Spring 2024 County Lines

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The Official Publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties Courthouse Grants Page 36 Span to be part of Southwest Trail The Old River Bridge Restoration Page 26 Spring 2024 County Lines County Lines Peace Officers’ Memorial Page 36




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Features Saline County Flips Switch on Solar Array....................................17 How the Fiscal Session Came to Be..........................................22 Preserving Our Historic County Courthouses............................25 Bridge to Play Role in Southwest Trail Project.........................26 County Officials Happy with Eclipse Response........................30 Meet Your Board Members: Debbie Wise.................................. .32 Meet Your Board Members: John Montgomery.............................32 A Year of Change in the RMS Department...............................34 AAC Photo Recap: Collectors......................................................36 AAC Photo Recap: Safety Meeting................................................37 AAC Photo Recap: County Clerks...................................................38 AAC Photo Recap: Supervisor Bootcamp.....................................39 AAC Photo Recap: AAQC.................................................................40 AAC Photo Recap: Judges...............................................................41 AAC Photo Recap: Circuit Clerks....................................................42 AAC Photo Recap: Coroners............................................................41 State Peace Officers’ Memorial Sevice Held...............................46
From the Director’s Desk...................................................................7 President’s Perspective.....................................................................9 AAC Research Corner.......................................................................12 Seems to Me.....................................................................................18 Legal Corner......................................................................................20 Governmental Affairs......................................................................21 AAC Risk Management Services...................................................24 News from NACo...............................................................................44 In This Issue SPRING 2024 Cover photos (clockwise from top): Old River Bridge by Saline County Communications Director Trevor Villines; Peace Officers’ Memorial Service by Sarah Perry; Bradley County Courthouse courtesy of Preserve Arkansas. AUGUST 7-9, 2024 GARLAND COUNTY, ARKANSAS The AAC’s 56th Annual Conference will be held at the Hot Springs Convention Center! MANY VOICES – ONE SONG When in Harmony we are Strong! ARCOUNTIES.ORG Association of Arkansas Counties • 2024 Annual Conference COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024 5

June 18-20


Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View

June 18-21

Assessors Radisson, West Memphis

June 26-28


Wyndham, North Little Rock

July 10-12


Graduate Hotel, Fayetteville

Aug. 6

Randy Kemp Memorial Golf Tournament

Ponce de Leon, Hot Springs Village

Aug. 7-9

AAC Annual Conference

Hot Springs Convention Center

Calendar activities also are posted on our website: www.arcounties.org

Contact AAC

Chris Villines, Executive Director cvillines@arcounties.org

Anne Baker, Executive Assistant abaker@arcounties.org

Loretta Green, Receptionist lgreen@arcounties.org

Eddie A. Jones, Consultant e.jonesconsulting@gmail.com

Mark Whitmore, Chief Legal Counsel mwhitmore@arcounties.org

Colin Jorgensen, AAC Litigation Counsel cjorgensen@arcounties.org

Josh Curtis, Governmental Affairs Director jcurtis@arcounties.org

Lindsey French, Legal Counsel lfrench@arcounties.org

Christy L. Smith, Communications Director csmith@arcounties.org

Sarah Perry, Communications Coordinator sperry@arcounties.org

Michael Roys, ACE Program Coordinator mroys@arcounties.org

Cindy Posey, Accountant cposey@arcounties.org

Jenny Evans, Accounting & Program Assistant jevans@arcounties.org

Mark Harrell, IT Manager mharrell@arcounties.org

Jim Grinder, Cyber/Network Security Engineer jgrinder@arcounties.org

Risk Management/ Workers’ Compensation

Debbie Norman, Risk Mgmt. & Insurance Director dnorman@aacrms.com

Misty Petrus, Workers’ Comp Claims Mgr. mpetrus@arcounties.org

Cathy Perry, Program Analyst cperry@aacrms.com

Kim Nash, Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster knash@aacrms.com

Renee Turner,Workers’ Comp Claims Adjuster rturner@aacrms.com

Jacob Trumble, Claims Analyst jtrumble@arcounties.org

Greg Hunt, Claims Analyst ghunt@aacrms.com

Kim Mitchell, Premium Analyst kmitchell@aacrms.com

Karen Bell, Program Assistant kbell@aacrms.com

Ellen Wood, Admin. Asst./Receptionist ewood@aacrms.com

AAC Mission Statement

The 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.


Brandy McAllister, RMS Co-Director bmcallister@arcounties.org

JaNan Thomas, RMS Counsel jthomas@arcounties.org

Melissa Dugger, RMS Litigation Counsel mdugger@arcounties.org

Aaron Newell, RMS Litigation Counsel anewell@arcounties.org

Jennifer Merritt, RMS Litigation Counsel jmerritt@arcounties.org

Mallory Floyd, RMS Employment Counsel mfloyd@arcounties.org

Fonda Fitzgerald, RMS Paralegal ffitzgerald@arcounties.org

Elizabeth Kellar, RMS Paralegal ekellar@arcounties.org

Samantha Wren, RMS Assistant swren@arcounties.org

Erica Archer, RMS Legal Assistant earcher@arcounties.org

Ashley Pursell, RMS Admin. Assistant apursell@arcounties.org

James Mirus, Member Services Manager jmirus@arcounties.org

1415 West Third Street Little Rock, AR 72201 (501) 372-7550 phone / (501) 372-0611 fax

County Lines

County Lines [(ISSN 2576-1137 (print) and ISSN 2576-1145 (online)] is the official publication of the AAC. 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

Sarah Perry

AAC Executive Board:

Debbie Wise – President Brandon Ellison – Vice President Jimmy Hart – Secretary-Treasurer

Tommy Young Deanna Sivley

Debra Buckner Dana Baker

Kevin Cleghorn Terry McNatt

Rebecca Talbert Doug Curtis

Gerone Hobbs Marty Boyd

John Montgomery Heather Stevens

Brenda DeShields Selena Blair

Bobby Burns

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 is a member of the Jefferson County Quorum Court.

Barry Hyde: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. Vice Chair of Transportation Steering Committee. He is the Pulaski County Judge.

Rusty McMillon: Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. He is the Greene County Judge

Barry Moehring: Housing Task Force. He is the Benton County Judge.

Kevin Smith: IT Standing Committee. He is the Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services.

Gerone Hobbs: Membership Committee. He is the Pulaski County Coroner.

Paul Elliott:Vice Chair of Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, vice chair of law enforcement subcommittee. He is a member of 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 Committee. She is the Chief Computer Operator for Crittenden County.


Homestead tax credit has always been priority

Those of you who were around in county government at the turn of the century will well remember a not so well thought out push to eliminate property taxes. Petitions were circulated, but the issue failed to get on the ballot. The driver behind this movement has long since been forgotten, but thankfully it created healthy discussion among the populace about how we as Arkansans desire to be taxed.

Furthermore, it served as a reminder as to where property taxes go. Many people mistakenly believe government is the primary recipient simply because it is collected in the courthouse. Alas, these taxes go largely to schools, at about an 80 percent clip. As a former tax collector, I relished the opportunity to educate our residents about where these taxes go … and the fact that many parcels in our state are owned by out-of-state residents or companies. So, it is a misconception that Arkansans alone bear the costs of real estate taxes.

As a result of the public push against property taxes, a group formed called Arkansans to Protect Police Libraries Education and Services (APPLES), which worked to let everyone know exactly how much the sales taxes would have to be raised sans property tax to continue funding required services, including education.

While I cannot remember the exact number, I believe the total to make up the loss was a staggering double-digit sales tax percentage. This would have put Arkansas far and away the highest sales taxed state in the union. A lot of eyes were opened, including those of the legislature and then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. That property taxes, despite very low in Arkansas, are the least desired taxes was obvious — and remains so to this day.

The response, known all too well to our assessors and collectors, was the passage of Amendment 79 and the accompanying enabling legislation, which became Acts 1 and 2 of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of 2000.

While Amendment 79 created a freeze for homestead values for seniors and those with disabilities, the focus of this column is the homestead credit. Put simply, all Arkansans pay ½ cent in sales taxes, and this is refunded to homestead owners in the form of a credit on those parcels of land that qualify. This credit was established in 2000 at $300 per homestead parcel, but over time the ½ cent funding has increased dramatically. As a result of the freeze and credit provisions, many assessors across the state have had to add staff and offices dedicated to Amendment 79 processes.

This fund, labeled the Property Tax Relief Fund, has grown in excess of the moneys paid out consistently since 2000, and has largely gone to homestead owners commensurate with this growth. However, from time to time the surplus over and above what is needed to pay the credit has been disgorged by the legislature for other projects, which may be legal but is not in keeping with the purpose of the fund. Recent moves in the last two years have helped re-establish the purpose of the fund — and as I write this the legislature is working on approving an increase in the homestead credit from $425 per parcel to $500 per parcel beginning with the 2025 tax year (2024 assessment year).

Chris Villines AAC Executive Director


The AAC has been a part of every homestead credit increase through the years. We have always believed that this stable revenue source is important to schools and local governments, and as such we have supported making sure all excess funds go back to Arkansans to ameliorate any anti-property tax sentiment. Our state has long collected in the lowest 20th percentile of property taxes, hovering around 10th lowest state at present. At this time, as one of our largest homestead credit increases winds through the legislature I would like to thank Sen. Steve Crowell, Rep. Bart Schulz and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders for leading the charge and making this their priority as well.

Here’s a reminder you all probably don’t need, but I’m giving anyway — make sure you attend our AAC annual conference August 7-9 in Garland County. The Hot Springs Convention Center is the host site, and we are looking forward to a banner crowd to see wonderful speakers like Gov. Sanders and Glen Ward. Our agenda is still being worked on, but the theme is “Many Voices — One Song, When in Harmony we are Strong!” and how about that dinner/dance theme of “BAACK IN TIME BREAKDANCE”?

We look forward to seeing you all there and if you aren’t yet registered make sure you go to our website, www.arcounties.org, and do so soon.

WE KEEP YOUR COUNTY Springdale Batesville Searcy West Memphis Fort Smith Hot Springs Little Rock Hope Texarkana, TX 9 locations in Arkansas! ROLLING TOLL FREE 877.786.4681 Check out our STM Arkansas stores! The AAC has been part of every homestead credit increase through the years. We have always believed that this stable revenue source is important to schools and local governments, and as such we have supported making sure all excess funds go back to Arkansans ... 8 COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024


NACo provides a wealth of resources

The National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Annual Conference & Exhibition is just around the corner — July 12-15 in Hillsborough County, Florida — and I am excited to attend. I always return to Randolph County with new knowledge and ideas. That’s why I am such a strong advocate of NACo. I believe every county and district official in Arkansas can benefit from the resources provided by NACo.

As of this writing, 37 county officials from 12 Arkansas counties are registered to attend the 2024 NACo Annual Conference. That’s one of the largest groups from Arkansas that I can recall in recent years, and I am thrilled that so many among us are participating in this event.

NACo represents the nation’s 3,069 counties, parishes, and boroughs. Its annual conference includes discussions of federal policies that impact counties, workshops focusing on county best practices, general sessions, mobile tours across the host county, and much more. The diverse pool of speakers are leaders in their fields who are glad to share their insight with attendees.

Each county in Arkansas is a NACo member thanks to the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC), which pays the NACo membership dues. As a county or district official, you can become as involved in NACo as you like — from attending NACo meetings to serving on a committee, caucus, task force or advisory board. Many county officials and employees who recognize the importance of NACo have embraced leadership roles within the organization.

Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison and I are NACo board members., Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon, Benton County Judge Barry Moehring, Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, Pulaski County Justice of the Peace Paul Elliott, Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs, Crittenden County Collector Ellen Foote, Crittenden County Chief Computer Operator Tawanna Brown, and Sebastian County Director of Information Technology Services Kevin Smith all serve on NACo committees. AAC Executive Director Chris Villines is a past president of the National Council of County Associa-

tion Executives (NCCAE), an arm of NACo.

Even if you cannot attend one of NACo’s conferences or many meetings held throughout the year, or if you are unable to serve on a committee, you can still take advantage of NACo’s vast resources.

Just go to the website (www. naco.org), and you will find a multitude of tools for counties, updates on federal legislation, news, webinars and more that will help you in your role as a county elected official. Or you might read or see something that will help a fellow official in your county. I urge you to broaden your thinking as you peruse the wealth of information on the website. You might not think the 2024 Farm Bill affects you in your capacity as a treasurer. But read through the information, and you’ll see that the House version of the bill includes a three-year reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools (SRS), which provides critical financial support to forest counties, funding services like education, infrastructure and emergency response. When you receive the moneys, you will need to know which revenue code to use when putting it on your books.

My point is this: Just as the AAC provides valuable resources for us, so too does NACo. Please take advantage of as many of them as you possibly can. It is an honor and a privilege to represent Arkansas counties as a NACo Board member, a role that I take very seriously.

Debbie Wise Randolph County Circuit Clerk / AAC Board President DEBBIE WISE AAC Board President; Randolph County Circuit Clerk Debbie Wise
75 Counties - One Voice COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024 9

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Is Arkansas fairly administering sales tax rebates?

The burden of sales tax rebates on cities and counties in Arkansas is extremely costly and only continues to grow. This adversely impairs counties’ ability to fund their own programs and projects. Arkansas is the only state that puts the burden of rebate costs solely on the cities’ and counties’ sales and use taxes with no contribution or participation from the state sales or use taxes.

In the state of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) oversees the administration of Arkansas sales and use tax laws. The state sales and use tax rates each are set at 6.5 percent. The state sales tax is 6.5 percent of all gross receipts from sales of tangible property and select services.

Each county and city has the option to levy its own county sales tax. As a result, the local sales tax rate varies in counties and cities across the state. The average local sales tax rate is 2.6 percent. The combined state and local sales tax rate is around 9.5 percent, which is high compared to most other states in the country.

on the businesses or retailers that collect the sales tax. The SSUTA repealed all caps on local taxes as a result, and after Jan. 1, 2008, no local tax caps on single transactions apply except for the sale of motor vehicles for certain uses. Sellers must collect state, city, and county taxes at the full rate for all other sales.

However, despite the absence of caps on some sales and use taxes, certain businesses and entities can claim a rebate for any eligible business purchase over $2,500 in local sales and use taxes.

major point to be made is that our state law directs the counties and cities to provide rebates to taxpayers even though by far most of the sales and use tax burden is due to the state sales tax or state use tax.

A major point to be made is that our state law directs the counties and cities to provide rebates to taxpayers even though by far most of the sales and use tax burden is due to the state sales tax or state use tax. Many neighboring states have similar rates or higher for combined state and local sales tax. The mid-south region has some of the highest sales tax rates in the entire country. This article will examine the laws of other states. Our state law policy may lead to higher local sales tax rates.

In 2008, Arkansas’ state and local sales and use tax laws were changed to comply with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). The SSUTA is a joint effort by several states to make the sales and use tax collection and administration by states and local governments more uniform by minimizing costs and administrative burdens

Qualified purchases include purchases for business expense deductions, depreciation deductions, purchases by exempt organizations, and by a state, county, or municipality and more under A.C.A § 26-52-523, which was adopted in 2007. The sales and use taxes refunded to the purchasers for this rebate comes only from either cities or counties, while the state sales and use tax does not share in the burden. Other statutes allow contractors a rebate for any tangible personal property that becomes a “recognizable part of a completed structure or improvement” to real property. This is provided that the purchase was made before any additional levies of “additional state, city, or county gross receipts tax or compensating use tax,” according to A.C.A. §§ 26-53138, 26-52-427, both adopted in 2007.

County judges and treasurers across the state are faced with large amounts of local revenues being intercepted prior to allocation by the DFA to go to pay substantial rebates each year. On page 14 is a chart reflecting the annual rebates incurred by counties during 2023.

See “REBATES” on Page 14 >>> 12 COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024

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The total sum of rebates by counties during 2023 was $40,705,813.21. Also, see the chart below referencing the rebates during 2023 by the 10 most populated cities in Arkansas:

For the entire year of 2023, those specific cities alone paid rebates equal to $26,560,202.06. Again, the relevant statutes A.C.A. §§ 26-52-427, A.C.A. 26-53-138, and A.C.A. 26-52-523 do not call for the state sales and use tax revenues to be involved, to participate or to contribute to any part of the rebates.

If the rebates included participation of the state sales and use tax, then the local sales taxes adopted could be used for projects such as building, adding to, or operating a jail or courthouse.

“[E]very one of our tax-payer dollars are critical to important aspects of the county such as infrastructure and public safety. The county’s growth has become an increasingly large challenge for us, and overall, we want a much more equitable relationship with the state and with this issue and many others,” said Washington County Judge Deakins.

Other judges have had the same problem.

“The state does not participate in this process, and if it did, it would take a large burden off the county, especially for public safety purposes because of the county’s continuing growth. The state should participate in the process just as much if not greater than the counties,” said Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney said.

Arkansas $160, 034.37 Dallas $24,834.32 Lee $51,020.09 Pope $1,159,696.29 Ashley $161, 626.40 Desha $155,932.69 Lincoln $189,854.42 Prairie $26,254.05 Baxter $401,263.83 Drew $288,221.64 Little River $23,885.72 Pulaski $6,943,756.74 Benton $6,649,280.30 Faulkner $507,280.62 Logan $282,264.13 Randolph $286,212.68 Boone $580,159.20 Franklin $853,972.51 Lonoke $324,108.12 Saline $140,054.16 Bradley $67,053.61 Fulton $150,177.03 Madison $209,041.84 Scott $23,985.72 Calhoun $63,432.90 Garland $903,821.28 Marion $74,760.39 Searcy $82,366.78 Carroll $105,480.92 Grant $75,462.19 Miller $203,284.33 Sebastian $1,262,328.30 Chicot $85,347.49 Greene $355,202.30 Mississippi $638,111.35 Sevier $194,891.75 Clark $354,353.57 Hempstead $857,338.15 Monroe X Sharp $66,512.53 Clay $85,538.01 Hot Spring $498,397.96 Montgomery $5,548.59 St. Francis $843,800.17 Cleburne $92,603.61 Howard $292,070.04 Nevada $14,420.65 Stone $15,325.82 Cleveland $48,095.52 Independence $795,812.62 Newton $17,036.96 Union $1,875,517.12 Columbia $360,019.70 Izard $5,376.09 Ouachita $182,132.95 Van Buren $270,295.20 Conway $119,482.55 Jackson $170,813.41 Perry $17,385.75 Washington $4,735,280.02 Craighead $1,191,698.06 Jefferson $1,119,811.88 Phillips $58,354.95 White $721,366.58 Crawford $574,796.24 Johnson $135,007.47 Pike $57,053.31 Woodruff $232,994.03 Crittenden $462,715.68 Lafayette $34,733.66 Poinsett $122,986.38 Yell $157,930.71 Cross $231,217.75 Lawrence $142,436.78 Polk $235,092.28 TOTAL $40,705,813.21
Continued From Page 12 <<<
Fort Smith $2,032,398.07 Fayetteville $4,138,675.00 Pine Bluff $611,020.57 Jonesboro $1,014,433.78 Conway $1,650,186.15 Bentonville $7,040,421.69 Springdale $3,039,635.39 Rogers $1,482,371.68 Hot Springs $587,950.75 Little Rock $4,963,108.19 TOTAL $26,560,202.06 14 COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024

Craighead County, is facing similar issues.

“The $2,500 cap was a significantly larger number years ago than it is today. These rebates are disproportionately affecting cities and counties,” said Craighead County Judge Marvin Day.

Our counties each have annual budgets. The time for filing a rebate is one year. Our counties and local taxing units have difficulty managing the shortfalls in managing large rebates in the midst of a current budget.

Regarding the effects of these rebates on county budgets, Van Buren County Judge Dale James said, “When the budget is already set, and the budget revolves around a fixed number, the rebate can completely consume the 10 percent owed to the counties.”

This is because the county can only appropriate 90 percent.

“This leaves zero breathing room in our budgets. The county at one point had to go through a period of hiring freeze and layoffs to make ends meet,” Judge James added.

Senate Bill 528 of the 2021 Regular Session, Act 776, sponsored by Sen. Bill Sample, amended A.C.A. § 26-18-303 for the disclosure of information on certain credits and rebates of sales and use tax to affected local governments under relevant statutes A.C.A. §§ 26-52-427, 26-52-523, and 26-58-138.

This information has been made available through a national database known as the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). This assists in foreseeing upcoming rebates but does not completely mitigate the adverse impact of claims for large rebates from counties and their ability to operate under a preexisting or current annual budget.

“The amount taken from the counties in rebates is a large number, but it is difficult to tell exactly what will be taken from the county. The transparency bill did help, but it is still difficult to drill down exactly what the county owes,” Judge Mahoney said when he was asked about the adverse impact of large rebates to a county budget and operations.

“The state should participate, as the rebates affect our county particularly because the county’s revenue is tourist driven. When money is taken from the general fund for this purpose, it hurts the county,” he added.

NAICS is used to classify businesses for the administration and collection of sales and use taxes. The DFA provides a “Local Distribution by NAICS Report” that shows certain monthly tax collection statistics and information. This infor-


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See “REBATES” on Page 16 >>> COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024 15



mation includes any local tax rebates issued for each Arkansas city or county that levies such local sales and use taxes.

According to NAICS reports, the total amount of rebates paid by county sales tax was about $40 million for the year 2023 alone. For cities, the total is likely much higher, as the rebates just from December 2023 from 10 of the largest cities in the state totaled $2,530,773.59 and for the year 2023 was $26,560,202.06. Overall, the net combined sales and use tax paid in 2023, was $900,493,435.22. Of that aggregate sum of rebates statewide, 81 percent of the cost of the rebate was for sales tax alone, with use tax making up just around 19 percent.

Other states do not have this problem. Arkansas sits in a region of the country where the total state and local sales tax is high. The states with the highest combined state and local sales tax were Louisiana at 9.5 percent, Alabama at 9.25 percent, and Oklahoma at 8.98 percent. However, despite neighboring states having a similarly high rate of sales tax, none of the neighboring states in the region impose rebate payments solely on cities and counties with no participation from the state.

“This is not solely an equity issue but also a competitiveness issue,” said Benton County Judge Barry Moehring. “Arkansas’ growing counties with robust economies are penalized by this issue compared to neighboring states and counties, which ultimately will inhibit growth and hurt the state overall. This is really an opportunity for the state to get innovative on how to provide relief to counties that help the state the most with economic growth.”

Alabama, for example, has tourism rebates that are a “combination of state and local retail sales tax, state and local lodging taxes, and any other taxes.” [Ala. Code § 40-18-73 (West)]. In Alabama, the state shares in the payments of rebates to companies. Under Alabama’s Brownfield Development Tax Abatement Act, Alabama also rebates the gross proceeds of a sale of tangible property that could be incorporated into a brownfield. [Ala. Code § 40-9C-7 (West)]. Importantly, though Alabama counties can choose whether to participate in the rebate program, Arkansas counties are given no choice.

Another neighboring state, Louisiana, has “enterprise zone incentives.” In Louisiana, the board responsible for enterprise zones can contract for up to five years to provide for the rebate of sales and use tax levied by the state. (La. Stat. Ann. § 51:1787). As in Alabama, these rebates are limited in several ways. Some of these limitations include time limits, the designation of only certain areas to be included in the rebate, and the fact that cities and counties must first approve the rebate. In addition, the state shares in the burden.

Alabama, Louisiana, and other nearby states simply do not

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have laws that solely burden the local governments with rebates. Where these states do burden local governments with rebate payments, the state always shares in the burden. Where the state does not share in the burden, the municipality or county will always have the option to levy or not levy the rebate. In Texas, for example, a rebate statute for the state’s Qualified Hotel Project states, “… [a] governmental body, including a municipality, county, or political subdivision, may agree to rebate, refund, or pay eligible tax proceeds to the owner of a qualified hotel project at which the eligible taxable proceeds were generated …” [Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 2303.5055 (Vernon)].

South Carolina has a very similar statute to Arkansas regarding construction contracts. However, it provides an exemption, not a rebate. The South Carolina statute states that the gross proceeds are exempt from the local sales and use tax, but there are no rebates involved. Act 181 of 2007 rewrote Arkansas’ statute to provide rebates rather than exemptions.

Unlike Arkansas’ statute, South Carolina exempts certain contracts from paying sales tax under that contract but does not require the cities and counties to pay a rebate. Other states, such as Oregon, have set up certain funds to pay out rebates, such as the Residential Heat Pump Fund that provides rebates for any purchase or installation of certain heat pumps to a home. [Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § Ch. 86, § 19 (West)]. Overall, for the payment of rebates, no other states burden cities and counties alone — the state participates and shares in the rebate. In fact, in some states, the state shares the entire burden for construction contracts, as in Iowa. [Iowa Code Ann. § 423.4 (West)]. The County Judges Association of Arkansas (CJAA) has voted to reach out to the Governor and Arkansas General Assembly to conduct a study and consider legislation to seek inclusion of the state sales and use tax in rebates offered and provided under Arkansas law.

Because the local burden to pay the rebates is so heavy, there must be action taken to reduce the city or county’s exclusive responsibility to pay. One way the state could lessen the burden would be to participate in tax rebates for monthly invoices for electricity exceeding $2,500. This would help even out the burden cities and counties face today in paying large amounts in rebates based upon monthly electricity invoices that could be shared by the state.

Crypto mining data centers would necessarily use over $2,500 worth of electricity every month. The White House has provided a report that discusses the energy implications of crypto mining data centers, which states that cryptocurrency data centers use around 120 and 240 billion kilowatt-


hours per year, which exceeds the electricity use of many single countries. [OSTP (2022). Climate and Energy Implications of Crypto-Assets in the United States. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Washington, D.C. Sept. 8, 2022, page 5.] Crypto mining data centers consume about 0.9 percent to 1.7 percent of all total electricity usage in the United States, according to the report. In addition, the report states, “[t]his range of electricity usage is similar to all home computers or all residential lighting in the United States.”

In Arkansas, crypto mining data centers use enough power for 7,000 or 8,000 homes but only employ less than five people. And, unlike other industries that use significant amounts of energy, they are not major contributors to Arkansas’ gross

domestic product (GDP). Arkansas would benefit from properly allocating the burden of the tax rebates for these large data mining operations, as they expend tremendous amounts of energy and create very few job opportunities.

Overall, Arkansas is the only state that burdens the cities and counties alone with rebates, and it costs localities a significant amount of money each year. The state should share in the burden of these rebates in some shape or form as other states have done. Participation by the state on the rebates from monthly electricity invoices is a solution to study and consider. An economic impact study may be required. Overall, a study and consideration of solutions would be helpful in combatting the county and city burden of rebates.

Saline County flips switch on solar array

Saline County officials hosted a flip the switch ceremony on May 9, 2024, to celebrate a new solar array on the Saline County Career & Technical Campus. The array is a partnership between the county, campus officials, ASU Three Rivers, the Saline County Economic Development Corporation and Seal Solar. The 423-kilowatt direct current solar array with 900 (470-watt) panels is located next to the campus. It is estimated to produce 621,000 kilowatt hours for the campus in its first year. Along with providing power, the array will be used by students as a hands-on lab. At this campus, which is maintained by Saline County, students from six school districts can take classes across 10 different pathways. The curriculum for these high-demand career paths is provided by ASU Three Rivers. The campus is also home to Central Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.

“’Together we can make a difference’ has been a campus motto since the beginning of the vision for SCCTC. This investment is the next step in making a difference as the solar farm leverages the campus to establish future sustainability and instructional lab space for a future renewable energy program. This project plans for the future in a way that will keep SCCTC at the forefront of the emergent workforce training for Saline County. We anticipate adding such a program and training to our current offerings within the next two years,” according to a statement by Scott Kuttenkuler, Assistant Vice Chancellor for campus.

— Photos and story by Sarah Perry

Top: Saline County Judge Matt Brumley addresses attendees during a flip-the-switch ceremony for a solar array at the Saline County Career Technical Campus. Brumley is joined by ASU Three Rivers Chancellor Dr. Steve Rook. Bottom: Students from SCCTC join, from right, Judge Brumley, Chancellor Rook and Solar Seal Co-Founder and CEO Josh Davenport in flipping the switch for a solar array at the campus. The switch was created by students at the campus.



Don’t settle for a fudge-it budget

Remember David Cunliffe? He won the New Zealand Labour leadership in a coup, and then led them to a crushing defeat against the rampant National Party led by Sir John Key. His big criticism of the election year budget was that the much-vaunted surplus achieved by finance minister Bill English was a mirage based on craft accounting. Here in the U.S., we would probably make that statement saying something like “the budget is an optical illusion based on creative accounting” or “it’s just a bunch of bunk based on funny numbers.” Mr. Cunliffe said that Finance Minister English was “fudging it.”

No one, including county government, should hitch their operation to a “fudge-it budget” based on inaccuracies or a “Swiss-cheese budget” filled with holes of missing information. The term county budget refers to a calculated projection of revenue and expenses over a 12-month calendar year and should be compiled and re-evaluated on a periodic basis.

The importance of proper budgeting cannot be overstated. It is imperative that every county have county budget experts that understand fully the County Financial Management System [Ark. Code Ann. § 14-21-101]. Those experts should include the finance officers of the county, which encompass the county judge, county treasurer and the county clerk or comptroller. Some of the quorum court should become budget experts since enacting a budget and adjusting or amending the budget is ultimately their responsibility.

I understand that writing about budgets isn’t exciting. But you have read this far, so just stick with me. Many of you are only in your second year of your first four-year term and have a lot to learn. Don’t we all? Let’s start with some fun facts about budgets.

• The word budget comes from the Latin bulga, meaning “small pouch.” In turn, this led to the French term bougette, a nickname for a bouge, or a leather bag or wallet.

• The first use of budget relative to financial planning comes from a 1733 pamphlet, The Budget Opened by William Pulteney, the 1st Earl of Bath. He used the term budget to critique the government’s fiscal policy on tobacco and wine.

There you go. When you think of budgets, think of purses/ wallets, cigars and wine. Stay with me now.

We all know we should eat healthy, get plenty of sleep at night, exercise, and be proactive with managing our finances. And yet we are a society that hits the drive-thru regularly, stays up too late to get up early, sits on the couch Netflix binge watching, and lives on credit cards. We want all the benefits without being disciplined enough to earn them.

I’m at least 40 pounds overweight, sleep and old age don’t

mix, and I only run if I’m being chased by a bear or something of that magnitude. So, don’t look for my expertise on the first three things on the list. However, I do know a thing or two about county finance and budgeting.

Through the years I have given dozens of seminars on county budgeting and written numerous articles on the subject. But most importantly I have decades of practical experience in developing revenue projections and expenditure plans for county government operations.

It is no easy task to run a county government — and we have 75 of them in Arkansas ranging in population from 4,739 to 399,125. Most counties struggle to provide everything they would like to provide their citizenry. Some struggle just to fund those things they are required to provide, especially around general operations, which covers so many areas of required services.

What are the required areas of service? They are these, as set forth in Arkansas law in Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-802(a):

1. The administration of justice through the several courts of record of the county;

2. Law enforcement protection services and the custody of persons accused or convicted of crimes;

3. Real and personal property tax administration, including assessments, collection, and custody of tax proceeds;

4. Court and public records management, as provided by law, including registration, recording, and custody of public records; and

5. All other services prescribed by state law for performance by each of the elected county officers or departments of county government.

Everything else that a county can legally provide for its residents is secondary and can be found listed in Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-802(b).

Every county in Arkansas should consider forecasting procedures that will result in more accurate revenue and expenditure projections to maximize services to your constituents. Given the funding constraints county governments face, accurate expenditure projections are more important than ever.

In making projections, either of revenue or expenses, use reliable data sources to inform your budgeting and forecasting. Data sources can include historical records, economic research to include trends and analysis, information provided by state sources, budget information provided by the Association of Arkansas Counties, etc. Using reliable data sources


helps you avoid assumptions, biases, and errors that can undermine your budget planning. Neither data nor data sources are static, but dynamic and changing. So, you need to update regularly, verify their accuracy and analyze them critically.

Use appropriate tools in your budgeting work. Tools can include software applications, templates, and other methods that help you organize, visualize, and communicate your data and plan. Using appropriate tools can help you save time, reduce errors, improve consistency, and enhance clarity. But remember this; tools are not a substitute for your judgment, creativity, and intuition in developing a county budget.

I believe what we must do here in Arkansas to achieve better and realistic county budgets that will help put our counties on sound financial ground is use some good “common sense.”

• Understand the budget. Discipline yourself to spend the time to learn and understand the county’s financial condition — including the monthly flow of expenditures; the flow of revenues; the revenues available to a county; whether those revenues have been availed for your county; how those revenues can be spent; what you must fund; and what you don’t have to fund. In other words, get a handle on the county budget process and what’s available to you. Know the law inside and out to maximize the funding available in the most advantageous way for your county.

• Be creative in solving your problems. Many of us fall into the trap of doing things the same old way. Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it should still be done that way. There may be a better way. If there’s a better way, and you can stay within the law, then do it. Do what is best for your county but still provide services and compensate fairly.

• Leaders must be willing to make tough decisions. There are counties in Arkansas near financial collapse because tough decisions have been delayed too long — decisions that should have been made years ago to avert the current financial crisis. It does no good to bellyache about what should have been done four years ago but wasn’t. Make the decision now. Make a well-reasoned financial decision for your county. Don’t make some rash decision or a decision based on personalities. You were elected to make good, sound, and right decisions for all residents of your county.

One of the worst budget habits counties have developed is the reliance on one-time money for on-going expenses. It may buy a little time, but it is not the solution. A county that year after year develops a budget calling for the use of carryover fund balances and other one-shot revenues is a county that has repeatedly failed to address the recurring structural imbalance in its annual budget. It must be difficult for many of you to imagine making a

county budget without relying on the assistance of surplus dollars. It may be impossible to cut it out completely for counties that have historically used carryover fund balances to make the following year’s budget. But it can be done. That’s where discipline, creative problem solving and tough decision making come in. Counties will not become structurally balanced financially and have good positive cash flow until they refrain from relying on carryover fund balances and other one-shot money sources for ongoing budget expenses. This is most important for the two major funds of the county: County General and Road & Bridge.

If a county must rely partially on the assistance of surplus dollars, it needs to be a managed use. While one cannot ignore the external factors that force the issue of appropriating at least part of the carryover fund balances, there are things that can be done to mitigate the adverse effects of such a decision.

• Use one-shot money on one-shot expenses. Use it for infrastructure or capital items that won’t have to be replaced for a number of years. Don’t use one-time money for on-going operations.

• Keep a record of a multiple year trend of the available carryover fund balances. At most, the appropriation thereof should not exceed the county’s trend. And never appropriate the full 90 percent allowed by law of a carryover fund balance. Yes, the 90 percent Rule applies to carry-over balances (AG Opinion No. 1986-51). It is the building of a carryover fund balance that can and should become your county’s reserve for capital needs and emergency situations.

I’ve seen some great county budgets … but I’ve seen bad ones more often. Ones, that if I was presenting them for passage, I would have to say, “Now keep in mind that these numbers are only as accurate as the fictitious data, ludicrous assumptions, and wishful thinking they’re based upon.”

County budgeting is the process through which governments decide how much to spend on what, limiting expenditures to the revenues available and preventing overspending. A county must actively plan, manage, monitor, and enforce budget execution. I have many times defined a budget as a math problem where the answer is always “not enough.”

I realize this has not been a ‘magnum opus’ on county budgeting but hopefully it has provided some insight. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. County budgeting is tedious, time-consuming and detail oriented. If you don’t care about tiny details, you’ll produce bad work because good work is the culmination of hundreds of tiny details. The world’s most successful people all sweat the small stuff.

When you see a county doing well, it means one of two things: (1) they have a ton of money and can blow it all at will, or (2) they have a budget and stick to it. Trust me … it is No. 2.


Arkansas lawmakers address crypto mining nuisances in fiscal session

When the Arkansas General Assembly met for the 2024 Fiscal Session, which is typically reserved for matters solely related to the state’s fiscal budgeting, lawmakers had another hot topic on their minds – crypto mining facilities in Arkansas. Act 851 of 2023, known as the Data Centers Act of 2023, effective Aug. 1, 2023, effectively tied the hands of local governments to restrict the activities of data mining centers, commonly known as “crypto mining” facilities. The four-page bill passed late in the 2023 General Session, and some lawmakers now say they were not fully aware of some potential consequences of the Act.

Specifically, Act 851 created Arkansas Code § 14-1-505 entitled “Discrimination against digital asset mining business prohibited.” The section prohibited a local government from adopting an ordinance or policy that limits the sound decibels of these facilities, imposing different requirements on these facilities than are applied to other data centers, or rezoning an area to discriminate against a crypto mining facility. Shortly after the act’s passage, crypto mining facilities began to pop up around Arkansas and became noise nuisances to residential neighbors. Citizens also were concerned about the effect of the facilities’ water waste on local bodies of water as well as their disproportionate usage of power from the electric grid.

County judges and quorum court members quickly became overwhelmed with constituent complaints about the crypto mining facilities, and elected officials began to investigate how they could address their concerns. With a looming effective date of Aug. 1, 2023, 51 counties quickly passed ordinances to reasonably regulate the excessive noise produced by these facilities. However, it quickly became apparent that the restrictions placed on local government to regulate the facilities coupled with the lack of state regulation over them was quickly resulting in several of these facilities being built and operated by bad actors with no thought or care as to how residents were being affected. Likewise, state legislators saw the need to address these issues sooner rather than later, and the April 2024 Fiscal Session gave them a unique opportunity to do so. Resolutions were passed in the Arkansas Senate to take up a series of nonfiscal-related bills by a two-thirds vote, and as a result, two acts were passed to address crypto mining facilities in Arkansas.

Act 173 of 2024, passed nearly unanimously by the Arkansas General Assembly with an emergency clause, repealed the prohibition on local governments from restricting the noise output and other zoning matters related to crypto mining facilities. Additionally, it implemented requirements into state law that crypto mining facilities must follow, including noise-abatement by liquid or submerged cooling, fully enclosed facilities, or upon local government approval, a location of at least 2,000 feet from

the nearest residential or commercial structure or that is in an area zoned for industrial use. The act forbids local governments from prohibiting or requiring permission for a resident to engage in personal home digital asset mining. Finally, it forbids prohibited foreign parties as defined in the act from owning any interest in a digital asset mining facility in the state and provides that the Arkansas Attorney General may investigate and commence action upon any prohibited foreign party who does not divest by May 3, 2025.

Act 174 of 2024 passed by a nearly identical margin to Act 173 with overwhelming legislative support. Act 174 reiterates portions of Act 173, including repealing the ban on local governments from otherwise lawfully regulating crypto mining facilities, banning prohibited foreign party ownership of crypto facilities, giving those foreign parties one year to divest their interest, and giving the Attorney General the authority to investigate and commence action against prohibited foreign party noncompliance. It also creates a mandatory permitting process for crypto mining businesses wishing to operate in Arkansas by applying with the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission. The Commission shall promulgate rules and have jurisdiction to enforce the rules and laws as well. Citizens may file complaints with the Commission and initiate an investigation into any businesses accused of noncompliance. Existing crypto mining facilities have 90 days from the effective date of the initial rules promulgated by the Commission to apply for a permit to operate each of their businesses.

As a result of the passage of these two acts, local governments now have the flexibility and home rule contemplated by the Arkansas constitution when dealing with crypto mining facilities. While the vast majority of counties do not enact zoning regulations, they are free to do so in accordance with the laws as it applies to crypto mining facilities. Additionally, municipalities are free to enact and enforce zoning regulations, which is much more common across the state. For local governments that do not exercise zoning regulations, these laws are a solid framework for the state to regulate the nuisances that crypto mining facilities can be if not operated responsibly. This legislation was the result of the best form of intergovernmental cooperation — state lawmakers listening not only to their constituents, but also working with the community-minded crypto mining business owners, county and municipal elected officials, and the executive branch to reach a solution that is best for Arkansas.



An update on the 2024 fiscal session

The 86th General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1004 in 2007 with only three votes to spare in the senate. This resolution sent the question of whether the state should have a fiscal session every other year to the people of Arkansas. HJR1004 may have only passed in the senate by three votes, but the voters overwhelmingly passed the constitutional amendment by 372,235 votes. I was in college at this time, but the people involved in government were shocked by the results of the election.

The voters spoke and said they wanted the legislature to meet every year. Amendment 86 amended Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution, which created the legislature. Specifically in Section 5 it added, “the General Assembly shall meet in fiscal session on the second Monday in February of each evennumbered year to consider only appropriation bills.” However, it allowed a way for the legislature to address non-budgetary items by including this language in section 5, “A bill other than an appropriation bill may be considered in a fiscal session if two-thirds of the members of each house of the general assembly approved consideration of the bill.”

The legislature just wrapped up the eighth fiscal session ever. The counties had one of the best, if not the absolute best, one yet. The Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) has been advocating for the state to pay for their deputy prosecuting attorneys for quite some time. There have been a couple of articles in this publication outlining the issue, and the County Judges Association of Arkansas (CJAA) made it their top priority this session. Judges and sheriffs went to all corners of the state, hosting regional meetings to educate legislators about this issue and to ask for their support. The state retains about $5.4 million from county turnback each year to pay for deputy prosecuting attorneys. This was done through special language in an appropriation bill in 1999, and it has remained in the do-not-codify section ever since. Luckily, we have a friend in state Rep. Fran Cavenaugh, who agreed the state should pay for its deputy prosecuting attorneys. She sponsored an amendment to House Bill (HB) 1023 removing the special language so the counties would receive this portion of the turnback. After negotiations, legislators said counties would have to pay only 25 percent of the $5.4 million this next fiscal year. Act 140 will increase counties’ monthly turnback checks beginning July 1. Plenty of legislators helped us pass the bill, but a

special thanks goes Budget Committee Chairs Rep. Lane Jean and Sen. Jonathan Dismang.

For the first time in the history of fiscal sessions, the legislature passed non-budgetary bills. To do this, the legislature needed to adopt a resolution by two-thirds of a vote to hear these bills. Nine resolutions were filed in each chamber — eight out of nine dealt with crypto mining issues. Of those eight, only two were passed by both chambers and allowed to be introduced and ultimately signed into law. My colleague, Lindsey French, explains in her column how Act 173 by Sen. Josh Bryant and Rep. Rick McClure and Act 174 by Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Jeremiah Moore will affect crypto mining operations. These two acts provide more flexibility and control for counties addressing this new type of industry.

The other resolution that passed looks to reform the state employee compensation plan. Senate Bill (SB) 77 was sponsored by Sen. Breanne Davis and Rep. Jim Wooten. Just like counties, the state has struggled to keep up with market demands for employee compensation. Act 172 allows for all state employees to receive up to a 3 percent raise, which has an estimated cost to general revenue of $19 million. This new pay plan also increases the ranges by 10 percent for all nonexempt employee classifications and includes special compensation awards and recruitment benefits of up to a $5,000 bonus or incentive leave of up to 40 hours. The Personnel Committee has been working on this for some time to address retention and recruitment.

All the appropriation bills are funded through the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) by outlining state spending for the 2024-2025 Fiscal Year. The RSA includes a 1.76 percent increase in state spending. A couple of other major increases include an additional $65.7 million for the Education Freedom Accounts. The public-school fund will increase by $38.2 million, and funding allocated for Arkansas State Police will increase by $3.9 million — this includes 50 new corporal positions. The state Capitol Police also will be able to hire an additional 20 officers. The fiscal session was a success for all counties in Arkansas.

Follow us on Facebook @75ARcounties for the latest county news. COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024 21

How the General Assembly’s fiscal session came to be

It came as a surprise to many — even a lead sponsor of the House Joint Resolution — when in November 2008, Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring the state Legislature to meet every year. Until that time, Article 5, Section 5 of the Constitution required the General Assembly to meet every other year.

But 69 percent of voters thought it was a good idea for the Legislature to meet in regular session during odd-numbered years and in fiscal session to discuss budgetary matters during even-numbered years.

In a Nov. 6, 2008, article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, then-Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale who along with thenSen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, co-sponsored HJR1004, which became Amendment 86, said he was “still in shock” two days after the election that voters had approved the measure.

“With a little marketing and just basically word of mouth and grass roots, I was amazed at how it was doing with all the formal opposition,” he told the newspaper.

Those opposed to annual legislative sessions argued that meeting every year would result in more government spending. Proponents had quite the opposite argument — annual sessions would lead to better oversight of the budget and less spending.

“There are lots of business owners, farmers and individuals, and they don’t budget their houses, businesses or farms on two-year [budgets], and they understand you can’t do that in state government,” Harris, a CPA who served as a state representative from January 2003 to January 2009, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Jay Barth, political scientist at Hendrix College in Conway, expressed disbelief.

“It runs counter to Arkansas’ historical bent towards limited government,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Then-AAC Executive Director Eddie A. Jones said, “when the ballot measure passed in November 2008, I and many others thought the measure passed because of a couple of thought provoking, descriptive, and stimulating words in the short ti-

tle of the constitutional amendment that pointed to a limited government — although the title in its entirety did not.

“Those words, strategically placed in the short title, were ‘reduce’ and ‘limited.’ Most voters do not come to the polls properly educated on everything that is on the ballot. They are there to vote for one or two particular candidates and possibly have a strong opinion on one ballot measure. Most do not pay much attention to the various ballot measures and a quick read of the short title when voting is all they know. They saw ‘reduce and limited’ and thought it was a good thing.” Jones explained.

Thirty-four proposed constitutional amendments were introduced during the 2007 legislative session. The House and Senate had to work to pare those down to three, the limit the General Assembly is allowed to refer to voters under Article 19, Section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution.

Amendment 86 reduces the period for which appropriation bills are valid from two fiscal years to one, requiring the General Assembly to meet in fiscal session during even-numbered years to consider appropriation bills. The fiscal session would allow legislators to make necessary budget changes depending on the climate of the national or state economy. They could not easily amend a two-year budget.

The first fiscal session was held from Feb. 8, 2010, to March 4, 2010, according to a February 2020 column in Talk Business & Politics. However, Amendment 86 also allows the General Assembly to change the date on which a fiscal session begins. In years with no party primaries, the session begins in February. In years with party primaries, the session begins in April, as it did this year.

Also under Amendment 86, fiscal sessions are limited to 30 days but can be extended by 15 days one time with a 3/4 vote by the House and Senate. The General Assembly can even consider non-budgetary matters, such as regulations to crypto mining operations, if 2/3 of both chambers pass a resolution allowing them to do so.

And Amendment 86 clearly states, “Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to alter the Governor’s authority to call a special session of the General Assembly.”

The April 2024 fiscal session is the 8th fiscal session to be held since 2010.

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What animals are protected under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) advises that an individual with a disability may need a reasonable accommodation to assist in the performance of his or her job duties. In some cases, a reasonable accommodation may be allowing an employee to be accompanied by a service animal. However, the topic of service animals is not limited to your employees. Your obligations under the ADA also extend to your customers. Here are some of the basics you need to know when it comes to service animals.

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal must be a dog. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained, or untrained, are not service animals under the ADA. The ADA has defined a service animal as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The work or tasks that these dogs perform must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Some of these tasks may include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals with impaired vision, alerting or protecting individuals of or from a seizure, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

Service Animal Requirements

While a service animal is required to be trained to perform a task for an individual with a disability, there is no requirement that the service animal undergo professional training. Individuals with disabilities have the right to train their own dog. When an individual is using a service animal, the service animal must be under the control of its handler. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

What is the Difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?

Service animals and other assistance animals, such as emotional support animals, are often lumped together under the assumption that they perform similar duties. That is not the case. An “emotional support animal” is defined as any animal that provides comfort to an individual just by being with that individual. Federal law states that the provisions of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks. Because emotional support animals are not trained to perform tasks related to an individual’s disability, they are not considered service animals under the ADA and are not required to be permitted in the workplace.

Inquiries and Documentation

The level of inquiry and documentation you can require is going to be different for your employees and your customers. For your employees, you can require documentation from your employee’s healthcare provider to establish (1) that the employee has a disability under the ADA that requires accommodation and (2) that a service animal is a reasonable accommodation. This is generally acquired through the interactive process. For customers that enter your county buildings, your ability to inquire is significantly lower. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, inquires are limited to asking the following two questions: (1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? It is not permissible to ask about the individual’s disability, to require documentation of the disability or the training, or to ask for a demonstration.

Common Concerns with Service Animals

Q: When can a service animal be removed from the premises?

A: An employer may ask an individual with a disability to remove his or her service animal from the premises if the animal is out of control and the animal’s handler does not take effective action to control it, or if the service animal is not housebroken. However, if the service animal is removed for a legitimate reason, the staff must offer the individual with a disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the dog’s presence.

Q: Who is responsible if a service animal causes damage to county property?

A: Under Arkansas law, the employee with a disability accompanied by a service animal shall be liable for any damage caused to the premises or facilities by the animal.

Q: What if another employee is allergic and/or afraid of dogs?

A: Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access of a service dog. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.

If you encounter a situation involving a service animal and you have questions, please reach out at mfloyd@arcounties.org.


Bradley County is one of 64 Arkansas counties that have used an Arkansas Historic Preservation Program County Courthouse Restoration Grant.

In March 2021, the county was granted funding to rebuild the octagonal shaped cupola, which was deteriorated, and to refurbish the bell tower dome (pictured at left). The project took two years to complete.

Photo courtesy of Preserve Arkansas

Preserving our historic county courthouses

Arkansas’ historic county courthouses are some of the state’s most significant and recognizable buildings. Courthouses serve as downtown anchors and represent a source of pride that ties the community to its heritage. We must ensure that these Arkansas treasures are restored and maintained for the next 100 years. In Arkansas, we are fortunate to have historic preservation grant funds available through our State Historic Preservation Office. These are primarily funded by proceeds of the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.

Since its beginning in 1988, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s County Courthouse Restoration Subgrants have been used to help restore 79 courthouses and courthouse annexes in 64 of the state’s 75 counties. Every region of Arkansas has benefited from these grants.

Operational courthouses and courthouse annexes that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places are eligible for the County Courthouse Restoration Grant program. There is no minimum or maximum grant award. Courthouse grants do not require a match, but match funds may make applications more competitive. Grant-funded projects range from roof and masonry repair to new plumbing and electrical systems. Proj-

ects that address structural integrity, moisture infiltration, life/ safety issues, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility are high priorities.

First-time applicants are encouraged to submit a Letter of Intent in order to receive feedback and project development assistance from Arkansas Historic Preservation Program staff. Letters of Intent are typically accepted each year in the fall, and the full grant application is usually due each year in January. Contact the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program at 501-324-9880 or info@arkansasheritage.com for additional information about the County Courthouse Restoration Grant program and application instructions.

In 2012, Preserve Arkansas, the statewide nonprofit advocate for historic preservation, included Historic County Courthouses — Statewide on its annual list of Arkansas’ Most Endangered Places. Since then, Preserve Arkansas has worked with county judges across the state to provide technical assistance and advocate for increased funding for the state’s County Courthouse Restoration Grant program. We were thrilled to see record funding in FY24, when the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program distributed $3.5 million in courthouse grants. We are grateful for the support of Arkansas’ county judges and look forward to working with them in the future.

Rachel Patton is executive director of Preserve Arkansas, the only statewide nonprofit organization working to save Arkansas’s historic places. Contact her at 501-372-4757 or info@preservearkansas.org.


The Old River Bridge in Saline County has been refurbished and will be reinstalled at its original location. The bridge also is a piece of a larger recreational trail that will span more than 60 miles across three counties — Saline, Pulaski and Garland.

Bridge to play role in Southwest Trail project

Restored bridge will be oldest in the state in its original location

The Old River Bridge project in Saline County started six years ago when the bridge was dissembled and later sent to Michigan to be refurbished. On March 11, 2024, hundreds of people gathered near the Saline River to celebrate the start of the final phase of the project — when the bridge will be reinstalled at its original location.

“With this groundbreaking, we mark the beginning of a new chapter. This is not just about steel, iron beams and supports that go across this river. It’s fostering unity and enhancing accessibility to our river and our neighboring community and ensuring continued growth in our county,” said Saline County Judge Matt Brumley during the ceremony.

In 1889, the Saline County Court appropriated $5,000 for the construction of the iron bridge, which was completed in 1891. The bridge was located at the site of Saline Crossing, the first white settlement in the county. The bridge eventually fell into disrepair and in 1974, it was damaged when a truck

carrying concrete blocks attempted to cross it. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1977. The bridge was featured in the 1996 movie “Sling Blade” featuring Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton, according to an Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry.

Upon completion of the refurbishment project, the bridge will be the oldest in the state in its original location.

The bridge has held a special place in the hearts of Saline County residents, and many have worked to restore it, including The Saline Crossing Regional Park and Recreational Area, Inc. led by the late Lynn Moore, who served as the mayor of Benton. The goal of the group was to restore the bridge and create a park area around it, but lack of funding was an issue.

The bridge project got its official start after the county was awarded a $500,000 grant.

Brumley said he was involved in The Saline Crossing Regional Park and Recreational Area, Inc. and another group dedicated to the restoration of the bridge before being elected judge. He knew Moore well and said he was “persistently persistent” about the importance and need to restore the


bridge. Brumley said former Saline County Judge Jeff Arey included him in engineering meetings about the project prior to Brumley taking office.

Arey noted during the recent groundbreaking ceremony that not completing the bridge project before he retired is his biggest regret of his career.

Mobley Construction is handling the restoration project, and Brumley said it is progressing ahead of his expectations thus far. He hopes to have the project completed in spring 2025.

“It’s got people in this community and in Central Arkansas and even further extremely excited about what is happening with this historic endeavor of the Old River Bridge,” he said.

Along with being a historical landmark in the community, the Old River Bridge is also a piece of a bigger project — the Southwest Trail. This recreational trail will span more than 60 miles across three counties connecting Bathhouse Row in Garland County to Central High School in Pulaski County with the bridge in the middle.

The trail is named for and roughly follows the historic path by the same name.

“The trail corridor utilizes segments of two of Arkansas’ most important transportation corridors — the historic Southwest Trail and the Rock Island and Missouri Pacific Railroads,” according to a study completed in 2015.

The Southwest Trail was built and surveyed by members of the U.S. Army during the 1820s and 1830s. It was also used by Native Americans during their forced removal to the West, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

According to a technical report provided by Metroplan about a trail network across Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski and Saline counties, the Southwest Trail will include “long stretches of forests” and will provide a “peaceful, scenic experience.”

Like the bridge project, the Southwest

Top: This map shows the path of the Southwest Trail, a 60-mile recreational trail that will span three counties and connect Central High School in Pulaski County with The Old River Bridge in Saline County and Bathhouse Row in Garland County.

Bottom: Along with highlighting the county’s successes during the State of the County Address on May 14, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde also spoke about the impact of the Southwest Trail and the Providence Park project, which will be the first permanent housing village for the chronically unhoused in Central Arkansas.

on Page 28 >>>


Trail has been in the works for years. According to Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, talks of the project first started under previous administrations in all three counties. Over the years, through administration changes, the counties have been able to partner together to share design costs, change concept drawings to construction drawings with Garver engineers and receive various permits for the construction.

“All meaningful endeavors begin with a vision. My predecessor, the late Buddy Villines, and my dear friend, (the late North Little Rock Mayor) Pat Hayes, had a vision to link our communities through a system of commuter and pedestrian trails and bridges. Today, with this project and those to follow, we carry on that tradition, and we honor their vision,” said Hyde during a State of the County ceremony that included a groundbreaking for the trail on May 14.

He also called the trail, “one of the largest and most anticipated projects we have taken on in the past decade.”

During the ceremony, Brumley, who spoke about the importance of partnership between counties, said that after years of planning, he is excited to see construction.

“It is extremely exciting for this county judge to see dirt turned for the Southwest Trail,” he said. “I say it’s a lot like Sasquatch — a lot of people talk about it, but they’ve never seen it. Well, we’ve got a sighting now.”

Pulaski County is the first to start construction on the trail. The first four miles is under construction, and the second portion of the trail in Pulaski County is expected to go out for bid in September. The third portion will go out for bid at the beginning of the year, and the remaining segments are expected to be completed subsequently, Hyde said.

The first portion to be constructed in Saline County will be located at the Pulaski/Saline County line and will connect to the portion under construction in Pulaski County, Brumley said.

“Hopefully we’re within a year of having that first seven miles or so completed and usable,” Hyde said.

Garland County has not yet started construction because of right-of-way issues, according to Judge Darryl Mahoney.

“We are ready to move forward. We’re ready to be shovel ready, but we’re working on that one particular area where it starts at the city limits and goes east where we don’t have a good right of way yet,” he said.

Mahoney said that once these issues are resolved he believes the project will come together “pretty rapidly.”

A portion of the trail in Garland County follows Spring Street in a rural area that includes scenic areas, waterways and a historic bridge.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration recently announced that Saline and Garland counties will be awarded grant funding for the project. Garland County will receive $1 million to use for its portion of the trail, and Saline County will receive $1 million for the bridge restoration project.

Brumley noted that the county will continue applying for grants and hopes to receive donations from the private sector as well.

Hyde, who said he has seen the impact of projects like this in other states, said he believes the Southwest Trail will attract people and is an amenity that will hopefully “keep our best and brightest here at home.”

Both Hyde and Mahoney, who both have established trail systems within their counties, said bike trails have boosted economic development within their counties.

According to a study completed in 2015, the Southwest Trail is expected to attract 20,000 new visitors injecting $1.2 million into the local economy each year.

Both Benton County Judge Barry Moehring and Washington County Judge Patrick Deakins said they are amazed by the number of people who come to their counties for various events hosted on trails, such as an event that recently attracted racers from 14 countries and five continents.

“To me, it’s kind of a win-win. We’re preserving some of our natural beauty, but we’re also taking advantage of it in terms of utilizing it,” Deakins said. “This is an example of how private and public partnership can work together to spark economic growth.”

Along with being used as recreation for cyclists, walkers, and even bird watchers, county officials said bike trails will be used as an alternative form of transportation.

In Benton County, Moehring said local business owners are leading the push for bikes to be used during everyday travel.

Gravel biking on dirt roads also has become more popular.

“The most popular and fasting growing sector within bicycling right now is gravel biking, biking on dirt roads. Last I checked every county has a whole bunch of those,” Moehring said.

He suggests county officials reach out to their local bicycling community, take advantage of what they already have and let the economic development grow organically from there.

Continued From Page 27
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County) gather to view the total solar eclipse April 8. NASA heliophysics and communication experts traveled to Russellville to engage and educate tourists and residents about the eclipse. Russellville experienced a total eclipse for 4 minutes, 12 seconds.

Despite smaller crowds, county officials happy with eclipse response

On April 8, 2024, people across the state watched in awe as a total solar eclipse caused the sky to go dark in the middle of the day. County and state officials had prepared for this day for months as it was expected that thousands would travel to the Natural State to experience this rare phenomenon. While the number of visitors to the state did not match what was originally expected, county leaders said they are happy with their preparedness for the event.

Van Buren County Judge Dale James said his preparation for the eclipse began seven years ago when Arkansas experienced a partial solar eclipse. James, who was a justice of the peace at the time, traveled to Carbondale, Illinois, which was

in the path of totality to see that community’s response. He saw communities filled with visitors and lines of vehicles going to watch events. He especially noticed the community of Makanda, Illinois. This community, which has a population of fewer than 600 people, had approximately 12,000 people in town for the 2017 eclipse, according to a New York Times report.

From this experience, James thought the 2024 eclipse would be a great opportunity for his county. After being elected judge, James began coordinating with city officials and owners of possible venues for watch events.

Judges in Pope and Logan counties said they also looked at what happened in other states during previous total solar eclipses when making their plans.

“We didn’t have any idea what we were getting into. All we had was history from the other states that have dealt with this,” said Logan County Judge Ray Gack.

Above: Visitors to Russellville, Arkansas, (Pope — Photo by NASA/Jonathan Deal

In his county, he planned for the worst and hoped for the best and did not try to overreact, he said.

“Everybody put in a lot of hours planning for this. They (first responders) are kind of the heroes here because they were ready for whatever. Throughout the state, I think that everybody did a good job,” Gack said.

In Pope County, city and county officials met with various agencies monthly for a year leading up to the eclipse. Those at the meetings included first responders, chambers of commerce, tourism and promotion council, school superintendents, Arkansas Tech University officials, utility companies, parks and recreation, Arkansas National Guard, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Department of Transportation, area hospitals and clinics, amateur radio operators, state parks, Army Corps of Engineers, rural fire departments, public works/street departments and the health department, according to Pope County Judge Ben Cross.

At the state level, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) Director AJ Gary said his agency began making plans with counties, other state agencies and federal partners about a year before the eclipse as well. ADEM asked counties to create individualized plans and then report what gaps they had in their plans and what resources they needed.

Closer to the actual event, exercises were done to work through possible issues.

This type of planning is similar to what ADEM officials normally do for a winter event, except that with the eclipse they had much more time to prepare.

Russellville in Pope County was named the ninth best location on the planet to view the eclipse in Astronomy Magazine, and between 40,000 to 50,000 came there to watch.

Cross credits the city of Russellville’s preparedness for NASA officials’ selection of his county as a staging headquarter for the eclipse. According to him, when NASA called various city officials across the state about 18 months before the event, Russellville was the only city that had started planning.

Several representatives from NASA viewed the eclipse in Russellville along with astronaut Mike Massimino and three astrophysicists from France.

“To have all of that talent in one location was a rare opportunity for our community to interact with, and I think it will have a lasting impact especially on the youth who came out to meet all of these people,” Cross said.

Pope County was also the setting of Elope at the Eclipse, a mass wedding. Almost 300 couples took part in the event and

exchanged vows just minutes before the eclipse.

In Van Buren County, visitors came from across the world. They had visitors from Japan, Brazil, Europe and every providence in Canada, James said.

“If they are going to go overseas to eclipse catch, they are going to go where they can get the optimum viewing and this time, fortunately, Arkansas was it,” James said.

While there were some well attended events around the state like the events in Russellville and another in Garland County, the number of visitors in the state did not match expectations.

In Van Buren County, one watch site that could have accommodated thousands of visitors, attracted only about 50 cars.

“Our crowds certainly didn’t meet expectations, but our preparation, planning and execution did,” James said.

Cross shared similar feelings.

“The fact that we didn’t have the 100,000 people, we had about half that, that didn’t change our response. That just made our response that much smoother. From a governmental standpoint, all of our years of planning paid off,” Cross said.

Cross, Gack and James agree that with publicity prior to the event about possible traffic issues and the closing of schools and businesses most residents stayed home during the day of the eclipse, which caused smaller crowds.

Gary believes the lower numbers of visitors can also be attributed to the unknowns around predicting where people would travel for this type of event.

“You can never know for sure where people are going to go. Some states in the northeast were reporting large crowds,” Gary said.

One con of the smaller crowds was that many business owners who had purchased extra supplies did not experience the amount of business they expected.

The judges said through this experience they have made better connections with other agencies and built emergency preparedness plans that can be used for various events.

Gary said the eclipse also helped to shine a light on the role of emergency management and the importance of county emergency management departments.

“The general public really saw … how well we all coordinated and worked well together on this event,” Gary said. “We do that all the time and we see that, but the general public, I don’t think, see that as close as they did during the eclipse.”

Along with helping to build relationships with counties and agencies within the state, the eclipse helped to build connections with neighboring states, Gary added.

www.arcounties.org COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2024 31


County: Randolph

Board Position: President

Elected Office: Circuit Clerk

AAC Board Service: 2012-Present

County Service: 1982-Present

County: Baxter

Board Position: Member

Elected Office: Sheriff

AAC Board Service: 2008-Present

County Service: 2005-Present

Debbie Wise

What is your No. 1 priority as part of the AAC Board of Directors? My No. 1 priority as a member of the AAC Board of Directors is to represent the Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association that elected me to the board. I also strive to work collectively with the other Board members for the betterment of county government in Arkansas. As president of the Board, I must keep all of us on the same page with the same goals. I must ensure we make the best decisions and pursue the best legislation to make county government more effective for the entire state.

What advice would you offer to newer elected officials? To be in county government, you must love people. You must have a passion for it. Being an elected official takes a lot of patience.

Also, never lose sight that you are there to serve the public . Use every resource put in front of you. Never be afraid to ask for help. Most anything you are experiencing, the ones who have been in office have probably had the same experience.

Be involved in your association, continuing education, and any programs or conferences offered by AAC. Get used to change because things change all the time. Be able to adapt. Don’t get discouraged.

John Montgomery

What is your No. 1 priority as part of the AAC Board of Directors? AAC’s sole purpose is to provide service and support to the elected officials and the hundreds of county employees in the 75 counties in Arkansas. My No. 1 priority is collaborating with the other board members to find new and innovative ways to support our director and staff as they provide these services. Our board believes in continuous improvement, and we are dedicated to finding innovative ways to improve and expand our services.

What advice would you offer to newer elected officials?

County government exists for one reason and one reason only — to provide services to the people of their county.

As an elected official you were elected to serve, and every decision you make should be based on that principle. Your employees are the public’s first contact and are the face of your office. Therefore, take care of your employees while holding them accountable. Base every decision on what you believe is right. There will be many issues and challenges thrown your way; don’t be afraid to reach out to the AAC staff or other elected officials when you need advice or help in your county.


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A year of change in the RMS Department

Three take on new roles, three more join the team

This has been a year of significant change in the Association of Arkansas Counties’ Risk Management Services (RMS) Department, and we would like to take this opportunity to highlight the new roles employees have taken on, as well as collectively welcome new staff that have joined the team in 2024.

As many of you may already know, Debbie Norman, who started at the AAC in 1998 and has served as the Risk Management and Insurance Director since 2001, is retiring at the end of this calendar year. In preparation for Debbie leaving the AAC, Brandy McAllister, who has served as RMS General Counsel since 2013, is working with her in the role of CoDirector to prepare to step fully into the Director role come January 2025. This year-long training period will help ensure a smooth transition for the membership of both the AAC Workers’ Compensation Trust and the AAC Risk Management Fund upon Debbie’s retirement.

JaNan Thomas, who has been with the AAC as litigation counsel since 2019, is now serving as RMS General Counsel. JaNan is the primary point of contact for claims made

against the RMF General Liability Protection Agreement and manages member benefits programs such as Guardian RFID and Codification. In addition, she manages the inhouse litigation team, as well as cases that have been assigned to outside law firms.

She started her undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville and studied abroad in Bordeaux, France, before graduating magna cum laude from Ouachita Baptist University with a bachelor of arts degree in history and French. She earned her Juris Doctorate degree with honors from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law in 1997.

JaNan began her career as a law clerk for the late Hon. Andree Layton Roaf on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. She also worked for the law firm of Perroni & James before she was elected as the first elected City Attorney for the City of Maumelle, where she served for 14 years. JaNan began representing counties in 2005 at the law firm of Rainwater, Holt, & Sexton, and continued doing so until she joined AACRMS in-house in 2019 She is a certified law enforcement trainer and has presented training for law enforcement officers, jail officials, lawyers, and risk managers throughout Arkansas and in regional seminars in the Southern and Western United States.




Samantha Wren, who has been with the AAC as a legal assistant/paralegal since 2019, has moved into the claims department as the RMS Assistant. Samantha is working closely with Debbie and Brandy this year in her new role, and her duties continue to develop as the year progresses.

In early March, three new staff members joined the RMS Department: Litigation Counsel Jennifer Merritt, Paralegal Elizabeth Kellar, and Administrative Assistant Ashley Pursell.

Jennifer fills the open litigation counsel position created when JaNan moved into her new role. She mainly works on pro se inmate cases filed against counties.

Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in politics from Hendrix College, from which she graduated with honors. After Hendrix, Jennifer won a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship and spent a year as an English teaching assistant in Vienna, Austria. After her fellowship, Jennifer obtained her Juris Doctorate, with High Honors, from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, where she served as Notes Editor of the UALR Law Review and published two articles. From 2002 to 2004, Jennifer served as a judicial law clerk to the Hon. Jane A. Restani, who then served as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York. In that role, Jennifer also clerked by designation to the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 5th, 9th, and 11th Circuits. After her judicial clerkship, Jennifer returned home to Arkansas where she practiced business and commercial litigation at Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow PLLC for almost a decade.

From 2014 to 2022, Jennifer served as an assistant attorney

general and senior assistant attorney general in the Civil Litigation Department of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office. In her more than eight years at the AG’s Office, Jennifer served as lead defense counsel in countless civil cases on behalf of the state with a focus on constitutional challenges in state and federal court and appeals before the Arkansas Supreme Court, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Jennifer also has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law.

Elizabeth may look familiar to some county officials. She began working at the AAC as a receptionist in 2011, moving into the executive assistant role before leaving in 2017. Elizabeth earned her paralegal degree at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and worked as executive assistant to the chief development officer and CEO of Bernhard, a design and energy engineering firm in Little Rock.

In her new position at the AAC, Elizabeth handles all state court filings; works on codification, restitution and collections; and assists Litigation Counsels Melissa Dugger and Aaron Newell with their auto and subrogation cases.

Finally, another new face is that of Ashley Pursell. Ashley formerly worked for five years as a debt collector of real property for a Little Rock law firm. Now, she fills the RMS administrative assistant position that Samantha moved out of. In that role, she assists in opening new cases and claims, handles incoming billing and invoices, and performs other administrative-type tasks.




The Arkansas County Tax Collectors Association gathered May 22-24 at Mt. Magazine State Park in Logan County.

Right: Desha County Collector Lisa Hutchison sits on a panel discussing issues related to delinquent taxes on mobile homes.

Far Right: Franklin County Chief Deputy Collector Jerri Lynn Wagner and Franklin County Collector Margaret Hamilton prepare for the start of the meeting.


County Director of Operations Angie Martin and Pulaski County Tax Distribution Manager Wes Goodner listen to the speakers.

Above: Following discussions on delinquent mobile home taxes, the Freedom of Information Act and mindfulness, the group went on a guided hike to Signal Hill, the highest point in the state. Above: Pictured from left to right are Boone County Collector Amy Jenkins (Association Secretary), Baxter County Collector Teresa Smith (Association 1st Vice-President), and Garland County Collector Rebecca Talbert (Association President). Pulaski Right: Miller County Collector Laura Bates also sat on the panel discussing mobile homes.


The 2024 AAC Safety Conference was held May 14.

Above Left: Perry County Safety & Parts Manager Steve Bonds listens to a presentation. Above Middle: AAC Risk Management and Insurance Director Debbie Norman welcomes attendees to the meeting. Above Right: Miller County Road Foreman Janie Garner, left, sits besides Miller County Road Department Chief Deputy Creichton Hill, who is taking notes. Top Left: White County Judge Lisa Brown and Van Buren County Judge Dale James chat before the meeting. Above: Drew County Judge Jessie Griffin visits with Drew County Office of Emergency Management Director Jay Gates.
Left: AAC Loss Control Consultant Matt Bradshaw, left, speaks to the crowd as Misty Petrus, Worker’s Comp Claims Manager, looks on.


The Arkansas County Clerks Association gathered May 6-9th at The Graduate in Washington County.

Right: Boone County Clerk Crystal Graddy explains the process for the association’s officers election. New officers will be sworn in at an upcoming association meeting.

Far Right: Crawford County Clerk Stacey Shelly, Conway County Clerk Kathy Kordsmeier and Deputy Clerk Leslie Holloway laugh during a presentation by AAC Employment Counsel Mallory Flloyd.


County Clerk


Right: Josh Bridges,

and Spencer Am-

with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office participate in a tabletop discussion about election security.

Above: Madison County Chief Deputy Clerk Darlene Parsons and Madison County Clerk Austin Boatright listen to a presentation. Sitting behind them is Searcy County Clerk Jeff Cotton. Above: AAC Legal Counsel Lindsey Bailey French speaks with Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth and Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell. Left Baxter Canda Reese, middle, and Cleburne County Clerk Rachelle Evans visit with Mike of Kofile. left, mons


AAC Risk Management Services hosted a one-day training for county supervisors on April 23.

Board of Directors, attended the bootcamp.

Above Left: AAC RMF Employment Counsel Mallory Floyd led the bootcamp. Above Middle: Phillips County Clerk Shakira Winfield asks Mallory Floyd a question during a break. Above Right: Drew County Collector Tonya Loveless and Ashley County Collector Lori Pennington get prepared for the sessions to begin. Top Left: Pulaski County Deputy Coroner Julie Voegele and Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs, who is a member of the AAC Above: Sebastian County Administrator Mark Allen and Drew County Judge Jessie Griffin visit during a break in the session.
Left: Independence County Sheriff Shawn Stephens chats with Arkansas Sheriffs Association Executive Director Scott Bradley.


The Arkansas Association of Quorum Courts 75-member body met April 13 at the AAC headquarters. This is an annual meeting of the justices of the peace.

: Pictured are Clark County JP Jenna Scott, Phillips County JP

Above: Baxter County JP Dennis Frank (left) takes notes during a discussion, while Calhoun County JP Keith Gresham listens.

Far Left: Lafayette County JP Lenora Jackson looks up from her note taking during a presentation. Left: Attorney Jason Owens of the Owens Law Firm holds an open discussion called “Stump the Lawyer.” JPs asked Owens questions focusing on a wide array of topics, including personnel issues and budgeting.

Far Left: Washington County JP Lisa Ecke makes a point during a discussion of Robert’s Rules of Order. Right: Ashley County JP Ronnie Wheeler pays close attention to the discussions that took place during the annual meeting.

Above Lenora Marshall, and Pope County JP Tawana Gilbert.


The County Judges Association of Arkansas held its Spring conference in Hot Springs/Garland County.

Above: Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney welcomes judges to the meeting. Also pictured are CJAA President and Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon (left) and CJAA First Vice-President and Clark County Judge Troy Tucker

Above: Keynote Speaker Mark Watson, author of Joyous Leadership, Stories of Learning Things Along the Way, speaks during the Thursday luncheon.

Far Left: Gayle Combs, Cybersecurity Advisor, Region 6, of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, talks about election security and more.

Left: Pope County Judge Brandon Ellison remarks on the state’s Unpaved Roads program.

Left: Columbia County Judge Doug Fields (left) and CJAA Second Vice-President and Miller County Judge Cathy Harrison (right) have a discussion during a break.




The Arkansas Circuit Clerks Association gathered March 26-28 in Saline County.

Above: Saline County Circuit Clerk Myka BonoSample is all smiles as the Easter Bunny, also known as Washington County Circuit Clerk and Association President Kyle Sylvester, speaks during the Spring Fling-themed meeting.

Above: During a tour of the Saline County Courthouse, the group poses for a picture with Circuit Judge Brent Houston in his courtroom. Above: Benton County Circuit Clerk Brenda DeSheilds gives an update during an association business meeting. Above: White County Circuit Clerk Sara Carlton and Chief Deputy Denise Morris talk with Cross County Circuit Clerk Rhonda Sullivan. Right: Carroll County Circuit Clerk Sara Huffman signs her name in the courthouse clocktower.
Far Right: Lonoke County Circuit Clerk Deborah Oglesby paints a board during a Painting with a Twist activity.


The Arkansas Coroners’ Association held a two-day Aquatic Death and Homicidal Drowning Investigations seminar on March 5 in Pulaski County.

Top: Benton County Deputy Coroner Nick Gregory takes notes. Bottom: Joshua Dement of the Randolph County Coroner’s Office listens during the training.

Above: Andrea Zaferes, a global speaker and consultant on homicidal drowning cases across the United States and Canada, speaks to attendees at an Aquatic Death and Homicidal Drowning Investigations seminar hosted by the Arkansas Coroners’ Association in Little Rock.

Left: Andrea Zaferes, right, speaks with Saline County Deputy Coroner Jeff McLain and Miller County Coroner Kelly Rowland Coroners attended the two-day event along with law enforcement and dive team members




About NACo – The Voice of America’s Counties

National Association of Counties (NACo) is the only national organization that represents county governments in the U.S. NACo provides essential services to the nation’s 3,068 counties. NACo advances issues with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public’s understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money.

Senate Rules Committee considers elections and AI legislation ahead of 2024 General Elections

On May 15, the U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a business meeting in which it considered the following legislation on the intersection of election administration and artificial intelligence (AI):

• Preparing Election Administrators for AI Act (S. 3897)

• AI Transparency in Elections Act of 2024 (S. 3875)

• Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act (S. 2770)

These bills, authored by Senate Rules Committee Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), have bipartisan support and were all reported favorably by committee to the full Senate. The consideration of this legislation coincides with the release of a bipartisan AI policy roadmap by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Mike Rounds (R-Idaho), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.).

Of most impact to counties, the Preparing Election Administrators for AI Act would require the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to develop voluntary guidelines that address the use and risks of AI in election administration. Developed in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), these guidelines would address:

• The risks and benefits associated with using AI technologies to conduct election administration activities

• The cybersecurity risks of AI technologies to election administration

• How information generated and distributed by AI technologies can affect the sharing of accurate election information and how election offices should respond

• How information generated and distributed by AI technologies can affect the spreading of election disinformation that undermines public trust and confidence in elections

During the meeting, the Committee also adopted an amendment to the bill offered by Sen. Laphonza Butler (DCalif.) that directs the EAC to report on the use of AI during the 2024 elections.

The two other bills considered during this meeting pertain to the use of AI in political campaigns by candidates for federal offices. More specifically, the AI Transparency in Elections Act of 2024 would require additional transparency for the use of content substantially generated by AI in political advertisements. Similarly, the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act would prohibit the distribution of materially deceptive AI-generated audio or visual media relating to candidates for federal office.

This meeting follows the EAC’s decision in February to allow Help America Vote Act (HAVA)-authorized election security grant funds to be used to combat election disinformation generated by AI. As counties prepare for the 2024 General Elections, NACo will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure election officials have the resources necessary to address risks and leverage opportunities related to AI.

In this work, NACo hosted a webinar in April on Handling the Rise of Generative Artificial Intelligence in Elections. To watch a recording of this webinar, go to https:// www.naco.org/event/counties-securing-nations-electionshandling-rise-generative-artificial-intelligence. NACo is also preparing to release its county toolkit and report on Artificial Intelligence at the NACo 2024 Annual Conference in Hillsborough County, Fla.

SAVE THE DATE 2024 NACo Annual Conference & Exposition July 12-15 Hillsborough County, Florida

When you participate in the AAC Workers’ Compensation Trust, 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 – they’re simply the best at what they do!

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 more than $32 MILLION dollars in dividends, payable to members of the fund. In fact, we mailed $650,000 in savings back to member counties in July 2023.

The service is available for any size county government and other county government-related entities.

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State Peace Officers’ Memorial Day Service held at state Capitol

The 43nd Annual State Peace Officers’ Memorial Day Service was held on the state Capitol grounds on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Several law enforcement officers and Gov. Sarah Sanders participated in the ceremony during which four fallen Arkansas law enforcement officers were honored. They are Corporal Jeff Hust with Arkansas State Police, Detective James Michael Lett with the Benton Police Department, Patrolman Vincent Anthony Parks with the Jonesboro Police Department and Deputy Justin Smith with the Stone County Sheriff’s Office.

At left, Deputy Aaron Chadwick of the Craighead County Sheriff’s Office, places a flower in a wreath in honor of Stone County Deputy Justin Smith, who was killed in the line of duty, Jan. 2, 2024.

Photo by Sarah Perry

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