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CONWAY -- A Faulkner County committee intent on slashing every county office's budget requests for 2018 ended up recommending approval of a plan that prevents the county's juvenile court judge from having to cut that department's spending.

The final say on that issue and other offices' budget plans is up to the Quorum Court, which meets tonight.

After a polite but tense discussion, the Quorum Court's Finance Committee unanimously approved Circuit Judge Troy Braswell's budget proposal for $621,423.67 after Braswell for a second night refused to terminate any employees and noted that his was the only county office being expected to do so.

Braswell has said the $72,000 in cuts the county wanted would have cost at least two people their jobs, and he said both positions were greatly needed.

Committee Chairman John Pickett told Braswell earlier in the meeting that it might not be possible to avoid layoffs in juvenile court and suggested that Braswell could do without a law clerk since Braswell is the county's only circuit judge who has one. The law clerk position pays about $29,000 annually.

Braswell countered that he needs a clerk in part because of specialty courts he oversees in addition to juvenile court -- teen court and drug court -- as well as his work with community programs aimed at helping juvenile offenders refocus their energy and stay out of trouble. As the 20th Judicial Circuit's Division 2 judge, Braswell presides over juvenile-related cases but also has some civil cases and some adult criminal cases.

After some discussion, Justice of the Peace Randy Higgins suggested holding off on budgeting for 2018 funding for nonprofit agencies such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Bethlehem House, a homeless shelter, and instead budgeting for them after the county gets some carryover money it expects in January.

Justice of the Peace Eric King liked the idea, saying juvenile-court funding "pays itself forward" by dealing with offenders when they're young and steering them away from lives of crime that cost the county even more in the future.

David Hogue, the county's civil attorney, said he tries to avoid taking sides and praised the county's juvenile-court program under Braswell. But Hogue said, "The idea that there should be no cuts whatsoever" in one department while others cut spending is unfair to those other offices. Surely, an office can find at least some, even if small, spending cuts that do not cost jobs as his own office did, Hogue said.

But Higgins said, "It's not about being fair or unfair. It's about funding."

The committee requested the reduced budget proposals after the Quorum Court recently passed a resolution saying it wanted to sequester $1.28 million for a future, undefined purpose. The committee has since recommended lowering that sum to $1 million.

State Desk on 12/19/2017

Print Headline: No slashes in juvenile court gets panel nod


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