Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XCVI): Jail costs suddenly skyrocket

The big above-the-fold headline in the January 11, 2012, issue of the Newton County Times is "Jail cost increased $250,000." The lede states:
The cost of constructing the new Newton County Jail went up $250,000 and uses the maximum amount of money the county has available for the new facility. The quorum court released the funds Tuesday, Jan 3, at is regular monthly meeting.
This represents an increase of more than 30% over the bid price of $840,000, and the story provides little in the way of explanation for the dramatic jump. What it does say is that the project manager for Davis Construction, which won the bid, "told the quorum court ... that the bid price was based on drawings provided to the construction firm at the time of the bidding last September. The project has been expanded and items have been added including a sprinkler system, additional toilets, shower stalls and other facilities to meet state requirements."

Conveniently (though perhaps not coincidentally), the increase raises the total construction price to $1,090,000, which is exactly the amount the county has available through a bond issue funded by a half-cent sales tax dedicated to the facility's construction. How the bid was let with specifications that failed to comply with state requirements is not addressed in the story, but this would seem to be a major oversight by the quorum court (the Arkansas term for the county board of supervisors) and any professionals advising them.

Sheriff Keith Slape indicated that he is counting on state grants to pay for items such as a video system.

In other news, the Dec. 21, 2011 issue of the Newton County Times reported that the County's Quorum Court had adopted an ordinance setting the general operating budget and the separate county road budget for 2012.  The general operating budget for all county offices is $1,451,745, about $10,000 higher than the prior year.  The county road budget "appropriates $1,101,643.20 for maintenance and construction of county roads."  It includes a $500,000 appropriation "into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Account dedicated to maintenance and construction of country roads."  At this meeting,  members of the Quorum Court "authorized [county elected] officials to give employees in their respective offices a $100 Christmas bonus." 

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