Ashley County Sheriff Tommy Sturgeon told the Ashley County Quorum Court on Tuesday that his office needs a phone system that does not drop out whenever Internet service fails.

The county has been using Internet-based phone service for some time, but Sturgeon said approximately three weeks ago his office lost phone service for 24 hours. That’s a problem, he said, because so much of the sheriff’s office’s business is conducted by phone.

“When you lose Internet at the courthouse, we lose phones at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “When you hit 5 p.m., your business stops, but mine picks up.”

The 911 system remained operational throughout the incident because it is set up differently, Sturgeon said, but approximately 85 percent of the sheriff’s office’s calls come through its local number with an 853 prefix.

“When you are down for 24 hours, that is a long time, too long,” he said. “My personal phone was blowing up with people asking, ‘Why aren’t y’all answering your phones?’”

During the phone outage, the Crossett Police Department received the emergency calls and radioed the sheriff’s office to let them know their dispatch needs. 

“If you need me at 2 a.m., Crossett is going to pick up the call,” Sturgeon said. “I am dead in the water without phones.”

While having the Crossett police relay the calls might only take a couple of minutes, a matter of minutes can prove very important when responding to a call, he said.

The sheriff’s office was also hamstrung, however, because without Internet service employees could not use the reporting or booking systems, which are also Internet-based, Sturgeon said.

This is the second outage the sheriff’s office has faced. The first happened because lightning struck a communications tower in Hamburg, but the second happened because of a disruption in Dallas — a problem that Sturgeon said baffled him.

“Sometimes technology is not the answer,” he said. 

The sheriff said he has found an analog system that will provide the sheriff’s office with phone and Internet service for cheaper than the county currently pays.

County Judge Jim Hudson said he has asked the current providers what the buyout for their contract is, but has not received an answer.

In other news, the Quorum voted to accept the county’s annual legislative audit.

The audit had one finding, that the county had paid $1,190 to a Quorum Court member for tractor parts and repairs without an ordinance authorizing the matter. The audit finding notes that the matter had been previously discussed with county officials.

The Quorum adopted a resolution in June that would authorize future purchases from the justice in question, Greg Sivils, should they be necessary.

The justices also voted to give $2,500 in premium pay to all county employees who worked through the entirety of the initial COVID-19 emergency period beginning in March 2020 and ending in May of this year. The pay will be prorated for people who were hired after the start of the pandemic and for part-time employees.

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