Wash­ing­ton County judge pinches pen­nies to ease fi­nan­cial woes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RECORDS - SCAR­LET SIMS Scar­let Sims can be reached by email at ssims@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWAS­car­lets.

FAYET­TEVILLE — Wash­ing­ton County Judge Joseph Wood plans op­er­a­tional and staffing changes to save money, said Carl Gales, chief of staff for Wood.

“It’s all money ori­en­tated,” Gales told jus­tices of the peace Mon­day dur­ing a Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee meet­ing. “We do need a lot of fix­ing.”

No over­all bud­get fig­ures were re­leased, but Gales said the ex­am­ples stand to save hun­dreds of thou­sands for the 2018 bud­get. Gales said sav­ings amounts would be ready in the fall for the bud­get process.

The county’s bud­get is $66 mil­lion. Spend­ing is out­pac­ing rev­enue by roughly $5 mil­lion, and jus­tices of the peace have talked about rais­ing the mill­age rate or cut­ting ser­vices to stop the spend­ing gap.

Wood over­sees 15 de­part­ments, but the an­i­mal shel­ter, ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ter, Build­ing and Grounds and Road de­part­ments are some of the costli­est, Gales said. The four rep­re­sent about $15.3 mil­lion, records show.

Gales said some changes in­clude out­sourc­ing vet­eri­nar­ian ser­vices in­stead of em­ploy­ing a vet at the shel­ter. In some in­stances, the vet­eri­nar­ian is em­ployed all day but only does one 15-minute op­er­a­tion, Gales said.

At the Road Depart­ment, plans are un­der­way to lease more heavy equip­ment and auc­tion old equip­ment. Main­tain­ing the old equip­ment is just as costly as get­ting new, work­ing equip­ment, Gales said. Fre­quent break-downs has slowed road work, he said.

The old equip­ment is ex­pected to sell for roughly $500,000 at auc­tion Aug. 17, Gales said.

Other sav­ings will come from in-house work in­stead of bid­ding it, Gales said. For ex­am­ple, seal­ing the park­ing deck us­ing em­ploy­ees is ex­pect to save $225,000 this year, he said.

Prop­erty also is un­der re­view. Some could be sold, Gales said. Other prop­erty could be leased “for real money,” he said. Two en­ti­ties have shown in­ter­est in leas­ing va­cant county prop­erty, Gales said.

The county has al­lowed at least one non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion to use its prop­erty for $1 per year, but Gales said the it should get more for its prop­erty.

The fo­cus on ef­fi­ciency and pos­si­ble rev­enue or sav­ings is wel­come news for jus­tices of the peace. The Quo­rum Court doesn’t want to raise taxes, said Jus­tice of the Peace Lisa Ecke, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents south­east­ern Spring­dale.

Jus­tice of the Peace Tom Lund­strum, a Repub­li­can rep­re­sent­ing north­west­ern Wash­ing­ton County, said the county has wasted mil­lions over the past few years on un­needed projects and ser­vices. Prop­erty has sat un­used or un­known about, too, he said.

“This is the first time ev­ery­thing is be­ing care­fully looked at,” Lund­strum said. “I’m so thank­ful you are look­ing at this stuff in a log­i­cal way.”

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