County Lines Spring 2020
The Official Publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 1
Flipping the Switch Arkansas counties explore solar options 24
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In This Issue Spring 2020
Cover Story Flipping the Switch............................................................................24
Features Saline County Breaks Ground on Education Center...................28 Franklin County Dedicates New Detention Center.....................32 In Photos: Counties on Frontline of Pandemic ...........................38
Departments From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7
Cover Notes: Flipping the Switch
President’s Perspective...................................................................11 From the Governor............................................................................12 Research Corner...............................................................................13 Governmental Affairs.......................................................................15 Legal Corner......................................................................................16 Seems to Me..................................................................................... 18 Litigation Lessons.............................................................................22 Wellness & Safety............................................................................34 News from NACo...............................................................................45
(Cover photo and photos on this page courtesy of Solar Seal and Johnson Controls Inc.)
egislation passed by the Arkansas General Assembly in 2019 opened the way for counties to pursue solar power projects. When Washington County’s 5,400-panel solar system came online in May, it became the largest county-owned and rooftop solar array in the state. The $8 million energy efficiency project is expected to save taxpayers $10.2 million in electrical costs over 10 years. Meter aggregation from the array will offset energy consumption at Washington County facilities, such as the animal shelter, armory, coroner, bridge building, county library, election commission, historic courthouse, judicial annex, juvenile detention center, maintenance shop, rescue/ training center, road department and detention center. We also explore projects in Jefferson, Pulaski, Howard, Phillips, Ouachita and Sebastian counties starting on page 24.
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AAC Mission Statement
Aug. 23-26 Sheriffs Double Tree, Fort Smith
Sept. 24-25 County Clerks Hilton Garden Inn, Conway
Sept. 14-15 Judges Benton Event Center, Benton
Oct. 14-16 Circuit Clerks DoubleTree, Fort Smith
Sept. 16-18 Treasurers Hilton Garden Inn, Little Rock
Calendar activities also are posted on our website:
he Association of Arkansas Counties supports and promotes the idea that all elected officials must have the opportunity to act together in order to solve mutual problems as a unified group. To further this goal, the Association of Arkansas Counties is committed to providing a single source of cooperative support and information for all counties and county and district officials. The overall purpose of the Association of Arkansas Counties is to work for the improvement of county government in the state of Arkansas. The Association accomplishes this purpose by providing legislative representation, on-site assistance, general research, training, various publications and conferences to assist county officials in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of their office.
1415 West Third Street Little Rock, AR 72201 (501) 372-7550 phone / (501) 372-0611 fax www.arcounties.org
Chris Villines, Executive Director email@example.com
Mark Harrell, IT Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Bell, Administrative Assistant email@example.com
Anne Baker, Executive Assistant firstname.lastname@example.org
Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation
Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist email@example.com
Deann Campbell, Receptionist firstname.lastname@example.org Eddie Jones, Consultant email@example.com Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director email@example.com Lindsey French, Legal Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org Christy L. Smith, Communications Director email@example.com Holland Doran, Communications Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director email@example.com
Debbie Lakey, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr. firstname.lastname@example.org Cathy Perry, Admin. Asst./Claims Analyst email@example.com Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster firstname.lastname@example.org Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster email@example.com Riley Groover, Claims Analyst firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandy McAllister, RMS Counsel email@example.com Colin Jorgensen, RMF Litigation Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org JaNan Thomas, RMF Litigation Counsel email@example.com Melissa Hollowell, RMF Litigation Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org Camille Neemann, RMF Litigation Counsel email@example.com Fonda Fitzgerald, RMF Paralegal firstname.lastname@example.org Samantha Wren, RMF Paralegal email@example.com
Karan Skarda, ACE Program Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst email@example.com
Becky Comet, Member Benefits Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Posey, Accountant email@example.com
Kim Mitchell, Administrative Assistant firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Piker, Loss Control Consultant email@example.com
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County Lines County Lines [(ISSN 2576-1137 (print) and ISSN 2576-1145 (online)] is the official publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties. It is published quarterly. For advertising inquiries, subscriptions or other information, please contact Christy L. Smith at 501.372.7550. Executive Director/Publisher Chris Villines Communications Director/ Managing Editor Christy L. Smith Communications Coordinator/ Editor Holland Doran
AAC Executive Board: Debbie Wise – President Brandon Ellison – Vice President Jimmy Hart – Secretary-Treasurer Tommy Young Terri Harrison Debra Buckner Sandra Cawyer Kevin Cleghorn Terry McNatt Debbie Cross Brenda DeShields Ellen Foote Doug Curtis Gerone Hobbs Marty Boyd John Montgomery Heather Stevens David Thompson National Association of Counties (NACo) Board Affiliations Debbie Wise: NACo board member. She is the Randolph County Circuit Clerk and president of the AAC Board of Directors. Brandon Ellison: NACo board member. He is the Polk County Judge and vice-president of the AAC Board of Directors. Ted Harden: Finance & Intergovernmental Affairs Steering Committee. He serves on the Jefferson County Quorum Court. David Hudson: Chair of NACo’s Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Sebastian County Judge and member of the Rural Action Caucus Steering Committee and the IT Standing Committee. Kevin Smith: IT Standing Committee. He is the Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services. Barry Hyde: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Pulaski County Judge. Gerone Hobbs: Membership Committee. He is the Pulaski County Coroner. Kade Holliday: Arts and Culture Committee and International Economic Development Task Force. He is the Craighead County Clerk. Paul Ellliot: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, vice-chair of law enforcement subcommittee. He serves on the Pulaski County Quorum Court. Ellen Foote: Community, Economic & Workforce Development Steering Committee. She is the Crittenden County Tax Collector. Tawanna Brown:Telecommunications & Technology Steering Committe. She is the Crittenden County Chief Computer Operator.
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Pandemic relief, epidemic crisis
n so many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a departure from reality. Many things we held to be paradigms in our life have shifted. Truth has become fiction, and vice-versa. These are unsettling times, further complicated by social unrest and divisive politics and media. As the coroners can attest, this has driven up drug Chris Villines use, and unfortunately suicides as well. I highly recommend AAC Executive Director you read Becky Comet’s column later in this issue of County Lines as she helps to navigate what effects you and your loved ones may be seeing. At the AAC, we continue to churn away at one of the aggressors that figures so prevalently in these times, an opioid industry that has historically turned its face to profits and a deaf ear to society. Sometimes there are sobering reminders that this industry hits painfully close to all of us, and a few weeks ago on a Saturday I’ll never forget hearing the excruciating pain in my good friend Mark Hayes’ voice as he relayed to me that the industry had taken another life … that of one of his children, Wells. As the Executive Director at the Arkansas Municipal League, he and I have been counterparts, colleagues and more than this, friends in our roles together. We locked arms several years ago to fight against the opioid industry in Arkansas, not knowing at the time where it would take his family. I am sad but honored to have permission to reprint his article in a recent City & Town magazine edition — and I reprint this to share his story … and to remind you why we are in this fight together with our cities in Arkansas:
y the time you read this I’m hopeful our state will have begun its rebirth from COVID-19. Not too fast mind you, but rather a logical and rational approach just as our governor has led us from the start but in reverse.1 I think many things will change for us over the next few years. People will continue to social distance although perhaps not as strictly as we’re doing now. We’ll work at home more. We’ll use disinfectant wipes and sprays more than we ever have. Anybody coughing or sneezing will no doubt make us anxious for many years to come. We won’t think of headaches as we have in the past nor the loss of taste or smell. Shortness of breath may yield a 911 call rather than a brief respite. I suspect many of us will have groceries and other staples delivered to our homes. If we go to a store of any kind, we’ll pick off hours in hopes there won’t be very many people. Telemedicine will likely become the new normal for routine doctor visits. I wonder about movie theaters and small restaurants. Will they survive or change somehow? And what about traditional handshakes? What do we do, the Vulcan salute?2 Peace signs?3 And hugs, what about hugs?! And yes, we’ll certainly wash our hands more. It may take months or even years for our society to fully deal with the coronavirus, but we will. A vaccine will be invented and, like so many other killer viruses, COVID-19 will wither on the vine and die. Unfortunately, our journey to health as Arkansans will not end with a COVID-19 vaccine. No, there’s another killer on the loose and it hasn’t yet been >>> 7 7/14/20 1:12 PM
fully addressed. We will be leaving the virus pandemic but remain in a deadlier, more long-standing epidemic that in many instances hasn’t been dealt with. I speak of course, of the epidemic of opioid addictions, overdoses and deaths. By the time you read this my 23-year-old son4 will have been dead from such an overdose for nearly a month. Four or five weeks will have passed since he collapsed, passed out and drifted into death. He is now part of a lost generation. His best friend suffered the same fate just over two years ago. And then, horrifically, two days after Wells died another good friend he met in rehab passed away. My son Wells suffered so much after his best pal died. He lived an anguished life over the past 24 months. Near-death experiences from overdoses certainly weren’t everyday occurrences with him, but they happened often enough that we knew what the drill was. We knew the need for chest comMark Hayes and his son, Wells. pressions, counting one, two, three, four while listening to the neutral calm voice of the 911 dispatcher. We knew that help would arrive quickly. We knew Narcan could be administered with near-miraculous results. We also knew it was too late this last time. I tried. Nearly two minutes of me pushing on his chest. Oh, how I tried. Many other friends of my children have died. I can quickly count five without even trying. With just a little effort the ● Pavement Maintenance Services number gets closer to 10. It happens so frequently that there’s ● Municipal Road Striping almost a callousness from the remainder of us. “Oh, there’s ● Airport Pavement Maintenance another one. When will it end?” Well, when will it end? How many people must die? Like the coronavirus, opioid addic● Guardrail Maintenance tion knows no boundaries. Wealthy, poor, educated or not, ● Traﬃc Control Services male, female. If you know a group of people under 30 or 35 there is a high likelihood that someone in that group has an opioid problem. Lots of them start on pills, “hydros” and “oxys.”5 Some don’t do pills but try other things. Regardless, in all too many instances black tar heroin is just plain cheap. www.custompavement.com Just a few dollars for a hit. As I’ve said many times, the illegal drug manufacturing world cares nothing about the quality control of their product. Thus, it matters little that the concentration of the drug or the mixture with death traps like fentanyl are so high that death is
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a very real possibility even for the most casual of users. In some instances, what’s sold as heroin may in reality be fentanyl. One may as well put a gun to their head if that’s the case. That’s a high that nobody recovers from. These drugs produce a high that ends in a pleading, screaming mother wanting her child back. They cause funerals attended by family torn to shreds by the death of a young person whose life had just barely begun. Grief so very profound that it hurts. It quite literally hurts in the chest as though a force so strong is tearing through the rib cage and brutalizing the heart. It is the worst possible thing to witness and be a part of. It is my reality and it is the reality of my wife Alison. My dear precious spouse now faces motherhood with only three of her four children. She faces every waking minute without her baby boy. And she faces most sleeping minutes tortured with horrible visions and what ifs. That is the harsh, vicious and brutal truth of opioid addiction. That is our life now and forever more. The combination of COVID-19 and opioids in Arkansas is a hell on earth. We are lucky, however, because we are assured by virtually every expert that a vaccine will be created for the virus and it likely will be done in record time. That would be a miracle for sure. But our society will continue with this plague of addiction caused by manufacturers and distributors placing profits before people. They value cold hard cash more than Wells, more than his friends and more than an entire generation. Amid our new normal of social distancing, there is a new surge of fatal opioid overdoses. That’s right — while taking precautions to stay away from the pandemic, the epidemic is killing at a record pace. There are multiple reasons this is happening. Certainly, the stress and depression of being alone leads some away from sobriety and into the warm, welcoming death hug of heroin. For others the inability to get to daily or weekly sobriety meetings or church services pushes them to use again. And for those who use suboxone in their fight for sobriety, the inability to get to the doctor or the clinic or both to get the prescription updated leads to the same dark place. I fear we’ll see more suffering and more death. I fear for my children, your children and grandchildren. I fear for my grieving wife. I fear for Wells’ dad, his aunts and uncles, and his grandparents. All is not lost. There are some simple steps that can save lives. Learn CPR. Carry a dose of Narcan. Talk to your kids and their friends. More importantly, listen to your kids and their friends regardless of whether you like what you’re hearing. The truth is often ugly and painful. Ignoring the truth is worse. Ignoring equals death, plain and simple. What else can be done? Most of you good readers are familiar with the League’s litigation efforts taken in conjunction with the Association of Arkansas Counties. As I’m writing this, the likelihood of a favorable settlement is beginning to emerge from the fog and COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:12 PM
and our dogs on our back deck. They are in the shade looking into the trees. It is a perfect day made for fishing or golfing, two of Wells’ favorite hobbies. I think it’s a small sign from above. Wells is no longer tortured by addiction, and in that sunshine there is hope that we can defeat both the pandemic and the epidemic. Until next month, Peace.
Mark R. Hayes Executive Director Arkansas Municipal League
The “unblended” family: Wells, Alison, Bliss, Mark, Franz, and Colin.
rhetoric that accompanies most large cases. Litigation seldom completely solves societal problems. Those problems are solved by the commitment and work of people on the front lines. It starts with parents, teachers, counselors, doctors, friends, clergy … this list goes on and on. Together we can solve this opioid epidemic. Together we can help those with addiction. COVID-19 will have an injectable vaccine soon. The opioid vaccine isn’t in a tube with plunger and needle. We are the opioid vaccine. We need the dollars that a settlement may bring, for sure, but the reality is the citizens of this state have to fight this evil together. That and that alone will defeat this epidemic. We can win for Wells and every other person stricken with this plague and for every family and friend that is tortured by the loss of a loved one. I’ve written many, many things in my life, but this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. Strangely, there’s a small catharsis in seeing the words in black and white on my laptop screen. Not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but a start. Frankly, I don’t think my family as a whole or individually will ever be the same, particularly Alison. Mothers do indeed have a stronger bond to children. I’ve seen the anguish up close and personal. She suffers because she carried him for nine months and nurtured him from infancy to manhood. She was a great mom to Wells and is a great mom to Franz, Bliss and Colin. I need to give credit where credit is due. Alison helped me by proofing this. The reality, however, is that we co-authored this column. I’ve done nothing more than repeat the many conversations she and I have had during the past two weeks and likely will have for the remainder of our lives. As I conclude on this bright sunny day, I can see Alison COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 9
As of May 5, 2020, the governor’s emergency declaration was extended 45 days. Several categories of businesses have been allowed to open or partially open including barbers and hair salons. 2 Leonard Nimoy portrayed Spock in the long-running TV and movie series Star Trek. Nimoy invented the Vulcan hand gesture by borrowing from a tradition in Orthodox Judaism. The hand gesture first appeared in the first episode of the second season of the original TV show in 1967. QZ.com, Baltimore Sun and Wikipedia. 3 The hand gesture of raising both the index and middle fingers is widely known as a sign of peace in the United States although in other countries certain variations are considered insults. 4 Wells Curry Bratton came into my life in 2007 when I married Alison. He and his sister became instantly close with my sons and as our relationships deepened I simply referred to them as my children. My three boys and my daughter. Legally, Wells was my stepson, but his mother and I raised him with his father, giving him three parents. Recently one of Wells’ friends described our family as the most “unblended blended family” she had ever seen. She meant that as a compliment noting that we were a family without notations of step or biological. Just a loving, caring family of six that is now down to five. 5 Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. 1
Mark, Alison, family and Municipal League friends — God Bless you and comfort you in these times. And may our forthcoming victory over the opioid industry honor the memory of Wells and so many others. 9 7/14/20 1:12 PM
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75 counties standing as one
e continue to find ourselves in challenging times. All 75 counties are making tough decisions about how to keep county government afloat and continue to provide the services we are mandated to provide. I would be remiss if I did not recognize our counties’ first responders. Our sheriffs, jailers, emergency management staff, and fire fighters are working diligently to ensure the safety, health and well-being of our communities. Our rural hospitals are struggling, but doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are making great sacrifices for our communities. And so are our county and district officials. The COVID-19 situation is ever-evolving, and I am impressed with how our elected officials are working together to brainstorm and to solve the new challenges we face. At this time, we do not know the full impact this pandemic will have. We do know that each county will be touched in different, yet similar, ways. Some counties continue to struggle with the aftereffects of recent storms. Those same counties will find themselves struggling alongside other counties with revenue shortfalls, layoffs, reduced funding for roads, changes in court operations, and more. We all are touched by this pandemic both professionally and personally. Our greatest strength has always been our relationships with one another. Currently, we cannot attend our various association meetings to seek the solace, guidance, and community we need. But I wish to offer you hope as we walk through the COVID-19 pandemic together — hope that what may eventually come out of this situation will be a better normal. The COVID-19 team at the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) — Chris Villines, Mark Whitmore, Lindsey Bailey, Brandy McAllister, JaNan Thomas, Camille Neemann, Josh Curtis, and Eddie Jones — are working tirelessly to
keep us armed with knowledge and tools to weather this storm. They are in constant contact with state and federal officials and are advocating on our behalf for assistance. I appreciate the best practices they are sharing with us during their weekly DEBBIE WISE conference calls — if you have not AAC Board President; joined these Thursday conference Randolph County Circuit Clerk calls, I encourage you to do so. Watch your email for call-in information. I have no doubt some of the best practices related to budgeting, jail operations, employment, county cooperation, and more will be helpful to us even after we escape the grips of this pandemic. Finally, I encourage you all to take care of yourselves and to check on your friends, co-workers, and family members. Social distancing, loneliness and isolation will affect many of us and our loved ones both mentally and emotionally. In her column for this issue of County Lines, AAC Member Benefits Coordinator Becky Comet provides valuable mental health resources for those who are suffering at this time — and those who will suffer after the crisis passes. There are still so many ways to connect with one another while social distancing. We all are in this together. We are 75 counties, yet we are one.
Debbie Wise Debbie Wise Randolph County Circuit Clerk / AAC Board President
75 Counties - One Voice COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 11
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FROM THE GOVERNOR
Coming back from the health and economic crisis
he Economic Recovery Task Force has submitted its interim report to me, and I’d like to talk about some of the steps we need to take to boost our economy after COVID-19. The report paints an accurate picture of COVID’s impact on the state. For example, it notes 5,500 jobs were lost in the hotel industry, and there has been a 13.4 percent decrease in total consumer spending. We see the signs everywhere that the pandemic has dealt our state and nation a setback, but I am optimistic about our future and a return to a growing economy. Typically, Arkansans have acted responsibly, which has blunted the loss of jobs that we have seen in other states. While the precautions and limits have been inconvenient, we knew they were necessary for everyone’s health. Arkansans’ willingness to look beyond their own personal comfort has allowed us to beat the national projections for the number of illnesses and deaths. Our rates of illness and death are among the lowest in the country. In terms of our economy, before the coronavirus hit, Arkansas was enjoying historically low unemployment and a thriving economy. By mid-April, when we hit the peak of business disruption, about 17,000 of Arkansas’s small businesses were closed, which represents 35 percent of the total. That is 10 percent below the national average. The unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in April, but that is 4 percent lower than the national average. A U.S. Census survey taken in early May found that 39 percent of Arkansans had lost some income since midMarch. Another 23 percent of Arkansas households report-
ed “housing insecurity. The physical, economic, and emotional toll on Arkansans is hard to comprehend. But this isn’t the first time we have weathered Hon. ASA difficult days. We have overcome HuTCHINSON hardship before. Governor of Arkansas The members of the Economic Recovery Task Force have been hard at work over the past six weeks. They have studied the impact from every angle as they chart a path to recovery. They have identified opportunities, such as increased workforce training and expanding rural broadband, that not only will help us as we work our way out of this but will have a long-lasting impact on Arkansas. The task force also recommended liability protection as businesses return, open, and expand, and they also recommend new solutions for the childcare needs of workers. The Task Force Chairman, Steuart Walton, expressed his optimism at a news conference this last week. He noted that the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis are linked. We can’t beat one unless we beat the other. We will conquer both. Arkansans are doing a great job of looking out for one another. That is just the way we are.
Asa Hutchinson The Honorable Asa Hutchinson Governor of Arkansas
We want to hear from YOU Tell us your good news. Be sure to let us know if an aspect of county government “made news” recently in your county. Or if your county officials or staff get an award, appointment or pat on the back. We want the whole state to know about your successes and accomplishments. Contact Communications Director Christy L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ambulance Services: Vital for public health but neglected
mbulance services are absolutely vital. We depend on ambulance services for our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no less true in a post Covid-19 world. Yet, in the past ambulance services have been systematically disregarded by our state and federal governments. Neglect of Ambulance Services: Flat-line Medicaid Reimbursement Rates On Feb. 19, 2020, the Senate and House Public Health Committees and the Senate and House Insurance and Commerce met jointly. Attendees were truly aghast about what was discovered during that joint meeting. Every Arkansan should be equally shocked. The Medicaid reimbursement rates for advance life support (ALS) ambulance care services in Arkansas have been flat for over 25 years. ALS refers to an ambulance with a paramedic and emergency medical technician on board. Currently, every county in Arkansas has an ALS ambulance. However, that soon will no longer be the situation in Arkansas. Below is a snapshot of the funding in Arkansas over the past 26 years for ALS ambulance services and the allowable reimbursement rates under Medicaid and Medicare.
Citizens and taxpayers should be alarmed about the disregard for the funding of ambulance services in Arkansas. This systematic disregard has placed ALS ambuMark Whitmore lance services in many counties in AAC Chief Counsel Arkansas in jeopardy. Our class 1 and class 2 counties with populations below 10,000 and 20,000, respectively, are in the most precarious positions. Rural areas of Arkansas often lack the population and number of runs under these stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rates to keep ambulance services solvent. Jamie Pafford-Gresham is president/chief executive officer of Pafford Emergency Medical Services (EMS), one of the oldest and largest privately-owned EMS systems in the region. She also serves as government affairs chairperson for the industry, American Ambulance Association. She explains the situation as follows: “Historically, many counties in Arkansas contracted with private providers as not to have the financial burden and expertise required to properly staff an ambulance service 24/7/365 days a year. In a majority of cases this was done with little to no sub-
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COVID-19 encourages automation
wo days after my first-born child was born the country shut down. On one hand I feel lucky that all my family was able to come to the hospital and see Tucker enter this world. On the other hand, none of our friends have been able to come over and see him since he has been home from the hospital. We have had to use technology for everyone to see him. Obviously, friends have been able to see pictures via social media, but we have also used other platforms for him to meet friends. I was on a Zoom meeting with some circuit clerks the other day, and they got to see his sweet face. I have a nephew that had a birthday party in April, we had a great party with about 25 people. This was the new kind of party where you can see everyone on one screen via Zoom. Technology has allowed us to do things that were not possible 20 years ago. Technology can be a booger, but it allows us to be flexible in strange times. Saying the COVID-19 pandemic is inconvenient is the understatement of the century. This inconvenience also provides an opportunity to make improvements automating our offices. For example, we at AAC applied additional technology to our phone system that allowed an employee to work remotely and answer a cell phone just like they were at the office. I have seen many examples of county government adapting to our current situation across the state. One example is quorum courts meeting virtually. Lindsey French wrote in the last magazine that quorum courts under current law could not meet virtually. However, the AAC worked with the legislature during the fiscal session to change that law and allow courts to meet virtually during a public health emergency. I commend the judiciary for using Zoom to hold court hearings. I would have never thought some of the judges taking advantage of Zoom would do so. The leadership at the Arkansas Supreme Court has been proactive in accommodating these difficult situations. A Per Curium from the Supreme Court on May 8 announced that beginning May 18, 2020, Arkansas courts in all divisions shall resume conducting hearings with certain measures to combat the spread of the virus to the public, including the employees of the Arkansas judiciary. It went on to say that presently, video conferencing is preferred over audio conferencing and in-person hearings. On this same note, the AAC has been working overtime to fulfill the installation requests for the Justice Bridge — the innovative video phone that the AACRMF provides free to every member county and is connected to all state prisons. A high-tech jail phone is the cornerstone of this program. The jail phone enclosure is a vandal-proof, 18x18x8 enclosure built by TWH Enterprises in Batesville. Justice Bridge reduces COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 15
counties’ liability of transporting prisoners, whether it be transporting a prisoner from a state prison or from a county jail to the courthouse for a quick hearing. This product has been in great demand since the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to alter Josh Curtis our lives. The traffic on this network Governmental Affairs has more than doubled since March. Director Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright said, “I learned about AAC’s Justice Bridge, shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak. I was looking for a way to cut down on the number of defendants who were in custody being brought to court, without sacrificing our ability to keep the cases moving efficiently. Justice Bridge got the job done. It is simple to use and has improved the safety and efficiency of our courtroom. The public defenders can communicate in privacy with their clients, and the number of in-custody defendants the bailiffs must transport has been reduced. After the courthouse was closed, this system allowed us to continue to handle our in-custody cases, without exposing anyone and helped keep the jail population from increasing.” This product parallels the Per Curium from the Supreme Court preferring video conferencing over in-person hearings. One complaint we have heard during this public health emergency is that title searchers are not being allowed to search public records in a couple of courthouses. Those counties that have their documents digitized and online can navigate this problem more smoothly. Trust me, the title industry would prefer to search for land records online from their own desk. The circuit clerks have been pushing e-Recording diligently over the past few years. Benton County Circuit Clerk Brenda DeShields, chairwoman for the e-Recording Commission, said she is proud of the work they have done up to this point. DeShields said “the commission promotes best practices and provides resources for counties beginning e-Recording.” Recording land records electronically have been beneficial during this pandemic. At the 2018 Arkansas Bar Association Convention, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp said “e-filing should be available in all judicial circuits by 2025, but hopefully sooner. The judiciary must embrace new technologies that will help the administration of justice become more efficient, effective, and user friendly. I am proud of the progress that the AdministraSee
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Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on abortions recognizes extraordinary authority of the state during public health crisis
n April 22, 2020, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1opinion that, initially, does not appear to have anything to do with your jobs as elected county and district officials. At first glance, you might think the case was about whether surgical abortions were essential medical procedures. However, the partial grant of the state of Arkansas’ petition for a writ of mandamus is about much more than abortion; it is a sweeping statement about the authority of the state’s Executive branch during a pandemic. On March 11, 2020, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Executive Order 20-03, declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and directing the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to “do everything reasonably possible to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 virus.” Subsequently, on April 3, ADH issued a directive ordering all non-medically necessary procedures, office visits and testing postponed and rescheduled for a future date, unless there was a threat to life, limb, or would contribute to the deterioration of the condition of the patient. In part, it essentially halted all “non-essential surgeries.” The stated purpose of the directive was to “preserve staff, personal protective equipment (PPE), and patient care supplies; ensure staff and patient safety; and expand available hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.” On April 9, ADH initiated an unannounced inspection of the Little Rock Family Planning Services (LRFP) clinic, which performs surgical abortions as part of its usual business. ADH found that the clinic was still performing surgical abortions, and that it was in violation of the directive halting non-essential surgeries, since the abortions being performed were not immediately medically necessary “to protect the life or health of the patient.” LRFP challenged the directive in federal district court on April 13, asserting that the directive is not motivated by the state’s concern for public health, but rather “the latest effort in the State’s long-running campaign to eliminate women’s access to constitutionally guaranteed health care” and serves as a de facto ban on otherwise lawful surgical abortions. The lower court granted LRFP a temporary restraining order, prohibiting the state from enforcing the directive against LRFP as it relates to surgical abortions. On April 16, the state filed its appeal, in the form of a petition for writ of mandamus to the Eighth Circuit Court 16 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 16
of Appeals, asking the court to diLINDSEY BAILEY rect the lower court to lift the TRO, General Counsel among other requests for relief. Granting the state’s petition in part, the Eighth Circuit found that the lower court erred in a “clear abuse of discretion” by its failure to apply the proper framework set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in analyzing ADH’s directive. The framework comes from a 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, holding that during a public health crisis, under which the COVID-19 pandemic certainly qualifies, the state has the authority to infringe on certain individual rights to “protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members ... to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.” The court created a two-prong test for analyzing a constitutional challenge to a state action during a public health crisis: either 1) it is an effort to protect the public health, morals or safety, yet has “no real or substantial relation to those objects,” or 2) it is “beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law.” In a similar 2020 appeal from a ban on surgical abortions in Texas, In re Abbott, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals applied the same Jacobson framework to analyze emergency state executive action “when faced with a society-threatening epidemic.” The Fifth Circuit Court ruled that “Courts may ask whether the state’s emergency measures lack basic exceptions for ‘extreme cases,’” and whether they are “arbitrary or oppressive.” However, the court in Abbott reiterated that the “courts may not second-guess the wisdom or efficacy of the measures.” Accordingly, regarding Arkansas’s directive, the Eighth Circuit ruled that “[a]side from summarily stating that its conclusion is consistent with Jacobson, the district court failed to apply the requisite framework and, thus, abused its discretion,” resulting in a “patently erroneous result.” The Eighth Circuit Court continued by applying each Jacobson prong separately. It acknowledged the state’s “legitimate interests in protecting or promoting the public’s health and safety during the COVID-19 panic.” The court further recognized that the state’s directive applied to all non-emergency surgeries, not just abortions, and that its stated purpose of conserving PPE and limiting social contact among patients and healthcare providers was COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:12 PM
AAC reasonably related to public health and safety, thereby ruling in favor of the state on the first prong of the Jacobson framework. Next, the court had to determine whether the directive is “beyond all question a plain, palpable invasion” of the right to surgical abortion. The court found that the directive did not operate as an outright ban on all lawful abortions, still allowing abortion by medication which are available up to 10 weeks. Furthermore, it stated that because the Governor’s emergency declaration and its resulting directives could continue no longer than 60 days unless renewed by the Governor, the directive serves as a “delay, not a ban” on surgical abortions, similar to other delays on obtaining abortions that have previously been upheld when serving a legitimate governmental interest. Also, the court recognized the directive’s exception if there is a threat to the patient’s life. Quoting the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Abbott, the Eighth Circuit stated that the ADH directive was a “temporary postponement of all non-essential medical procedures, including abortion, subject to facially broad exceptions,” and that the measure did not serve as an “’outright ban’ on previability abortion.” Therefore, the Court also ruled on the second prong of the Jacobson framework in favor of the state. Now, circling back around to how this decision is more broad than just the constitutionality of an effective ban on surgical abortions: the court determined that the state was “clearly and indisputably entitled to issuance” of the writ of mandamus to overturn the lower court’s stay on the ADH directive. Again, quoting the Fifth Circuit Court in Abbott, the Court acknowledged that issuance of such a writ “should be exercised only in special cases.” The ADH directive is an exercise of extraordinary authority of the state recognized during special circumstances, not absolute authority. In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the court acknowledged the century-old power of the state to exercise extraordinary authority by executive action, and that the pandemic
Automation tive Office of the Courts (AOC) is making with such limited resources. They are striving to become technological innovators, and their innovations will save the state millions of dollars.” E-filing has come a long way since it was introduced, and the AOC is constantly working to improve the user experience. Since the public health emergency began, AOC has received multiple requests for e-filing implementation. By the end of the year more than half the counties in the state will be efiling. Chief Justice Kemp’s goal for e-filing statewide may come true before the year of 2025. E-filing is convenient for your constituents and will save your county money and storage space. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 17
justified issuance of the writ in this case. Continuing to quote Abbott, the court stated that “even a minor delay in fully implementing the state’s emergency measures could have major ramifications” to justify issuance of the writ. There have been numerous rights that U.S. citizens take for granted daily that have been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court’s ruling could easily be applied to numerous rights that have been restricted across the country; for example, the ability of the state to effectively close restaurants, retail shops, transportation industries, etc. The ruling could be applied to other state executive actions as well, such as broad directives to release certain state prisoners. AAC Risk Management Attorney JaNan Thomas stated, “Although the framework for analysis has actually been in place for more than 100 years, the rarity of the need for extreme measures such as those we have experienced, allowed the Supreme Court precedent in Jacobson ... to go largely unused.” Thomas added that the decision “makes clear that any challenges to a government restriction put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will only be struck down on a constitutional basis if that restriction ‘has no real or substantial relation to those objects, or is, beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law.’ That is a very high standard of proof for a plaintiff. I believe the result will be, even in the uncharted waters of the novel coronavirus, that all reasonable restrictions will be upheld as constitutional as long as there is any relationship at all between the restriction and the national, state, and local goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19.” Conversely, the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits reached the opposite conclusion, overturning effective bans on surgical abortions in Ohio and Alabama, respectively. With split circuits at the appellate level, this issue, and perhaps the Jacobson framework itself, will be ripe for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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“I appreciate the support and forward thinking of my colleagues on the Supreme Court during these challenging times,” said Chief Justice Kemp when asked for a comment for this article. “I also appreciate the hard work of the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office and the staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Thanks to their efforts and the extraordinary work of the circuit and district judges throughout the state and their staffs and clerks’ offices, we have managed to keep our courts open and operating effectively for the citizens of Arkansas.” Is this the new normal? 17 7/14/20 1:12 PM
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Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Diversify revenues to properly fund county government and build reserves
n the formative years of our country Benjamin Franklin said, “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” There is a reason for the truth in the last part of that quote. God said, “It is appointed unto man once to die.” Must be true. Secondly, we all want to live in a civilized society which must be paid for — thus “taxes.” Much more recently Jill Lepore, an American Historian and professor at Harvard University said, “Taxes well laid and well spent ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. Taxes protect property; taxes pay for roads and schools and bridges and police and teachers. Taxes pay for hospital and nursing homes.” How true. Taxes pay for those things we desire and demand that government provide. And property taxes at the local level are “well laid and well spent.” The year 2020 has been a year like none other. None of us has experienced a year like this due to the world-wide coronavirus pandemic. When much of the economy was shut down or restrained due to social distancing, stay-at-home recommendations and some types of business shutdowns several sources of county revenue started declining. Counties were forced to lay off or furlough employees, cancel projects, defer construction and maintenance and more: While at the same time, in many instances, increase spending in some areas for Covid-19 related expenses. Depending on a county’s economic base, some counties have fared better than others. And those that did the very best were those that had a good diversified revenue stream and a decent level of reserves that could be used to lessen budget cuts and still maintain an adequate level of service to their constituency. Someone once said, “Good lives are lived in the margins of hope and possibility.” Apply that to the life and operation of a county government. Without some level of financial reserves the county has little hope or possibility during an economic downturn or recession. Recessions are events with big-time consequences for tax growth rates and revenue totals. County government in Arkansas is somewhat more insulated to damage than state government but still experiences declines in revenue. Arkansas state government is hit hard because consumer spending and retail sales fall, decreasing the growth and col18 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 18
lection totals of sales tax — especially since the state sales tax does not apply to groceries. Eddie A. Jones Higher unemployment and fewer County Consultant work hours result in reduced income from personal earnings which, in turn, slows the growth in state income collections. During a recession many types of corporations see a decline in profits, which reduces the state’s corporate income tax collections. No county in Arkansas levies county income tax, although state law permits counties to levy a tax on the income of its individuals and businesses through a vote of the electorate. [§ 26-73-101 / § 26-73-109] To my knowledge no Arkansas county has ever exercised this option. The state of Arkansas funds the highway and bridge program primarily with fuel taxes. That is a tax that has seen severe reduction during the pandemic as travel was somewhat restricted and people were urged to stay home. Fuel taxes cannot be levied by county government. So where does that leave county government in times of recession? It is not that we are unscathed but we have different types of revenue and therefore are affected differently than state government. County government has become increasingly dependent upon sales tax over the last 30 years — a tax that is very sensitive to an economic downturn. Yes, the county sales tax declines during recessionary times — even if not at the same rate as the state sales tax since our sales tax is applicable to grocery items. We better thank the good Lord for that. In some of our smaller counties the sales tax on groceries is a large percentage of their sales tax receipts. Other sources of county revenue that are affected during a recessionary period are user fees; fees charged by county officials for certain services as set out by law; court fines, especially in a pandemic like we’ve had when court sessions were practically nonexistent; and, of course, state revenues received by counties. Arkansas county government has a longstanding agreement with the state concerning the distribution of highway revenue taxes and this agreement is codified in law. The state gets 70 percent and the other 30 percent is divided equally to counties and municipalities. As I mentioned earlier, the sources of highway revenue are various fuel taxes and a onehalf cent state sales tax. Both were heavily affected during the COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:12 PM
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pandemic-produced recession, and all 75 counties took a sizeand short-term financing through Amendment 78. And the able reduction in highway turnback dollars. Wow, that hurts. short-term financing option is available only “for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, installing or renting real property Arkansas counties have around 50,000 miles of county roads or tangible personal property having an expected useful life while the state of Arkansas has 16,382 miles of state highway. According to law, “a county is a political subdivision of the of more than one year.” [Arkansas Constitution, Article 16, § 1 and Amendment 78, § 2] state for the more convenient administration of justice and So what is a county to do? I suggest a combination of the the exercise of local legislative authority related to county affairs.” We receive “county aid,” or as most of us call it “gen- policy alternatives listed above. The first thing a county must do is make the tough decision. Cut expenditures to match eral turnback” from the state to help cover the cost of state available revenues if you don’t have adequate reserves. If you services administered at the county level. This source of revface large cuts, more than likely the cuts will include personnel. enue does not come close to covering the costs, but it helps. Next, evaluate the county’s tax structure. Many counties However, when the state suffers revenue loss counties share are relying too much on sales taxes that are recession sensiin that loss many times. The legislature met in special sestive. It’s like the old sion in March and adage, “Don’t put reduced the state all your eggs in one general budget for basket” — meaning the final quarter he first thing a county must do is make the tough deciif you rely too much of their fiscal year, on one resource, if which ends June 30. sion. Cut expenditures to match available revenues if it fails you have no Counties suffered alternative. The key a 12.59 percent reyou don’t have adequate reserves. If you face large cuts, more word here is diversiduction in FY 2020 fy; don’t put all your than likely the cuts will include personnel. Next, evaluate the general turnback. eggs in one basket. Then in April the county’s tax structure. Many counties are relying too much on What’s not sensilegislature convened tive to recession — for the even numsales taxes that are recession senstive. or at least much less bered year Fiscal sensitive? Property Session to enact the taxes. The property budget for the state tax is the most stable FY 2021 — July source of county 2020 through June 2021. We took a 15 percent reduction in general turnback in revenue. The reason is that there are consequences to not paying property taxes. You can’t get your vehicles licensed if that budget. you have delinquent personal property taxes. If you don’t pay The good news is that it could have been worse, but the your real estate taxes your property will be certified to the state of Arkansas had reserves that helped buffer losses. That state of Arkansas after a year, and if you don’t redeem your brings me to my two-pronged reason for this article: (1) the property at the state level after a set period of time by paying most stable source of county revenue; and (2) the urgent need for counties to build reserves, especially general reserves. the delinquent tax, penalty and costs your real estate is sold. The effect of a recession on revenue collections often trans- You can count on property taxes being paid. By the way, Snoopy was wrong. He was barking up the lates into one or more of the following policy alternatives: wrong tree when he wrote saying, “Dear Tax Collector, I am writing to you to cancel my subscription. Please remove my • Change the tax structure to rely less upon recessionname from your mailing list.” That’s not how it works. sensitive taxes; When you own taxable personal property and/or real • Raise the tax rate to increase tax collection totals; estate, it is assessed; goes on the tax books; a tax statement is • Cut expenditures to match available revenues. sent; and property taxes are collected and distributed to the Something counties have unwisely done on occasion is bor- proper tax entities. Property taxes in Arkansas are some of the lowest in the row funds (debt financing) to cover the difference between country. Property taxes are at the top of the list when it available revenues and expenditure commitments. By the way, that is illegal for Arkansas county government. Counties See “Diversify” on Page 20 > > > are prohibited from paying interest except for bond issues
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Diversify comes to stability in revenues. You don’t have to be greatly concerned about volatility. Except for bonded debt, county property tax rates are constitutionally set at 5 mills maximum for general operations and 3 mills for road operations. These are low rates but unlike municipal taxes or school taxes that apply to properties in a smaller jurisdiction the “county general and road millage” apply to the full assessed value in the county. So why on God’s green earth do Arkansas counties not take maximum advantage of this rock-solid revenue source? The most common answer is that property tax is the most hated tax. For many that’s true whether or not their dislike is properly founded. Why so unpopular? It’s not unpopular for good economic reasons. It’s unpopular for one simple reason: It’s the only tax left on the books for which people have to write a big check. Income taxes and Social Security contributions are withheld from paychecks before the recipients get their hands on the money. Sales taxes are collected little by little as people make purchases, and the taxes are remitted by merchants and other business. It’s only with property taxes that a regular person gets a tax bill and has to pay it. However, many homeowners’ property taxes are bundled into mortgage payments and thus a bit less obviously visible. The truth of the matter is that the majority of people pay much more in income tax and sales tax than they do in property tax, but they do it a little bit at a time. Guess what? An individual tax payer is not required to pay the full amount of current tax all at one time. They can make installment payments. The first installment of one-quarter of the amount due is payable between the first business day in March and the third Monday in April. The second payment of one-quarter is payable between the third Monday in April and the third Monday in July. And the third payment of half is payable between the third Monday in July and Oct. 15. Even better, the county collector is authorized to take installments of current real and personal property taxes in any amount from the first business day in March through Oct. 15 with the balance due by Oct. 15. [Ref: § 26-35-501] Only 26 counties in Arkansas, barely over one-third, have maximized the county millages by levying a 5 mill general tax and a 3 mill road tax. There are another 13 additional counties that have maximized the general millage and 8 counties that have levied the full 3 mill road tax. That calculates to 47 counties, almost two-thirds that can increase county property taxes — 21 that can raise either general or road and 26 counties that can increase both general and road. Counties, it needs to be done. It should be done to secure 20 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 20
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a solid source of revenue that can be depended on even in the tough times like we are experiencing this year. It is a difficult and tough decision to make. I fully understand that, but the time is now. Make plans as you look toward budget time this fall. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “There is no such thing as a good tax.” Yet, he completely understood government could not operate without them. Arthur Vanderbilt was so bold as to say, “Taxes are the lifeblood of government and no taxpayer should be permitted to escape the payment of his just share of the burden.” I cannot disagree with that. And everyone in county government knows that it takes more money to operate than you thought it did before entering the arena. When you step inside you soon find out all the obligations of county government. I know and understand, as much as anyone, the tightrope you must walk in increasing taxes, especially property taxes. Here is a spot-on assessment of this type situation put forth by Jean Baptiste Colbert, the minister of finance for France under the rule of King Louis XIV. He said, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.” In other words, you do it professionally with complete transparency. You prove the county’s financial plight; you paint the picture of what a county must fund by law and the strain that puts on your limited resources; you explain how the increased tax is needed and how it will be expended; and you provide a good example of how the tax will affect them. And if you are one of the many counties in Arkansas that does not have reserves — or very little — you need to explain the dire need to accumulate adequate reserve funds and why. The amount of dollars needed for a county budget can vary greatly from year to year. Saving for future projects, acquisitions, and other allowable purposes is an important planning consideration for county government. Reserve funds provide a mechanism for legally saving money to finance all or part of future infrastructure, equipment, and other requirements. Reserve funds can also provide a degree of financial stability by reducing reliance on indebtedness to finance capital projects and acquisitions. In uncertain economic times, like we are in, reserve funds can also provide officials with a welcomed budgetary option that can help mitigate the need to cut services. In good times, money not needed for current purposes can often be set aside in reserves for future use. In addition to reserve funds, maintaining a reasonable amount of undesignated fund balance within operating funds is another important financial consideration for county government. A reasonable level of unreserved, unappropriated COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:12 PM
AAC fund balance provides a cushion for unforeseen expenditures or revenue shortfalls and helps to ensure that adequate cash flow is available to meet the cost of operations. Combining a reasonable level of undesignated fund balance with specific legally established reserve funds provides resources for both unanticipated events and other identified or planned needs. Two things I suspected were confirmed this year while working with numerous counties during the pandemic-induced recession: (1) many counties are suffering from anemic revenue levels, which produce anemic budgets; and (2) many counties have very little or no reserve funds and no unappropriated general or road fund balances. I suppose taxes are not popular, but they are necessary. I’m on the same page with Mark Cuban, the American entrepreneur, investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. He says, “While some people might find it distasteful to pay taxes, I don’t. I find it patriotic.” Paying taxes in my home county of Randolph gives me a feeling of responsibility, of being a part of the fabric of my county and community, of contributing to the common good. It is time for the counties that have not done so to do it — maximize your general and road millages for the good of the
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county or at least start on that forward path. The property tax is a progressive tax, not a regressive tax. Many of your constituents would be affected very little. Here’s why. Without going into great detail, Arkansas taxpayers are eligible for an annual tax credit up to $375 against the property tax on a homestead. Many people own a home where the tax on the homestead is not even $375 or only slightly over. The county gets the value of the credit from the State Property Tax Relief Fund. There are other provisions of Amendment 79 that help keep property taxes from jumping immensely at one time such as limiting the annual increase of assessed value after a reappraisal and freezing the assessed value of the homestead of a disabled person or a person 65 years of age or older. The property tax is the available tax base that offers the greatest promise for effective local fiscal decision making. Take the bull by the horns and do what is necessary to properly diversify your revenue sources so that you are not so reliant on volatile sources of revenue and at the same time start building needed reserve funds. In sum, the property tax is a stable, adequate, and reliable source of county revenue. Maximize the county millages, and it keeps you from putting all your eggs in one basket. Don’t fiddle around like Nero did. Remember what happened to Rome?
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Winning before trial
he Trial, by Franz Kafka, tells the story of but that’s not what this article is “K.” — an innocent banker who is arrested about. Sometimes, you do everyby officials of a totalitarian government and thing right and you still get sued. charged with vague crimes under invisible law. That’s what this article is about. K. endures a hopelessly unfair pre-trial process This article is about how we can and a trial before an all-powerful court. He is convicted by work together to play offense when the corrupt court, despite his actual innocence. He is trans- you are sued. Our goal as your Colin Jorgensen ported out of town by the arresting officials and executed in lawyers is to win each case, and Risk Management the name of the law. By the end, K. doesn’t even resist his do so as quickly and painlessly as Litigation Counsel fate because he has been rendered completely hopeless by the possible. You can help us win your unfair prosecution and trial. case by following a few simple steps The frightening tale of The Trial stands in such stark contrast when you find yourself served with a lawsuit related to your to the American judicial system, which is fortified with con- work in county government. stitutional guarantees like due process, burdens of proof and First, as you have probably heard us say before (because it evidentiary standards equally applicable to all parties, the right is so important), always notify us immediately when you are to counsel, and the served with a lawsuit. right to a jury trial. Even if it is the most But even a perfectly bogus lawsuit you’ve designed justice sysever seen, your laws your lawyers at AACRMF, it is our job to defend you tem can be imperfect yers need to review it in practice. Our briland if it falls under within the judicial system and secure the best result we liant system produces AACRMF coverage justice in most cases and we will reprecan in any given case. We represent you in civil cases in which — but justice cannot sent you, we need be guaranteed in all to file a response to county governments and/or county officials are sued as defencases at all times. the lawsuit on your As your lawyers at dants. We cannot change the facts of the case, or the law appli- behalf. A defendant AACRMF, it is our has a very short time job to defend you to file a response to a cable to those relevant facts. within the judicial lawsuit after service, system and secure and when a defenthe best result we dant fails to do so, can in any given the penalty is harsh case. We represent you in civil cases in which county govern- — default judgment, which basically means the plaintiff wins ments and/or county officials are sued as defendants. We can- without having to prove or do anything. I’m hard-pressed to not change the facts of a case, or the law applicable to those think of a greater injustice than a default judgment in favor of relevant facts. We can help you play defense against a lawsuit, a plaintiff who files a meritless lawsuit, but that is exactly what within the confines of the facts and the law. You might think happens if a defendant is served with a lawsuit but fails to reof us as your defensive coaches. But you — the public servants spond. Send the lawsuit to us immediately. Let us get to work who are defendants in the lawsuits we endure together — are on your behalf right away. (Side note: please do not accept the players. service of lawsuits on behalf of ex-employees who no longer It goes without saying that the best way for you to play de- work for the county and independent contractors who work fense against liability in our courts is to follow the law and in county facilities but are not county employees). follow the policies of your agency. Take your training to heart, Second, in all cases, regardless of merit, we will save a lot of be honest and fair in your actions, and adhere to best practices time and heartburn over the life of the litigation by taking care such as documenting use of force incidents and employment of certain business right away. We will send you detailed letactions in the workplace. We offer countless trainings, and we ters about this early phase of the case when you notify us that make ourselves available to advise you about best practices — you’ve been served with a lawsuit. But in sum, you must take
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steps to preserve all relevant evidence — especially documents and written communications such as reports and emails. The easiest way to ensure this is to gather everything that might possibly be relevant, and send it all to us at AACRMF at the beginning of the case. If you give us everything up front, you will only have to do this exercise once. We also need accurate contact information for individual defendants we will represent in the case. In certain types of cases, we will send written questions to those individual defendants so we can get their side of the story and gather personal contact information for them, so we can stay in touch throughout the case as needed. Please respond to those requests from your lawyers, and encourage your employees to do so as well. We need to learn everything we can about your case in the beginning, so we can develop the best strategy for your defense throughout the case. Third, always remember that we are on the same team and we share the same goal — to win the case if possible and do it as quickly and painlessly as possible. If I leave you a voicemail or send you an email or leave a message with your spouse or mother or roommate asking you to give me a call, please respond. This means I’m working on your case, working for you. It usually means I have a simple question that will be easy for you to answer, or I’ve prepared a draft affidavit of your testi-
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mony that I’d like to review with you for accuracy. I promise I will not call to lecture you or threaten you or anything else terrible. I am your lawyer, which means I work for you and I represent your interests in court. When things go right, which happens the majority of the time, we are able to work with you in defense of litigation to play offense instead of defense, even though you are a “defendant.” We play offense by filing a summary-judgment motion at the proper time in the case. This is where we present your evidence, make your best legal arguments, and ask the court to enter judgment in your favor and dismiss the lawsuit without a trial. We start thinking about your summary-judgment motion at the beginning of the case. Sometimes, I start drafting the legal brief the moment the case is assigned to me, even though it may be a year before it’s time to file the motion. All we need from you is help with the steps described above. If the facts and the law are right, as they often are, and we have what we need from you, as we usually do, we will be able to file a winning motion on your behalf. That is how you win your case before trial. And that is how we keep Franz Kafka firmly in the realm of dystopian fiction, where he belongs.
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Flipping the Switch Arkansas counties looking to solar power options
hen Washington County’s solar energy project went online in May, it became the largest county-owned and rooftop solar array in the state. The 5,400-panel system in Fayetteville is part of Washington County’s $8-million energy-efficiency measures, approved by the county quorum court last year. The measures are expected to save taxpayers $10.2 million in electrical costs over 10 years. In fact, according to an article by Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, the county will pay an electrical bill only a few times a year. “By investing in solar energy production, Washington County is able to significantly reduce its grid consumption,” said Dwight Gonzalez, the county’s director of buildings and grounds. “It’s a smart financial decision for the county, particularly during these uncertain economic times.” Solar energy panels that will produce 2.01 megawatts of electricity were installed on the roofs of two office buildings and shops of the road department and in a ground field on Washington County’s south campus near Clydesdale Drive. Installed by Seal Solar, it is part of a performance contract
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by Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) to implement facility improvement measures, including 2,327 LED light fixtures and controls; 137 water conservation retrofits and upgrades; 88 pieces of HVAC equipment; a county-wide energy management system; new fire alarms; and overall building enhancements like weather stripping. “Since 2012, Seal Solar has tackled groundbreaking projects to empower entities across the state to achieve energy independence,” said Josh Davenport, the firm’s co-founder and CEO. “Once again, we’re proud to lead the charge on an unprecedented solar design and installation project with the largest county-owned and rooftop array in Arkansas.” Meter aggregation from the array will offset energy consumption at Washington County’s facilities, including its animal shelter, armory, coroner’s office, bridge building, county library, election commission, historic courthouse, judicial annex, juvenile detention center, maintenance shop, Rescue/ Training Center, road department and Sheriff’s office/Detention Center, among others. “Judge [Joseph] Wood and his team challenged us to help
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AAC them think outside the box and bring fresh innovation in serving the people of Washington County,” said Alex Ray, director of business development for performance infrastructure, Arkansas of Johnson Controls Inc. “We are proud and honored to deliver such a milestone project for the county and region.” It is not the first solar project Seal Solar and JCI have collaborated on. In August 2019, Jefferson County officials unveiled their newly installed solar array providing power to public buildings. The solar panels, located on the property of the detention center in Pine Bluff, were the first county-owned solar array in the state. Arkansas had its biggest year of solar installation ever in 2018, according to a market report by GMT Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The report notes that Arkansas had only 22 megawatts of solar power at the end of 2017, but then saw its totals rise 552 percent in 2018. A new surge of solar projects followed the passage of Act 464 of 2019. That legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Wallace, provided local governments, schools, churches, state agencies and non-profits to benefit from federal incentives and unlock capital for investment in local communities. It cut costs and timelines on solar projects through provisions that increase the size limit of commercial net-metered solar arrays from 300 kilowatts to 1 megawatt. The array in Jefferson County generates approximately 176 kilowatts of power. In October 2019, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde an-
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nounced a 20-year agreement with Today’s Power Inc. (TPI) to develop and install solar panels at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park and Pulaski County Justice Complex. That project had dual goals of protecting public safety and reducing energy costs, Hyde said in an interview with Talk Business & Politics. The first step of the project was a road and bridge test on 1.2 miles of Lawson Road in west Pulaski County using asphalt modified with recycled tire rubber. The road paving project was completed in September 2019 at a cost of more than $192,000, officials said, and will be evaluated each year to compare wear-and-tear in comparison to traditional asphalt. Pulaski County also worked with Today’s Power Inc. (TPI) to provide 8 megawatts of solar power for county use. TPI financed, owns and operates the solar arrays located on nearly 40 acres at the Port Authority’s industrial park and 12 acres at the county Justice Complex. Under the 20-year power purchase agreement, the county will buy electricity generated by the arrays at 4.9 cents per kilowatt hour over 20 years. The project is expected to generate between 80 percent and 100 percent of the county’s electric demand, powering buildings such as the courthouse and jail among other facilities. Savings in the first year was estimated at $150,000. Howard County set out to save money and to improve county operations by generating enough solar power to pay See
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More than 5,400 solar panels are mounted atop two office buildings and the shops at the road department (above), as well as in a ground field on Washington County’s south campus near Clydesdale Drive (Pages 24-25). Photos courtesy of Seal Solar and Johnson Controls.
for a new HVAC system for the courthouse and eliminate a building chilling system that was built in the 1970s. “The county needed to consider how to address deferred maintenance within the county facilities at no cost or at a lowcost approach,” County Judge Kevin Smith said. Planning for the solar system in Howard County began around June 2019, and the panels were activated in December 2019. The 240-kilowatt system is located in Nashville on roughly three acres of land owned by the county. That system was built by the Seattle-based design and construction company McKinstry for $1.85 million dollars. McKinstry has a three-year contract to assist Howard County in the verification of the production. The county is responsible for the operation and maintenance that includes cleaning the panels, maintaining the yard and landscaping, and conducting annual ground tests. The whole project was financed at a budget-neutral savings guarantee approach for 20 years. It will realize a cash value 26 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 26
of roughly $600,000 over the useful life of the solar system, Judge Smith said. The $1.85 million project was funded through a tax-exempt lease purchase and will offset almost 100 percent of the county’s electrical utility expenditure. It is expected to save the county roughly $97,000 annually. “By including the solar part of the whole project, the county will able to replace its HVAC system in the courthouse, thus increase the comfort of those that work and do business there, while lowering the cost to operate,” Judge Smith said. “It created $18 million worth of improvements without any direct cost or tax increases to our constituents.” Judge Clark Hall in Phillips County is preparing to sign a contract for a solar plant. He plans for construction to begin this fall. A separate project in Ouachita County is on hold for now, according to Judge Robbie McAdoo. And Sebastian County is in the process of researching a solar project, according to Judge David Hudson. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:13 PM
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Saline County officials and its partners broke ground on the new Saline County Career and Technical Center, which they expect to be completed in the fall of 2021.
Saline County marks beginning of new career and technical education center construction Story and Photos by
Holland doran AAC Communications Coordinator
fter more than five years of planning and collaboration among county officials, local and state leaders, educators and school districts, Saline County has marked the beginning of the construction of the Saline County Career and Technical Center. A crowd of around 100 state and local dignitaries and guests gathered March 9 at the Benton Events Center for a groundbreaking ceremony for the center that is set to open in the fall of 2021. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Saline County Judge Jeff Arey, Saline County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) Executive Director Lamont Cornwell, SCEDC Chairman Shane Broadway, Arkansas State University System (ASU) President Dr. Chuck Welch, and ASU Three Rivers Chancellor Dr. Steve Rook spoke at the ceremony. Arkansas State Sen. Kim 28 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 28
Hammer led the group in a prayer. Gov. Hutchinson praised the leadership of the six Saline County school districts — Benton, Bryant, Bauxite, Harmony Grove, Glen Rose and Sheridan — for working together to support and fund the center. “This is amazing that you can bring this kind of teamwork together,” he said. “Please understand how special this is because I have seen other similar career centers in other parts of the state in which high schools and colleges are competing against each other for it, or they plan on having multiple high schools participate in it, and it doesn’t work out that way. So this is very exciting to me what your leadership has accomplished.” In the November 2019 general election, Saline County voters passed Issue 6, a temporary, county-wide three-eighths percent sales tax that will provide money for the center. Arey expressed gratitude for the voters’ approval of funding. “Certainly, the voters of Saline County are the first ones I want to talk about because if it was not for their
vote of confidence in this project, then we would not be here,” he said. Arey thanked the Benton, Bryant and Hot Springs Village chambers of commerce, which campaigned for the sales tax increase, and for Gov. Hutchinson’s support and guidance. He also recognized the Saline County Quorum Court for seeing the center as a “worthwhile investment,” and thanked SCEDC for their encouragement to improve economic development in the county. “That’s what really got us started on this … SCEDC saying what do we need to do to improve economic development in Saline County,” Arey said. Cornwell used a football analogy to describe the teamwork among all entities: “You’ll notice that I didn’t call any names when I talked about who did what, when and where because it’s not about who did what, who did when and who did where,” Cornwell said. “We did this as a team. You hear that analogy that there’s no ‘I’ in team, that’s very true. But this team moved forward everybody in its own right, and we worked together as a COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:13 PM
AAC team and we were successful.” Broadway talked about the legacy of the center. “Lives will be changed that enter this facility that are going to be walking through those doors seeking an education and a better way of life. It’s a legacy that we will all leave, those that are here today — a legacy that we will leave to the next generation to students whose lives and whose communities in Saline County will be changed because we all decided two years ago to make a dedication to the future of this county.” Welch commended the team for their foresight in planning the center. “Thank you for being out in front, being innovative,” Welch said. “We try to talk a lot about innovation in our system and this definitely meets that definition.” He also praised the center model. “If we could replicate this type of model throughout the state and throughout the country, we’d have a very different America, a very different Arkansas, and we’d have so many more opportunities for our students.” Welch explained that receiving a higher education not only benefits the individual student, but also society. “But truly it’s a societal benefit because for every individual that gets that degree, their family will be stronger, their community will be stronger, and indeed our entire state will be stronger,” he said. Arkansas State University Three Rivers in Malvern will provide the staff and instruction at the center. Rook said the school emphasized their strong commitment to educating the students in the school districts. “We will do everything within our power to provide top training to students in this county so they can go and get those good jobs and be a productive part of Saline County,” Rook said. Gov. Hutchinson said this center fits into Arkansas’ objective to create career learning centers that combine partnerships with industry that will “help direct the priority of training that goes into the career learning center.” Hutchinson expressed his confidence that the center will succeed. “I don’t think anybody is doing it better or will have more success than what you will have here in Saline County,” he said. “And that’s because you’re united, your schools are united, you’ve got the See
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Saline County Judge Jeff Arey thanks the Saline County voters for passing Issue 6.
The Saline County Career and Technical Center “fits into Arkansas’ objective” to combine learning with industry, Gov. Hutchinson tells guests.
Saline County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Lamont Cornwell praises the planning committee’s teamwork. 29 7/14/20 1:13 PM
Continued From Page 29
Left: Arkansas State University System President Dr. Chuck Welch speaks. Right: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to event attendees in the Benton Events Center.
Left: Arkansas State Rep. Lanny Fite chats with Saline County Judge Jeff Arey. Right: Saline County Economic Development Corporation Chairman Shane Broadway expresses his excitement about the future of the center. support of an innovative four-year institution, Arkansas State University institution and Three Rivers College.”
Career and Technical Center Background
The idea to build a career and technical school in Saline County started with a simple question. “We were asking ourselves this question: ‘What does Saline County need to be doing in order to retain and grow existing businesses and recruit new business and industry in Saline County,” Judge Arey said. This question prompted an economic development study led by a 30 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 30
committee of local business representatives and representatives from the Detroit-based consulting firm Stantec. The study revealed that the county was lacking in workforce development, in particular the enhancement of the technical curriculum at the high school level. This revelation led to another study regarding high school technical training in which over a 10-12-month period between 2015 and 2018, more than 180 businesses in Saline County and Central Arkansas were interviewed that revealed strengths and weaknesses in the county’s career and technical education opportunities.
“The big issue that we found was that our high school students did not have access to the programs of study that were needed by our business and industry in order to grow,” Arey said. “If we truly want to support local industry and have the ability to recruit new industry, then we need to fix the skills gap that is a real thing here in Saline County.” More than half of Saline County’s workforce finds jobs outside the county. Arey and local leaders agreed that a career and technical education center could help keep that workforce in the county. The school will offer 10 curriculum COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:13 PM
Top, left: Around 100 people gather at the Benton Events Center for the Saline County Career and Technical Center groundbreaking ceremony. Above: Arkansas State University Three Rivers Chancellor Dr. Steve Rook says the college is committed to providing “top training” to students attending the center. Left: Arkansas State Sen. Kim Hammer prays before the ceremony.
pathways: automotive technology; manufacturing and product development; welding and metal work; heating and air; health science and nursing; information technology; computer engineering; biomedicine; STEM engineering; and aviation. “We want this curriculum to be flexible to meet the needs of business and industry, so these pathways could change over time if we need changes,” Arey said. In the November 2019 general election, Saline County voters passed Issue 6, a temporary, county-wide three-eighths percent sales tax that will provide money for the center. The tax will eventually pay off the bonds for the center. Arey said projections show that the bonds would be paid off in 12 years or less. Through this process, the county is trying to raise $43 million. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 31
Saline County’s six school districts — Benton, Bryant, Bauxite, Harmony Grove, Glen Rose and Sheridan — will collectively cover the day-to-day operating costs, including insurance, utility, maintenance, custodial needs and more. The Arkansas State University Three Rivers college will provide staffing and teaching. Their funding will come through the Arkansas Department of Education and Department of Workforce Education. The 112,000-square-foot facility is being constructed on approximately 22 acres of land at the corner of the Interstate 30 Service Road and Mountain View Road in Benton. The center will encompass a uniquely planned two-story split-level scheme that accommodates the site topography and program needs. The facility will support approximately
1,400 high school students per day, along with provisions for community and adult education and training programs, according to the Stantec website. The school will provide students an alternative option to learn skills that will set them on a path to a high paying career. They will earn college credit, which will allow them to get certificates to begin work while they’re at the center. “Not every young person needs or wants to go to college,” Arey said. “Years ago, as a society we told our kids that if you want to be successful then you must have a four-year degree. And that is simply not true. There are many great careers out there that do not require a four-year degree. Jobs that pay really good money, we just need to show our young people what those opportunities are.” 31 7/14/20 1:13 PM
The new Franklin County Detention Center is located on Airport Road in Ozark.
Franklin County dedicates new detention center
ranklin County’s new 104-bed, 17,500-square-foot detention center on Airport Road in Ozark is now open. The county held a dedication ceremony for the new $8 million center on March 10 at the Franklin County Agriculture Extension Office, which was followed by a ribboncutting ceremony and open house at the jail next door. Ceremony speakers included Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Sen. Gary Stubblefied, Rep. Sarah Capp and Franklin County Chief Deputy Travis Ball. It’s “an investment in the future of this county and the entire state,” Rutledge said at the dedication ceremony. The previous jail, according to Bowman, was built in 1974 and was determined by the 5th Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee not to meet minimum state jail standards. One of the problems with the previous jail over the years was overcrowding. Bowman said the old jail’s capacity was around 35 inmates, but it had held more than 60 at times. The new facility is also home to the sheriff’s office, a new dispatch center, and a morgue, among other features such as a control room that gives jailers the ability to monitor every cell from a single spot through windows and security cameras. The new jail is safer for inmates and jailers, and it allows the sheriff’s office to segregate the different types of inmates in the facility as well, Bowman said. The bid for the project was about $7.9 million. The funding was derived from two sales-and-use taxes that were approved by Franklin County voters during a special election in August 2017. The taxes add up to a half-percent, with a three-eighths percent tax going toward repaying construction bonds, and the remainder going toward the operation and maintenance of the facility. The one-eighth percent sales tax is shared with the county’s cities, Bowman said. The new taxes took effect Jan. 1, 2018. 32 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 32
Above, top: Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman talks with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Auditor of State Andrea Lea before the dedication ceremony. Above: A detention center officer monitors the jail from the facility’s new command center.
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Above, left: Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman welcomes detention center dedication attendees. He is joined by guest speakers Sen. Gary Stubblefield, Rep. Sarah Capp, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Above, right: Gov. Asa Hutchinson gives remarks on the opening of the new detention center.
Above, left: Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman thanks all those who had a hand in helping make the detention center a reality. Above, right: State and local officials, leaders and law enforcement gather to cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the detention center. Pictured are the detention center’s cells and common area, and kitchen.
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WELLNESS & SAFETY COVID-19 and mental health
e have been incredibly focused on our physical health in recent months due to the COVID-19 virus ... and rightfully so. However, our mental health is a huge concern as well. At this writing things are still “shut down” for the most part. Some restrictions are lifting. But this is still a very fluid situation. There is no telling where we will be when you read this. Though I am quite sure our mental health will continue to be affected by this pandemic. In the Journal published by the American Medical Association (JAMA Internal Medicine), the doctors that authored the article, “The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing” stated, “The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to contain it, represent a unique threat, and we must recognize the pandemic that will quickly follow it — that of mental and behavioral illness — and implement the steps needed to mitigate it.” Through conversations with friends and family I have found that things that are weighing heavy on my mind are not that much different than anyone else. The things we dwell on touch every facet of our lives. I find myself with a myriad of questions and thoughts racing through my mind at lightning speed: Oh my goodness, I coughed. Do I have the virus? Do I have a fever? Can I still taste and smell? What if I am asymptomatic? What if I have it and give it to someone? When will I work in my office again? Will my job ever look the same? I know they keep saying “new normal.” What will “new normal” look like? My current “new normal” keeps shifting. I don’t even like the words “new normal.” Did I touch something contaminated at the store? Did I get everything disinfected? What if I missed something? I know I talked to my children and they said they are OK. Are they really OK? Two of my daughters work in healthcare. I know they are careful. What will happen if they get this virus? If either one of them gets it, should I go take care of them? I can’t. Then I will be exposed. What about my mother? Is this inevitable for her? What about our county folks? Can they survive the closed courthouses, cutbacks, financial issues, and possible exposure while just doing their jobs? What about their children and parents? Oh no! I coughed again. Do I have a fever? I know this litany of questions seems like it goes on forever, but that is just a snippet of what rushes through my mind these days. The fact of the matter is I know I am not alone. We are all dealing with our own set of issues running on a loop and racing through our brains. For some of us this goes on until our heart races and it becomes difficult to breathe. The COVID-19 pandemic 34 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 34
is not just a physical health crisis. It is a mental health crisis as well. Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. I have researched some resources you can reach out to and suggestions you can try to get through all this. Some may work better than Becky Comet others for you. However, please AAC Member do not suffer in silence. Benefits Manager The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotional responses. Whether you and/or your loved ones are not working, working from home, or have returned to work, do not be surprised if you experience any of the following: • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones • Changes in sleep or eating patterns • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating • Worsening of chronic health problems • Worsening of mental health conditions • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs With that in mind, let’s look at a resource that is available right here in Arkansas, Southwest Employee Assistance (SWEAP). There are many counties that subscribe to their service and, therefore, can get individual counseling as well as group seminars/training, among other services. For those that have subscribed, please take advantage of all the services that are available. They will even put together a program for a specific situation that you may be experiencing in your county. For those that have not yet subscribed to SWEAP, you can still take advantage of many of the things they have available on their website, https://southwesteap.com. Use the login code “sweap.” Here’s a sample of the of the webinar topics they have ready to go: New Webinars Added — Topics covering adjustments, coping and support for work and home during the pandemic: • 5 Tips for Adjusting to Work from Home (10 minutes) • Mental Health & COVID-19: Strategies to Manage Anxiety, Fear, and Stress (57 minutes) • Working from Home with Children (11 minutes) • COVID-19: Facts You Need to Know (48 minutes) COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 7/14/20 1:13 PM
AAC • Staying Visible and Connected When Working from Home (10 minutes) • Caring for Your Elder During the Pandemic (38 minutes) • Managing Time Setting Boundaries (12 minutes) • Coping with COVID-19 on the Front Lines: Stress Management for Healthcare Providers (27 minutes) • Disaster-Proof Your Finances (40 minutes) For those still working from home or working some sort of split schedule, SWEAP has some suggestions when schedule adjustments feel unfamiliar. They, as well as many other experts say that it is important to retain routines and normalcy to help alleviate some anxiety and stress. 5 Things to Help Maintain Routines • Retain your normal morning routines. Try to continue to get yourself and your family up and at ‘em in the normal fashion, even if no one actually has anywhere to go. It helps us feel awake, makes it easier to focus on school and work, and keeps our bodies in sync. • Adapt your physical activity outlets. Do not abandon movement just because the gym is closed. Bookmark your favorite yoga videos, figure out how to get some sunshine, have a “from home” class where you call your normal workout buddies for accountability. Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. • Stay open to enjoyment. Try to keep the essence of some canceled activities in the mix. Variations or pieces of those activities can likely be adapted for home. Camp out in the den if you had to cancel a trip, do your own bible study if you can’t go to your church, set a conference call with your weekly watch party group so you can keep in touch. • Talk to your people. Keep up with people you care about at this time, send positive thoughts and messages, plan to have catch up phone calls, more is going on than just the health concerns, but it is easy to forget that in an anxious time. • Adjust your expectations. Take a deep breath and know this is something that will be over at some point, but realistically we are all adapting to a fluctuating time frame. Each new piece of information does not have to scare you, it just helps inform your next move. The CDC advises that taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Here are some CDC suggestions for coping with stress: • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 35
• • •
WELLNESS & SAFETY
news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Take care of your body. 1. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. 2. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. 3. Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep. 4. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. The Mayo Clinic recognizes the worry and anxiety created by COVID-19 and social distancing. It weighs in with some suggestions for staying connected by building and supporting relationships: Make connections. If you need to stay at home and distance yourself from others, avoid social isolation. Find time each day to make virtual connections by email, texts, phone, or FaceTime or similar apps. If you are working remotely from home, ask your co-workers how they are doing and share coping tips. Enjoy virtual socializing and talking to those in your home. Do something for others. Find purpose in helping the people around you. For example, email, text or call to check on your friends, family members and neighbors — especially those who are elderly. If you know someone who cannot get out, ask if there is something needed, such as groceries or a prescription picked up, for instance. But be sure to follow CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and your government recommendations on social distancing and group meetings. Support a family member or friend. If a family member or friend needs to be isolated for safety reasons or gets sick and needs to be quarantined at home or in the hospital, come up with ways to stay in contact. This could be through electronic devices or the telephone or by sending a note to brighten the day, for example.
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, and it is normal to feel stress and worry during a crisis. But multiple challenges daily, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, can push you beyond your ability to cope. Additionally, many people may have mental health concerns, such as symptoms of anxiety and depression during this time. And feelings may change over time. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious or afraid. See
“Mental Health” on
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WELLNESS & SAFETY
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You may have trouble concentrating on typical tasks, In a conversation with Terri Murphree from changes in appetite, body aches and pains, or difficulty SouthwestEAP, I asked her about what happens to our sleeping, or you may struggle to face routine chores. mental health as we return to a somewhat normal life. When these signs and symptoms last for several days in She said that first, there is no precedence for this kind a row, make you miserable, and cause problems in your of situation. This is brand new territory. However, she daily life so that you find it hard to carry out normal believes that people will more than likely go through the responsibilities, it is time to ask for help. The Mayo Clinic stages of grief, grieving the loss of the lives that we had. reports that hoping mental health problems such as Grieving not being able to shake hands or hug like we anxiety or depression will go away on their own can lead used to, among other things. to worsening symptoms. If you have concerns or if you I also asked Terri what to do if you notice that a experience worsening of mental health symptoms, ask for coworker seems to be struggling. This can be a very help when you need it, and be upfront about how you are touchy situation. She said one possibility if you have doing. The Mayo no idea where to Clinic offers these start would be suggestions for to call SWEAP tress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the getting help: and ask for some demands of life. Everyone reacts differently to difficult situa- suggestions on • Call or how to approach use social tions, and it is normal to feel stress and worry during a crisis. But your coworker. media to Terri also said contact a multiple challenges daily, such as the effects of the COVID-19 that you could close friend talk to your or loved pandemic, can push you beyond your ability to cope. supervisor. I one — even know this feels though it may be like “tattling to hard to talk the teacher” in about your feelings. some ways. But you can simply make the supervisor • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in aware of your concern and ask them to see if they your faith community. notice anything. Then the supervisor can handle things • Contact your employee assistance program, if your from there. Finally, Terri noted that in her experience employer has one, and get counseling or ask for a the first phone call to ask for help is the hardest call to referral to a mental health professional. make. So, if you know someone that is struggling you • Call your primary care provider or mental health can offer to make the initial call to SWEAP or other professional to ask about appointment options to mental health provider. Let them know that you will talk about your anxiety or depression and get advice give them the phone and step out of the room so they and guidance. Some may provide the option of can open the conversation. phone, video or online appointments. This article covers a lot of territory — from what to do • Contact organizations such as the National Alliance when you are staying at home to returning to work. As I on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Substance said earlier, this is brand new ground. We are all trying to Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration figure out the best way to get through the pandemic with our (SAMHSA) for help and guidance. physical and mental health intact. The bottom line is, if you are having difficulty handling whatever your “new normal” If you are feeling suicidal or thinking of hurting yourself, seek help. Contact your primary care provider or is, please ask for some help. Friends, clergy, coworkers, and professionals are all around you and ready to help in whatever a mental health professional. Or call a suicide hotline. In way you need. If you need more information on anything the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat at that I have shared here, feel free to contact me at bcomet@ arcounties.org. Stay safe and healthy. suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
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MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION SERVICES IN ARKANSAS All Arkansans have access to mental health & addiction services. • Individual & Group Counseling • Family Counseling • Substance Abuse & Addiction Counseling & Treatment • Parent & Child Counseling for Children Under 4 • Medication Management • Help During a Mental Health Crisis If you have Medicaid, or are without insurance coverage and can’t pay for treatment on your own, you can get counseling and treatment services paid for by the state.
Steps to Access Care
Call the DHS Mental Health & Addiction Services Support Line
2 3 TIP:
Let person answering phone know if you have insurance. It’s okay if you don’t.
Choose a provider to call for an appointment. You might want to call all of the choices to get the soonest available appointment. For counseling services, providers are expected to see you within 10 days.
Available: Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
At your first appointment, you will meet your provider who will talk with you and decide what services you may need. Bring a list of your doctors and the medications you are taking.
Some providers may require proof of income and a small payment at the time of services. Ask if your provider has a sliding fee scale based on income.
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IN PHOTOS: Counties on frontline of pandemic Columbia County
White County Marion County
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Hot Spring County
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Crittenden County Polk County Crawford County
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Continued From Page 13
sidy, with providers utilizing a fee for service model to garner “In 2020, modern EMS systems celebrate their 50th anenough revenue to cover the cost of doing business. Today’s niversary. For nearly this entire life cycle, the ArAA has stood EMS systems are the healthcare safety net and fill the gap for as the recognized trade organization representing all classes proper medical coverage for many communities without lo- of ambulance providers across the state. The ambulance incal hospitals and access to healthcare clinics after hours. EMS dustry stands strong in its traditions of innovation, flexibility systems across the state all participate with the Department of and resilience. Today’s EMS agencies face new challenges in Health Services (DHS) Trauma System and adhere to strict responding to time sensitive emergencies such as heart atguidelines for coverage and protocols required of them. Al- tack, stroke, trauma.” though I come from a ‘mom and pop’ ambulance service that Arkansas’ EMS providers have responded in unique ways to taught me many life lessons, the days of it or a ‘mother jugs advance and grow the industry and the levels of care provided and speeds’ version of ambulance service has timed out. across the state. The ArAA has been instrumental in conductArkansas ing provider providers have education as worked very well as comAs we move forward, a commitment from all involved to find hard to ensure munity and quality care stakeholder solutions will be needed. Many in the region are realizing to across the state education. with access to The industry ensure quality EMS, they will have to find ways to properly fund the ALS systems. has helped This model craft legislasystems in the future, making it a priority for citizens.” and many of tion such as our rural prothe Municipal viders are facAmbulance — Jamie Pafford-Greshamn ing challengFranchising times, and ing Act and Chairperson for the American Ambulance Association most recently EMS as we know it is in the Medicaid severe jeoparAmbulance dy, and change Supplemental is on the horizon. Payment Program which, though passed in 2017, has yet to The quality of care and the requirements of systems today be implemented. The industry and DHS have recently rehave outpaced the revenue streams provided for a fee for service engaged in talks that are hoped to bring about a state plan model. A stagnant 24-year lull in proper funding from state amendment that will help provide some fiscal relief. Medicaid, below cost reimbursement from Medicare, changes Perry County Judge Toby Davis knows all too well the in wage and hour for providers expected to work many 24- adverse impact the stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rates hour shifts in a week, as well as new technology requirements have had on rural Arkansas. Judge Davis testified to the and equipment costs continuing to rise has ambulance provid- legislative committees. ers searching for assistance. It is not that they are bad stewards “Perry County is small in population, 10,455 according of their money, but they lack funding, and understanding of to the 2010 U.S. Census (ranked 63rd by population),” he needs and support from communities in which they serve. As said. “Perry County is 561 square miles, bordered by Conway, we move forward, a commitment from all involved to find so- Faulkner, Garland, Pulaski, Saline, and Yell counties. The ecolutions will be needed. Many in the region are realizing to en- nomic base is mostly agriculture and logging. Perry County sure quality EMS, they will have to find ways to properly fund is a rural bedroom community that consists of a lot of elderly the systems in the future, making it a priority for citizens.” and retired people.” Ken Kelley is the president/chief executive officer of ProMed The Judge further states “The county needs to have two amAmbulance, a private EMS agency serving six Arkansas coun- bulances. When one ambulance is taking care of a call another ties. Kelley is a past president of the Arkansas Ambulance As- ambulance needs to be available to respond to a second call. sociation (ArAA) and serves as the organization’s government However, there is only enough funding and call volume to affairs committee chair. Kelley adds: sustain one ambulance. There are several challenges in secur-
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AAC ing adequate funding for a second ambulance for the citizens of Perry County. We’ve formed an EMS Board and are looking at funding options.“ In 2015 the AAC produced the Ambulance Services Guidebook, which serves as a resource of the laws and legal authorities concerning ambulance services in Arkansas. That version was updated in 2020, and a copy is posted on the AAC website under the “Publications” tab. Non-Emergency Transports: Act 1041 od 2019 In 2019 the General Assembly launched a task force to tackle another issue plaguing our ambulance services in Arkansas — nonemergency transports. House Bill 1710, now Act 1041 of 2019, sponsored by Rep. Mark Perry and Sen. Jimmy Hickey, Jr., seeks to address the precarious situation. Routinely, ambulances or law enforcement vehicles are used for nonemergency behavioral health transports. EMTs, paramedics, and ALS ambulances need to be used and available to address emergency medical needs in our counties. Likewise, law enforcement officers and vehicles are finite and are needed for law enforcement emergencies. These precious resources are frequently unavailable for their intended use, due to being taken out of the county to serve as nonemergency behavioral health transportation. It’s extremely wasteful for highly trained medical staff
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and highly equipped ambulances to be taken offline for use in nonemergency behavioral health transports. Likewise, use of law enforcement officers and vehicles for non-emergency behavioral transports takes them out of the county thereby creating a situation in which they are not responsive to the public safety needs of their communities. Misdirection of these vital resources creates an unnecessary risk to the lives and safety of the public. The task force discovered several factors that must be addressed. Other states face the same issues and have initiated pilot programs. However, no state seems to have settled on definitive solutions. There are several potential and less costly recommendations to consider. One of the most interesting potential recommendations includes expansion of the state’s existing unscheduled nonemergency medical transportation model. Another model might include provision of appropriate vehicles, contracts and reimbursement rates for nonemergency behavioral health transportations by virtue of the Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) situated throughout Arkansas. The initial report of the task force supplied to the legislative committees is available via the link. The Medicaid reimbursement rate for ALS ambulance services in Arkansas should be addressed and increased. Ambulance services are essential to our citizens’ health and should be treated accordingly.
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GOVERNOR’S LONG TERM HIGHWAY FUNDING PLAN
It’s The People’s Transportation System –
On November 3, 2020, The People Get To Decide Arkansas’ roadways are one of the public’s largest and most important investments. As a transportation system stakeholder, we ask that you help ARDOT educate the public about what would happen if “Issue One” passes or fails. Please visit www.ardot.gov/renew for information and resources.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF “ISSUE ONE” PASSES OR FAILS,
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AAC AAC a m i l yo n f e rr ei enncdes »
Association of Arkansas Counties Workers’ Compensation Trust
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hen you participate in the A A C Wo r k e r s ’ C o m p e n s a tio n Tru s t, you can relax in the hands of professional staff members who are going to take care of your needs. The AAC team has decades of experience in handling county government claims – t h e y ’ r e s i m p l y t h e b e s t a t w h a t t h e y d o ! Did we mention that participants in our plan are accustomed to getting money back? Since we started paying dividends in 1997, the AAC Workers’ Compensation Trust has declared almost $ 2 9 MI L L I O N dollars in dividends, payable to members of the fund. In fact, we mailed $750,000 in savings back to member counties in August 2019.
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NEWS FROM NACO
— Photo from iStock
Broadband demands during COVID-19 reveal disparities Story by Rachel Looker NACo Staff Writer
s the COVID-19 situation brings increased demands in teleworking, virtual learning and even telemedicine, counties are turning to public hotspots to meet the needs of residents. In rural Pope County, Minn., Commissioner Paul Gerde said high speed internet needed for downloads and uploads is a challenge. With hills and trees part of the county’s landscape, wireless internet does not work well in the area. With Minnesota under a stay-at-home order, the disparities in broadband have become even more apparent. “We have to be diligent and tell our legislators it’s important to us,” Gerde said. “Just because our area doesn’t have very good service, we shouldn’t be left out.” Gerde, who serves on the county’s COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2020 cl_Spring_ 2020.indd 45
broadband committee, said the county is making efforts to get high speed internet through state grants. “In rural Minnesota with this telemedicine and kids learning from home, it’s very important,” he said. Gerde said one of his constituents told him she brings her kids more than 15 miles each day to do homework in the parking lot of a school because she is unable to get internet service at home. “You shouldn’t have to bring your kids 15 miles to get their homework done,” he said. “This day and age, we should be able to have similar service.” Across the country, many school districts have converted school buses into mobile hotspots that can drive to underserved areas of a county to provide internet access for students. School buses from Caldwell County, N.C. to Polk County, Fla. are being outfitted to serve as “rolling hotspots,”
specifically to meet the needs of students who are trying to complete assignments and communicate with teachers. In Pierce County, Wash., Pierce Transit launched a pilot program in partnership with Pierce County Emergency Management and local school districts to provide free mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for students via transit buses. With schools in Washington closed for the remainder of the year, students can park near the buses, where the Wi-Fi extends 100 feet, to get their work done. The buses have been parking at two locations in the county. Sonoma County, Calif.’s Office of Education is working with schools to help connect students to the internet, specifically in rural areas of the county where the lack of broadband has been a long-term issue. See
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Cody Grosskopf, director of Information Technology at the Sonoma County Office of Education, said schools are trying to provide hotspots for those without internet access at home, but the COVID-19 situation has put hotspots in high demand, and many are on backorder. “I’m not sure long-term what’s going to happen basically in terms of access,” he said. Beyond meeting the needs of students, counties are using county-owned facilities as well as public spaces to provide free internet access for all residents. In New Castle County, Del., county residents can use free, drive-thru Wi-Fi hotspots, which were available prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. County Executive Matt Meyer recently announced that an additional 12 hotspots would be made available, making a total of 22 located throughout the county. The hotspots are made available in partnership with Delaware Division of Libraries, University of Delaware, Verizon, Assurance Media, Cisco-Meraki and the New Castle County Information Systems and Public Works departments. To use the hotspots, county residents must remain in their cars and practice social distancing. The hotspots are available during the library’s operational hours. A GIS map allows residents to view locations where they can access the hotspots. Similarly, in Baltimore County, Md., County Executive John Olszewski announced exterior Wi-Fi resources at Baltimore County Public Library branches. A GIS map is also available and shows the Wi-Fi locations for county residents to find the closest available access point. “This crisis has upended life in countless ways, and it re-
quires us to find creative solutions to the challenges we face,” Olszewski said. “We hope these new Wi-Fi resources will help narrow the access gap as we continue to work around the clock to identify additional resources to support Baltimore County families during these trying times.” Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Goochland County, Va. installed hotspots at county-operated facilities. Administrative Services Manager Paul Drumwright said the hotspots are now being used during the COVID-19 pandemic and serve as internet access points for those who live in rural areas. Additionally, he said the school buildings in the county are all offering Wi-Fi in their parking lots as well as the county’s library and local YMCA. “We did that just to make sure we could give more options to our citizens so that hopefully people won’t be crowding to the existing locations and make sure to keep social distance even if they’re in their vehicles,” he said. Drumwright said the state has reached out to localities and put together a statewide GIS map highlighting hotspot locations available to residents. “Going through this has made it even more clear for us how this is something that some of our citizens are at a disadvantage because of the lack of broadband at their location,” Drumwright said. “That’s given us just more reason to keep pushing on our broadband initiatives to extend service.” The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is held a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction and directed up to $20.4 billion over 10 years for broadband networks in unserved areas.
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