Thursday, November 13, 2008

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part X): Budget freeze for all except sheriff's office and road fund

The Nov. 4 election results are not reported in the Nov. 6, 2008 issue of the Newton County Times because it went to press on Tuesday night before they were complete. So, we don't know the outcome of the vote on the proposed sales tax to finance the building and maintenance of a new county jail. Still, the paper features lots of law enforcement and crime news. The big story on the front page is "JPs freeze county spending." "JP" is the abbreviation for Justice of the Peace; these are members of the county's quorum court, the county governing body. The story reports that the county offices are running out of general operating money, which has necessitated the freeze. A few exceptions to the freeze include $3,500/month for the sheriff's office to spend on fuel for its patrol vehicles. Other exceptions are for payroll, utilities, and -- interestingly-- the county road fund, a decision that is surely a reflection of rural priorities.

In other crime and law enforcement news:
  • A Newton County man, 44, accused of beating his uncle to death at the end of 2007, has died at a hospital near the Arkansas State Prison where he was serving time on other charges while awaiting trial for the murder. Few details were available from the prison spokesperson, though she said the man had been hospitalized for two weeks prior to his death, which appears to have been from natural causes.
  • A presentation on "How to Avoid being Scammed" will be made at the Newton County Senior Center. The Arkansas Attorney General's office sponsors the program.
  • The Jasper Police Department has a new set of wheels, a 2009 Dodge Charger which is shown in an accompanying photo. The city paid $6,600 or 25% of the price of the vehicle and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's rural development funds paid the remainder. This is the second vehicle the city has received with USDA Rural Development funds. Jasper, population 498, is the county seat and one of two small cities in the county that have correspondingly tiny police departments. It strikes me that having "city" policy departments in towns with fewer than 500 residents must be inefficient. I wonder if it would be preferable for these funds to support the larger (slightly) Newton County Sheriff's operations.
  • The "Sheriff's activity log for October" shows the following: 14 arrests; $119,219.60 turned over to the district court; $2,687.87 turned over to the circuit court; 102 citations issued; 847.3 gallons of fuel used; 18 warrants served; 270 outstanding warrants; $221,892.88 in delinquent warrants. It would be good to know a bit more about what these sums of money represent and from whence they came.
In lighter fare on the front page are four photos of basketball teams from county schools. Each photo shows the winner of a division (jr. and sr. girls; jr. and sr. boys) of the Newton County Tournament. Basketball is the only sport played by all four county schools, and the county tournament is a huge event locally.

In a banner across the top of the front page is a notice that Newton County is offering flu shots on both a drive-through and walk-in basis, from 7 a.m. til 6 p.m., on one day only at the county fairgrounds. No cost is specified, so this may be a free service. In California, the cost of a flu shot is about $30 for those without public or private health insurance.

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