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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Fencing installed along the second floor railing in the two-story jail pods at the Pulaski County jail. ( Jeff Mitchell)

Five Pulaski County cities have reached a tentative agreement with County Judge Barry Hyde on a cost-sharing plan to fund the jail in 2020.

The mayors of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville have each agreed to increase their jail-funding contracts by 25% next year, officials said Monday.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. brokered the deal over the weekend and said the other mayors had agreed to it by Sunday night, two days before the cities were scheduled to address the Pulaski County Quorum Court about the issue at tonight's meeting.

The agreement reached by Scott and Hyde saves the cities potentially millions in overall costs. That is particularly important for smaller cities such as Sherwood, which would have seen its payment rise from $142,704 in 2019 to an estimated $473,637 in 2020.

Hyde and the mayors have been at odds over a 2018 Pulaski County Quorum Court ordinance that addresses how cities within the county are billed for using the jail. The mayors raised concerns about how the cities' estimated payment increases were calculated.

"We understand moving forward that our jail funding is going to increase," Scott said. "We just want to make sure that we all agree on the accuracy of the numbers."

The Little Rock mayor said he negotiated back and forth with Hyde and they met in the middle to arrive at the 25% increase.

The oral, one-year agreement should be put in writing by next week, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said Monday.

Smith, whose office spearheaded objections to the initial increases, said Monday that the preliminary agreement allows leaders time to negotiate terms of a new contract that would take effect in 2021.

He said the deal is a compromise the cities and county "can all live with right now," but that officials plan to take a closer look at the numbers in the coming year.

Hyde had previously rejected a proposed 10% increase in the cities' contracts but "evidently Frank was a good salesman," Smith said.

In an emailed statement, Hyde said he felt a 25% raise was a "reasonable and significant amount."

"It gives us an increase near $1 million and it shows that real increases are coming," Hyde said. "It also shows the seriousness of the situation. The amount is substantial and moves us in the right direction. If it gives them breathing room for one year, so be it."

An Arkansas Freedom of Information request for correspondence between Hyde and the mayors since Friday yielded no documents, according to a response Monday from the county.

A public records request for correspondence among the mayors had not been filled by press time Monday.

The deal cuts the increase in the amount Little Rock would pay in 2020 by about half.

The city paid $1,983,808 toward the jail in fiscal 2019. That amount will increase by about $500,000 in 2020 after the 25% increase, instead of an additional $1 million it would have paid under the 2018 ordinance.

The agreement adds about $213,000 in costs to North Little Rock, whose 2019 payment to the jail was $853,373.

Municipal officials said Monday that the new deal is bearable.

"It's not as bad of a hit," Jacksonville Mayor Bob Johnson said. "I can live with the 25%. I don't like it, but I can live with it. ... I couldn't stand a lot more than that unless we all suddenly got rich, and I don't think that's happening."

Johnson said the 25% increase raises the city's commitment by about $60,000, up from about $220,000. He said he was "kind of caught off guard" to hear the deal with Hyde had been reached.

"I didn't know we were at that point," he said.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman Young said she felt the cities had reached "crunch time" to make a decision. She said the deal would mean a roughly $35,000 increase for the city.

Maumelle contributed $54,816 to the jail in 2019, according to numbers provided by Pulaski County. A 25% increase will add about $14,000.

Moving forward, Scott said he hopes to bring in outside auditors to assess the jail's funding model.

A Section on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: Pulaski County, 5 cities, draw up jail deal


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