Friday, September 28, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CVI): It must be election season

The evidence that the fall election is quickly approaching is found in a story in the Newton County Times, Sept. 19, 2012 issue:  "Tip leads to two arrests, large marijuana bust."  The story tells of a Sept. 15 execution of a search warrant at a home in the Parthenon area that garnered 43 pounds of marijuana, 21 marijuana plants, 30 guns, and $14,912 in cash.  Tom Bonds, 61, and Peggy Bonds, 60, both of Parthenon, were arrested and charged with possession of controlled substance, manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms.

The Newton County Sheriff's office got the warrant after receiving "information of a marijuana grow in Parthenon."  Officials from the 14th Judicial Task Force, Arkansas State Police, Boone County Sheriff's Office and the Jasper Police Dept. assisted the sheriff in executing the warrant.

Why the headline "it must be election season"?  Well, I have noticed over the years that the Newton County Sheriff's office typically gets motivated about its law enforcement mandate the closer it gets to election time.  I note, however, that incumbent Sheriff Keith Slape is not being challenged in the upcoming election.

Interestingly, this story was displaced from front-page news announcing an open house of the new jail, which has been completed. (Read more about the four-year path to this event here).  The jail will be open for public inspection Sept. 17-21 and 24-28 from 8 am to 5 pm.  Voters are being asked to pass a 3/4 cent sales tax in the fall election to finance the maintenance and operation costs of the jail.  No one seems to be talking about the fact that maintenance and operation costs of the prior jail were covered under the county's general budget, which is largely financed through property taxes.  It seems exceptionally regressive to impose this significant sales tax on county residents when they have previously paid for such services via property tax.  There's something perverse about making the poorest people pay disproportionately for a jail which will be used primarily to incarcerate them, that is, the poorest folks in the county.

In other news--indeed the top headline of the week--Deer-Mt. Judea School District reports a total enrollment of 363, above the 350 minimum Average Daily Membership (ADM) that has caused the district to be on a list of Arkansas schools threatened with imminent consolidation.  Read more here and here.  The district superintendent is quoted as saying, "We're blessed." He credited "the patrons of the school district for the increased enrollment by not transferring students to other schools and by promoting the school district and attracting new students.  In some cases families agreed to host international exchange students.  Mt. Judea has six exchange students, while Deer has two.  When the Deer and Mt. Judea schools consolidated in 2005, the district had an ADM of 478 students, a figure that has slowly declined and, along with it, "foundation aid from the state and in turn the flexibility the boar had to give salary increases."  The state board of education is not permitting the district to add to its debt, which means a millage (tax) increase it had placed on the November ballot will not have the desired effect of raising money to initiate and complete some construction projects on the two campuses.  Instead, if the millage increase passes, funds raised would be used to service existing debts.   The Jasper School District, which includes three campuses, reports a 2012-2013 enrollment of 934, up from an ADM of 904 yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas National Guard has been delivering potable water to the Deer community because of a break in the water line serving that about 1000 customers, including the school, which was closed for a day in mid-September because of the lack of water.

County residents celebrated the grand re-opening of the Buffalo Theatre on Sept. 21.  On the square in Jasper, the theatre was built and initially opened in 1916.  Since that time, the building has served as a cinema, a mercantile and a bakery.  I recall its time as a cinema and a bakery--indeed, I worked at the cinema as a teenager, in the concession stand.  The refurbishment and re-opening of the cinema is attributable to a group of county women who call themselves the Buffalo Theatre Committee.  They have renovated it so that it may serve as a community center, a community resource.  The grand re-opening features local entertainment and a pasta buffet, all for $5.  "Visitors will also have the opportunity to see the newly added big screen and state-of-the-art movie projector, a radio broadcasting room, a rear exit fire ramp, and an updated marquee on the front of the theatre."

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