Quorum Court meets face-to-face

Meeting face-to-face for the first time since Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson ordered targeted shut downs across the state in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drew County Quorum court spent most of the meeting discussing grant opportunities for Drew Memorial Health System and the lack of reliable Internet access available to many local children.
The Justices of the Peace sat in a circular formation around a table with County Clerk Lyna Gulledge in the middle and County Attorney Cliff Gibson on speaker phone. Members sat with at least one seat between them and were offered masks as they came in to the meeting. Once the meeting was called to order with the pledge and a prayer, the court listened as County Treasurer Charlie Searcy went over the financial report with the court.
According to Searcy the comparison between 2019 and 2020 financials showed there is a difference of around $300,000 more than this time last year. The final collector’s commissioner reallocation of around $200,000 is still owed but even after paying that, the County is still ahead of last year’s numbers.
The State of Arkansas has projected lower revenue from over the year due to the partial shut down of the economy, Searcy said the first payment from the State was about $12,000 to $15,000 less than last year. However, March local sales taxes were higher and due to the storm, Searcy expects April to be higher than expected, also. And even with the decrease in money from the State, Searcy believes overall the County should be fine.
In other financial discussions, Searcy let the court know that the solid waste account was in the negative but that was due to the purchase of a $30,000 truck and repairs of other equipment totaling about $26,000. It was during this time that Searcy informed the court that the county had not had a solid waste increase in five years and that it is time to look at that again. Right now surrounding area solid waste prices are being gathered so Searcy will have a better idea of what the increase will look like. According to Searcy, Drew County is normally one of the lower priced for solid waste. An amount will be recommended during next months Quorum Court meeting, Searcy said, adding that an increase in the prices should take effect in the next couple of months.
In hospital business, Drew Memorial Health System CEO Scott Barrilleaux reported a decrease of revenue of 35 to 37% due to the COVID-19 pandemic and added that was typical of the hospitals around the state. He also stressed that it is safe to come to the hospital. Even though rural hospitals were not mandated to call off elective services during this time, DMHS did in order to preserve Personal Protective Equipment in the beginning of the targeted shut down.
The hospital is now operating with limited entrances, the Main entrance, the Emergency Room entrance and the Surgery entrance with screeners stationed at each. Anyone entering the building will be screened before they are allowed to enter the building. One caregiver per room is now being allowed, also.
In addition to the screening at the entrances, the hospital has also made other changes to be better prepared to deal with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. The Intensive Care Unit and the 1400 hall has been turned into full negative pressure rooms. The negative pressure rooms remove the air from the room internally so when a door is opened, the air from the room does not escape into the hall. The hospital is now prepared with 12 to 14 beds that can be used for COVID-19 if necessary with the ability to change more rooms to negative pressure.
Of the 19 cases confirmed in Drew County, only 5 are currently active.
Barrilleaux also confirmed the hospital received $3.8 million for lost revenue and virus related costs that is a forgivable amount as long as the hospital uses the money on the losses and virus related costs. Barrilleaux also stated that cash wise, the hospital is in very good shape right now and that the hospital was receiving grant money to purchase testing equipment for COVID-19.
Next on the agenda was a resolution to give County Judge Robert Akin the authority to move forward obtaining a grant from SEARK Economic Development COVID-19 Pandemic Response HUD money for rural hospitals in the amount of $490,000 for operating costs. In order to obtain the money, the county had to go over and approve a citizen participation plan and will have a meeting in the Club room at the Courthouse at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 21.
After passing the resolution to move forward on the grant money, the court was presented with another condition of accepting the money, a resolution establishing a policy prohibiting the use of excessive force by police. Brian Slaughter, Drew County Sheriff’s Office, assured the court DCSO already had that policy so the judges would not be agreeing to anything that wasn’t already an existing policy and the resolution was more of a formality to obtain the grant funds since Drew County already prohibits excessive force.
During the meeting, Drew Central Superintendent Kimbraly Barnes, spoke to the court about the need for better Internet access in the area. Citing issues with a large percentage of students in both Drew Central and Monticello school districts not having reliable, if any, Internet service in their home, making distance learning a challenge. While some school districts across the country have sent hot spots out on buses for students, because of how rural the area is, that wouldn’t work for her students.
The court also approved a spay and neuter contract with 2nd Chance furdogs in the amount of $2,500.
The court also approved the Airvac benefit for county employees, agreeing to pay $92.50 per participating county employee for a three year contract. The employee is responsible for the other $92.50 if they choose to participate in the benefit.
Summing up the meeting, Akin announced the county was receiving disaster relief for the storm that ravaged the southern United States over Easter weekend. 

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