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Quorum Court hears first reading on jail tax ordinance

Chief Deputy Justin Rowland speaking to the Craighead County Quorum Court.
Brandon Tabor
Chief Deputy Justin Rowland speaking to the Craighead County Quorum Court.

The Craighead County Quorum Court on Monday held the first reading of a proposal that would fund improvements to the county jail if voters approve a sales tax.

According to the ordinance, it would call for a special election to be held on November 5 for voters to approve issuing $105 million in capital improvement bonds “for the purpose of financing all or a portion of the costs of various improvements, renovations and expansions to the Craighead County Detention Center.”

If voters approve issuing the bonds, then the county would levy a 0.50% sales and use tax until the debt is paid off. During comments, Darrel Cook, Justice of the Peace for District 6, voiced concerns about using $105 million to make improvements to the jail.

“What I’m worried about is I’ll be dead in about 35 years, but we’re going to spend $100 million on a new jail,” Cook said. “If it has the same kind of maintenance as this one has, then that’s going to be somebody replacing it for another $100 million.”

Cook also suggested that the jail’s maintenance staff has not done an adequate job with upkeep of the facility and that many of the problems could be fixed without spending millions of dollars. But, ultimately, he said, it’ll be up to the voters to decide.

“Whoever’s been in charge [of maintenance] for 35 years is not doing their job. It’s as simple as that,” Cook said. “It’s easier to maintain than it is to replace.”

Justin Rowland, Chief Deputy with the Sheriff’s Office, addressed the quorum court on the maintenance and overcrowding issues of the jail. Rowland said that the jail has changed since he began working there over 30 years ago. He said that over the last 10 years, staff at the jail had to constantly perform temporary repair jobs.

Rowland also rebutted J.P. Cook’s claims that staff had been misusing the facility. He credited Maintenance Administrator Mike Miller for the work he’s done with keeping up the facility and applying temporary fixes. Rowland said that other county jails contact Miller to ask him for maintenance tips.

“Mike Miller takes very, very good care of that facility,” Rowland said. “There’s no telling what he saves the taxpayers annually just in his maintenance abilities. So, I just hate to say that it’s not being taken care of because he very well takes care of it.”

Garrett Barnes, Justice of the Peace for District 2, said that while he likes how the ordinance addresses funding improvements, he’s concerned that it doesn’t address how to prevent overcrowding.

“If the public approves this and we don't address recidivism with something that's so profound, like this measure would be,” Barnes said, “then how soon are we going to be back in this position and how far are we kicking the can down the road on future overcrowding without addressing recidivism.”

Rowland said that over the past six years he’s been the chief deputy he’s had to have daily discussion with staff concerning the overcrowding issue. He said that he’s been deciding who to release from jail since the facility is at capacity.

“It's kind of a hard task,” said Rolland, “going through that roster, deciding, ‘well, there's one individual who failed to appear in court one time. Are we in a better position to release him versus someone that has failed to appear in court five times?’”

Justice of the Peace for District 5, Barbara Weinstock, asked Rowland how many inmates are accepted from other counties. Rolland estimated that the jail accepts about 15 inmates, but he said that the number changes constantly. Josh Longmire, J.P. for District 9, requested to look at the most recent report from the criminal review board to hear recommendations they made concerning the facility.

Linda Allison, J.P. for district 4 and member of the public service committee which drafted the ordinance, asked County Judge Marvin Day if it were possible to conduct a Quorum Court meeting at the jail to get a tour of the facilities. Day said that he was working to coordinate with Rowland and Sheriff Marty Boyd to arrange the meeting.

The Quorum Court is expected to conduct two more readings on the ordinance at upcoming meetings. Their next meeting is scheduled on July 8.

In other business, the quorum court accepted a resolution to appoint Kenny Jowers to the Valley View Fire Protection District, approved an ordinance to appropriate money from a block grant to go toward law enforcement, and passed an ordinance to create a flood damage prevention program.

Updated: June 25, 2024 at 12:00 PM CDT
Embedded a .pdf file of the ordinance.
A Northeast Arkansas native from Wynne, I’ve been involved with radio for about 15 years. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where I also served as an award-winning News Director for 2 years at KSWH-LP.