The Ashley County Quroum Court members decided Tuesday to give the City of Hamburg one more notice before shutting off the dispatch services for the Hamburg City Police Department.
The county currently provides dispatch services for Hamburg through the Ashley County Sheriff’s Department, and for the last several months, the two governments have disagreed regarding the amount owed for the services.
The Quorum’s budget committee said at the April meeting that the past due balance, as of Jan. 1, was approximately $98,000.
A proposed agreement presented to Hamburg said that the county would provide dispatch services retroactive from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 for a fee of $55,000. The deadline on the contract was June 1.
In May, County Judge Jim Hudson said that Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf had asked for an extension asking for the court to give his council until July 1 to make a decision.
The court did not vote on an extension because they said they had already agreed on the June 1 deadline.
On May 28, the Hamburg City Council met and agreed that they did not have enough information and could not agree with the contract without more information.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Tommy Sturgeon told the Quorum that he had fulfilled the council’s request for information, but had sent them a bill for $2,726.60.
The information they requested was 6,545 pages long. Sturgeon said in the year of 2018 his office made 92,422 entries total.
Sturgeon said the bill he sent was for the expense of paper, supplies and the time of his dispatcher standing over the copy machine for four hours to get them the requested information.
Sturgeon said that even though Hamburg didn’t respond by the given deadline of June 1, the county had still been providing dispatch service and would do so until the court told him to stop.
“I’ll do it however you tell me to do it,” Sturgeon said.
“I just need some direction on where I need to go from here.”
Justice Ron Miller requested that the sheriff get information on what other counties charge for dispatch.
According to information presented at the meeting, multiple cities pay their county for dispatch service. Eudora pays Chicot County $60,000 a year and DeQueen — with a population 6,600 — pays their county $130,000 annually.
Sturgeon asked the court what he needed to do because the contract wasn’t signed and the June 1 deadline had passed.
Justice Jeff Langley said that June 1 was the deadline and even though they asked for an extension it wasn’t granted.
“As far as I’m concerned June 1, and that’s the law as of what we are supposed to do,” Jeff Langley said. “We’ve been working on this since January one so it’s not like it’s a surprise to anybody.”
Langley said that he didn’t want to put any of the Hamburg police in danger by stopping the service, but he said that the court can’t keep continuing the service for free and that Hamburg was given a deadline.
“We have people with their lives on the line if Tommy just quits, but that has to be addressed and this has to be taken care,” Langley said. “There has to be a point to where it ends, it either ends with Tommy not dispatching or it ends with them agreeing to pay us.”
Miller said that he didn’t feel good about the sheriff shutting it down as of Tuesday, but he did think that a shut off date needed to be set if they didn’t pay.
“I’m totally in favor of them either paying or us shutting it down,” Miller said.
The Quorum members discussed if they had given the City of Hamburg the right amount of time. Some of the members said that they felt like Hamburg had been given plenty of notice and had plenty of time to reach an agreement. Others suggested that they be given until July 1.
Justice Greg Sivils said he thought an official notice should be sent to them with an exact day that the dispatch services would end so that there could be no confusion.
Some of the justices said they felt like by them not responding to the contract by June 1, that services should be terminated.
“The problem is there’s got to be a deadline and we thought it was June 1,” Langley said.
Justice Carlton Lawrence asked if the county would lay off any employees if the service was not provided to Hamburg and Sturgeon said no.
Langley made a motion that the county’s attorney send a letter to the City of Hamburg stating that dispatch service would stop as of July 8 if the city did not sign the contract and pay the dispatch fees owed. Langley’s motion also included payment for the recent expenses the sheriff incurred by fulfilling the city’s request for documents.
“June 1 is what the court said and now we are just sending them a letter saying, ‘You didn’t comply June 1, so (now) we’re going to comply,’” Langley said.
The justices discussed it and decided to give them until July 8, which would be the day before the next regularly scheduled Quorum Court meeting.
Langley amended his motion to give Hamburg until July 8 to come to an agreement and pay the amount owed.
If an agreement is not reached by that day, the sheriff’s office will not dispatch for the city of Hamburg on July 9.
All of the Quorum members voted in favor of the motion except Rhonda Pippen, who did not vote, and Bob Rush, who was absent.
In other news:
Hudson said that he wanted to encourage the members of the Quorum to contact their state representatives and the governor regarding the “disaster in Crossett,” referencing the Georgia Pacific layoffs announced last week.
“Right now the governor is in North Arkansas occupied with floods as they have a disaster up there and we have a disaster down here,” Hudson said.
Hudson said that he was in the process of setting up a meeting with the governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman.
“We are going to meet with them and hold their feet to the fire, they’ve left southeast Arkansas out to dry,” Hudson said.
He requested that the quorum court members make phone calls and tell them their concerns.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, let’s be the squeaky wheel,” Hudson said.