for the upcoming year is paid quarterly, the county can continue to pay the upcoming year’s budget quarterly as agreed.

Mayor Ray Glover said it is also his recommendation that the council authorize Stuart to move forward with not only the letter to the treasurer, but to file suit in court if necessary.

The council unanimously voted to write a letter to the county treasurer demanding payment for unpaid debts the county was required to pay under the terms of the 1991 agreement entered in by the circuit court and to proceed with legal action if needed.

According to Stuart, no other towns in Lonoke County other than Carlisle and Lonoke will benefit from 1991 agreement, as it was a suit between the two towns and the county. The remaining cities will fall under the changes in the law.

In other business, Glover gave an update on the city jail amendments. He said the doors are on order and half the cost will be paid by the contractor. While the cell doors were questioned by jail standards, he said the ceiling in the hall areas and lack of a man gate in the sally port area, have not passed inspection by the Fire Marshal. Glover said the Fire Marshal wants the hall ceiling to be solid, rather than the current drop ceiling in the event of a fire. He said the have received a quote of $2,800 to have sheet rock installed above the drop ceiling, but could save money if panel walls would satisfy the Fire Marshal’s request. Glover said they must also install a man gate in the sally port area on the back side of the building, per request of the Fire Marshall. He said this insures that prisoners can be properly transported to the fire station in the event of a fire. Glover said at this time they have been unable to get into contact with the Fire Marshall to make final decisions before installation.

Also during the meeting, the council unanimously voted to:

• Authorize Glover and city clerk Trudy Drye by resolution, to apply for a $15,000 matching grant to make improvements and upgrades to Rockefeller and the Carlisle City Park on behalf of the city.

• Maintain the current county tax distribution of 5 mills; 4.2 mills for the general fund, 0.4 mills for the fireman pension and 0.4 mills for the fire department.

Alderman Chad Bennett was absent from the meeting. The next regular council meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 in the civic center.

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