Quorum Court holds busy meeting

In a long and busy meeting Monday, Feb. 8, the Drew County Quorum Court discussed adding employees, possible increase in trash rates, marking driveways with 911 address signs, employee COVID leave policy and much more.

The meeting began with a financial report by County Treasurer Charlie Searcy who brought up the possibility of raising trash rates.

“Our sanitation account…” said Searcy, “We are at a negative $45,000 right now. We had a billing so we will have a big collection this month but with the increase in our insurance, increase in the raises had last year, we were already in a negative balance going in to the year. We talked about doing increase in sanitation fees, we are going to be making a proposal again next month for the court to consider that.”

He informed the court a $2 increase will be the minimum increase proposed. Drew County Judge Robert Akin also pointed out an increase in fuel prices and ADEQ charges of a dollar more per ton and stressed that several costs have gone up.

“I want to keep it as low as we can for as long as we can,” he stated and encouraged the court to contact him or Searcy if they had any questions regarding the reasons for the proposed increase. The issue and proposal will be brought before the court during the March regularly scheduled meeting.

Following the financial report, Judge Robert Akin held a moment of silence for Drew County Deputy Sgt. A.C. Simpson, Jr.

“I would like to take just a minute now to…We lost one of our own this past week,” began Akin. “He and I were talking about fishing three weeks ago, I guess maybe four weeks ago now. It all happened so fast, I would just like to take a moment and reflect in our minds, reflect on A.C. Simpson and the amount of time he served for this county and dying while in office.”

The moment if silence was followed by the hospital report where Drew Memorial Health System CEO Scott Barrilleaux briefed the court on the status of the Health System and the COVID situation in the county.

According to Barrilleaux, the holiday season was pretty busy with a big spike from Thanksgiving through January and he expressed his wish that not too many gathered for the Super Bowl since the nurses and staff are just now being able to work a normal tempo following the spike.

He also reported on DMHS’ testing for COVID-19 which is a mixture of in house and out sourced tests. Supplies for testing are still an issue around the country and DMHS is feeling the same strain as other health facilities trying to keep enough testing supplies on hand. The PCR test, the best test available at this time, is limited to inpatient only at this time.

The Health System has also been using Monoclonal antibodies, the same treatment former President Donald Trump received after being infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The hospital has two brands available at this time and has successfully used the treatments to prevent cases from becoming severe enough to require hospitalization. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. According to Barrilleaux, the treatment is in IV form and requires an hour on the IV, followed by an hour of observation after the treatment.

Governor Asa Hutchinson requested hospitals around the state to increase their Intensive Care Unit capacity by 10%. There is not an issue increasing the bed capacity, according to Barrilleaux, but DMHS, like other hospitals across the state and country, are facing staffing shortages of nurses and the cost for traveling nurses are still increasing and out of reach for many, even if they can find the nurses available.

“Hopefully as cases come down we will see labor free up,” he stated.

On the vaccine front, the hospital has provided a total of 200 vaccines that were offered to any and all staff that was interested. The vaccines were both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the hospital is trying now to acquire an additional 200 doses to have a big clinic.

“The staff in the hospital, the ones that were there and worked and did everything that they had to do to take care of our community, hats off to them,” said Barrilleaux, “they have done a great job. I am very proud of them, the physicians as well, it was a total team effort. They worked really, really hard.”

By looking at the financial report it becomes obvious the volume the hospital has been dealing with net patient revenue at over $30 million while the budget had predicted just over $20 million.

“There is $10 million in revenue we didn’t expect to have there,” he stated. “This virus is real and it has hit us pretty hard.”

He also reported that 50% or less of the staff were vaccinated up from the past number of 35%.

Barrilleaux next briefed the court on the ongoing talks with the possibility of bringing the helicopters to the hospital.  Explaining the Health System is in the beginning stages of discussion with the Air Ambulance Service and he would bring them more information when available since the land the company is wanting to use is owned by the County.

Following the hospital report the Court moved on to a resolution for the Collins/Cominto Fire Department. The resolution gave Akin permission to apply to the Arkansas Rural Development Commission for the purpose of securing state grant funds in the amount of $14,550. The vote was unanimous in approving the resolution with only one member, Carole Bulloch not voting because she was absent from the meeting.

Three appropriation ordinances were introduced and passed during the meeting. One such ordinance will give the County Clerk’s office the ability to hire one part time worker for 15 to 24 hours a week to help while one employee is on maternity leave and to help with cleaning out the office of files that are past due to be destroyed such as old ballots well past the time in which they are legally required to be stored. The ordinance, which approved $12,577.50 for the employee, passed with Justice of the Peace Renee Knowles voting no and the rest of the court voting yes.

The second appropriations ordinance was requested by Office of Emergency Management and 911 Director Jessie Griffin who requested a full time employee to help with the duties of the office. In order to pay for the employee Griffin will not need any additional funds that have not already been appropriated for the 2021 budget. Instead he will do away with two part time positions and the rest will be funded from the road department. The ordinance received a unanimous vote.

The third appropriation ordinance was requested by the Election Commission. In the past the County Clerk performed many duties that have since moved to County Election Commissions across the state. Past Clerk Lynna Gulledge continued these duties even as the state moved more responsibilities to the Commission. In order to perform the duties the Commission requested $4,000 to purchase equipment and a desk to perform the duties such as creating ballots. The Court voted to approve the Ordinance with two no votes from Knowles and Justice of the Peace Donna Usry and 6 votes from the remaining court.

The emergency ordinance passed last year in the wake of the Coronavirus was the next topic of discussion with County Attorney Cliff Gibson explaining to the court that the County needs to follow the federal guidelines for Coronavirus leave, which the emergency ordinance does not do. As more information about the disease was learned, times needed to be off work have been shortened over time and federal guidelines have changed. The Court introduced the ordinance to repeal the ordinance passed last March. The Court voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance and follow federal guidelines going forward.

Next Akin discussed a leak in the basement of the court house when a pipe came lose from the broiler and pumped water into the basement. He stated the piping had been around for a long time but because of the age of the broiler, the heating and air company does not wasn’t to work on the broiler because of the age. Akin suggested the court explore options to upgrade the HVAC in the court house and suspects it will cost close to half a million dollars. The elevator will also have to be fixed and will cost $22,000. The issues will come up at a later date for the court to discuss.

Akin also had notified the court Annette Watson has been appointed to replace Jaimie West on the Public Facility Equalization Board. The position must be held by a Realtor and appraiser with Watson fitting that bill.

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