Members of the Ashley County Quorum Court expressed reluctance Tuesday about receiving probation fees for the Ashley County District Court.
The Quorum ultimately moved forward with the request from the District Court, but one justice abstained from voting to approve the measure that allows the receipt.
The discussion goes back to March, when District Court Judge Reid Harrod told the Quorum that the district court was no longer using a private company to handle probation fees and manage probationers. Since the state does not provide a probation service at the district court level, Harrod has said the court’s clerks can work as probation officers.
Instead of having the Hamburg and Crossett court locations continue to hold the probation fees, the judge had asked the county to create a special revenue fund code — in other words, a budget line — for receiving the money.
County Clerk Christie Martin prepared an ordinance to create the revenue fund code after County Treasurer Stacey Breshears received a $10,258.90 check from the City of Hamburg and a $14,730.50 check from the City of Crossett in connection with the probation funds.
When the ordinance came up for discussion, Justice Ronnie Wheeler said a letter he’d read from Association of Arkansas Counties consultant attorney Eddie Jones advised that the arrangement might not be in the county’s best interest.
“This doesn’t cut the mustard and the Quorum Court should stay as far away from this as possible,” Wheeler said. “We were told that the Quorum Court should stay away and not touch this.”
Breshears said she received the letter in question after questioning Jones about the arrangement.
“I mailed him a question about paying (out of the fund) since (the clerks) are not considered a probation officer and they are receiving this money,” she said. “I wasn’t comfortable with that.”
Wheeler said his understanding of the initial conversation with Judge Harrod was that he would take the matter to the city councils and then bring it back to the Quorum.
Breshears said that while the county has received the money nothing has been spent out of it yet.
“There is a finding from the legislative audit (office) that says we can receive that money but not that we can spend it,” she said.
Wheeler said that his thought on the matter was that the county should send the money back.
When Justice Ron Miller asked Breshears what having the fund code and associated money would do to her bookkeeping for the county, she said it would not have an effect.
“It will sit there,” she said.
County Judge Jim Hudson said that he’d met with Judge Harrod and the Crossett and Hamburg mayors to discuss the matter. When he asked the Quorum’s attorney, David Harrod, what he thought about the arrangement, Attorney Harrod said he had to refrain from commenting because Judge Harrod is his brother and former law partner.
The matter moved forward after Justice Bob Rush pointed out that, as a special revenue code of the county, expenditure of the money will still have to come through the Quorum Court.
“Before anything can be expended, it still would have to be approved, so we should set the fund up,” he said. “Spending is a whole other issue.”
The Quorum voted to approve the creation of the fund code without objection, though Wheeler abstained from voting.