Saline County Quorum Court voted late Tuesday to levy an annual voluntary $5 tax on every tax statement for real property in the county for the purpose of financing animal control services in the county.
Ten justices of the peace supported the ordinance that drew harsh criticism from Mark Kizer, who represents District 3 on the court. Also voting against the ordinance were Dr. Allan Dabbs of District 5; and Mike Creekmore of District 11.
Kizer chastised the court for approving an ordinance that he says puts responsibility on the sheriff's office that does not have adequate manpower to provide the service.
"They don't have time to do this and the money's not there now, and we don't know what money will come from this," he said.
"I'm not for it and I think it stinks," Kizer said.
Deputy David Blevins, the county's environmental officer, is expected to be assigned this task. When Sheriff Bruce Pennington was asked whether Blevins will have time to serve in this capacity, he replied, "Not really."
Kizer replied, "Y'all just passed an ordinance and he doesn't have manpower to do it."
Pennington then added, "When he's not busy, he would have time."
Kizer told Pennington to "get ready to get the phone calls now."
Later in the meeting, James Mashburn, a resident of the East End community, said he supports the animal tax "if we can pass a leash law in the county."
Mashburn cited incidents in which free-roaming dogs have killed his animals and attacked horses said he has "declared war on dogs."
"Dogs running loose is a major problem out there (in East End)," he added.
Voting for the measure were the following nine JPs who sponsored the ordinance: Josh Curtis, District 7; Tammy Schmidt, District 6; James Zahnd, District 13; Josh Mesker, District 2; J.R. Walters, District 12; Jim Whitley, District 10; Barbara Howell, District 4; Greg Thomas, District 9; and Pat Bisbee, District 1.
In another matter, the court unanimously voted for an ordinance approving the issuance of $8 million in bonds to make physical improvements at Saline Memorial Hospital.
Carla Robertson, chief financial officer for the hospital, reviewed projects that are planned with the additional revenue. Included will be renovation to the facility's MRI unit and CT units; improvements to the facility's emergency power system; adding additional patient rooms; and roof renovations.
"We're doing a lot of rearranging," Robertson said. "We're creating additional patient rooms where the old emergency department was."
No county funds will be used in any of the projects, but the county owns the hospital, which is leased to Saline County Medical Center, a not-for-profit corporation. Arrangements are being made for Stephens Inc. to serve as underwriter for the bond agreement, the ordinance notes.
In other matters, Don Birdsong, administrator of the Saline County Detention Center, presented a review of the jail for 2012. Birdsong was positive in his evaluation of the facility.
"We have more major felons in our jail than we've had in a long time — we're housing a lot of murderers — but they're where they belong, and we're doing well," he said.
Medical care at the facility has been improved with additional staffing, Birdsong added.
"We have an EMT on staff and have a doctor on call now 24-7. We have two nurses on staff for five days a week."
Expenses are kept to a minimum, he said, through charging inmates at a rate of $3 a meal "to try to recoup as much as we can" from the cost of housing prisoners.
"We have a new gated system, with fencing all around now," he said. "We feel like we can prevent any escape from happening. We've bought new mattresses, and we have passed all evaluations with flying colors."
"We're staying within the budget, being good stewards of the county's money," he added.
Birdsong said a new contract has been signed this week with the Arkansas Department of Correction for housing prisoners.
"We don't anticipate any problems in 2013 and we look forward to working with you," he said.