Ben­ton County Quo­rum Court gives OK to jail fees in­crease

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION / NEWS - MIKE JONES [email protected]

BEN­TONVILLE — Hous­ing pris­on­ers at the Ben­ton County Jail will cost mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties more start­ing in this new year.

Ben­ton County’s Quo­rum Court closed the books on 2018 in quick fash­ion Dec. 20. Among the six items of new and old busi­ness on the agenda was the third and fi­nal read­ing of an or­di­nance to in­crease jail fees from $50 to $60 per day. The vote was unan­i­mous.

The Quo­rum Court wrapped up busi­ness in Cir­cuit Judge Robin Green’s court­room in just over 30 min­utes.

County of­fi­cials mulled a $5 in­crease in jail fees, but Jus­tice of the Peace Brent Mey­ers sug­gested rais­ing the fee an­other $5 at the Com­mit­tee of the Whole meet­ing Oct. 11. The Quo­rum Court held the or­di­nance’s first read­ing in Oc­to­ber and fol­lowed with a sec­ond in Novem­ber.

Fif­teen county cities and the North­west Arkansas Re­gional Air­port bring peo­ple to the jail at 1300 S.W. 14th St. in Ben­tonville, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Mey­ers.

Brenda Guen­ther, county comp­trol­ler, said the fee charged to cities has lagged be­hind costs. The $10 in­crease will inch the county closer to the breakeven point.

The fee was $40 in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Quo­rum Court in­creased the fee to $45 in 2016 and to $50 in 2017, Guen­ther said.

The cost of hous­ing an in­mate for one day was es­ti­mated at $46 in 2013. That in­creased to about $53 in 2016. Af­ter the county added jail space, the cost in­creased to $60 in 2017, Guen­ther said. The na­tional aver­age to house a pris­oner is be­tween $72 and $75 a day, Jail Capt. Jeremy Guyll said.

Salaries make up 64 per­cent of jail costs, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from Guen­ther. Smaller costs in­clude util­i­ties, food and cloth­ing, and med­i­cal ex­penses.

The county re­ceives $30 per day from the Arkansas De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion for state pris­on­ers, and $56 per day for fed­eral pris­on­ers.

There were 605 in­mates in the jail on Dec. 20 — 482 lo­cal, 100 state and 23 fed­eral.

The county has col­lected $166,850 in jail fees through Novem­ber, Guen­ther said Thurs­day. The county col­lected $174,000 in 2017, and should pull in around $208,000 next year with the fee in­crease.

Thurs­day night’s meet­ing was the fi­nal one for J.D. Hayes, the jus­tice of the peace for Dis­trict 3; Mike Jef­f­coat, the jus­tice of the peace for Dis­trict 5; and Bob Bland, the jus­tice of the Peace in Dis­trict 11. Hayes and Jef­f­coat were ap­pointed to their po­si­tions and weren’t el­i­gi­ble to run for the seats, and Bland didn’t seek re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.

County Judge Barry Moehring pre­sented each of the three with a gift, and rounds of ap­plause fol­lowed for their ser­vice.

“I hope the three of you won’t be strangers and con­tinue to give us your in­put,” Moehring said. “Let us know what we are do­ing right, and what we are do­ing wrong.”

Jus­tice of the Peace Michelle Chiocco said she was pleased with the work the Quo­rum Court did in 2018. Among the achieve­ments she cited was an agree­ment for am­bu­lance ser­vice on the west side of the county and set­tling on a pro­posed court­house plan.

The county reached a three-year agree­ment to pro­vide am­bu­lance ser­vice to the ru­ral ar­eas on the west side of the county in Oc­to­ber.

The plan is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the county, Gen­try, De­catur and North­west Health Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices. The agree­ment will place three Ad­vanced Life Sup­port am­bu­lances on the west side of the county and save county res­i­dents more than $195,000, Moehring pre­vi­ously said.

The con­tract that be­gan Jan. 1 will cover EMS ser­vices for the fire dis­tricts in Sul­phur Springs, Gravette, Maysville, Gen­try and Gal­latin, and Gen­try and De­catur.

A spe­cial elec­tion for a one-eighth-cent sales tax in­crease for a pro­posed $30 mil­lion courts build­ing will be held March 12. The sales tax in­crease would be for 54 months if ap­proved by vot­ers. The county has adopted a build­ing de­sign and site on Sec­ond Street in down­town Ben­tonville.

“It’s been a pro­duc­tive year,” Chiocco said. “We now have some fo­cus on the court­house. We’ve talked about it for years. All in all it was a good year for the Quo­rum Court. I hope the pub­lic has been happy with it.”

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