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Garland County funds fence to keep out homeless

by David Showers | September 17, 2021 at 6:57 a.m.
A fence separates the Garland County Library and Garland County Health Unit from the railroad road right of way where homeless congregate. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen

HOT SPRINGS -- The Garland County Quorum Court appropriated funds Monday night for a fence along the southern property boundary for the county's library and health unit because of an ongoing issue with homeless people congregating there.

"We are constructing a fence between the railroad right of way and the library and health department due to the fact that we've had some homeless people coming in and disturbing the employees at both the library and the health department," County Judge Darryl Mahoney told the quorum court.

"We're fencing that all across the back of the library," he said. "We're putting a 6-foot fence up there. We're also constructing fences in the alcove at the back of the health department where all the HVAC units are. We've had some people living in there. We're trying to make it a little safer for the employees. They've been confrontational over there, so we're trying to do what we can to slow that down."

A $5,750 appropriation from the library fund and an $8,000 line item transfer within the general capital improvement fund will pay for the boundary fence. The library fund had a $6.06 million cash balance at the end of last month, according to a summary of accounts presented to the quorum court.

Justices of the peace also appropriated $14,000 from the county's American Rescue Plan Act Fund for permanent glass partitions in the county clerk and circuit clerk offices.

The fund had a $9.65 million cash balance at the end of last month. The county expects to receive the balance of its more than $19 million ARPA allocation next spring.

A $60,000 transfer from the repair and maintenance line item to the buildings line item in the general capital improvement fund will pay for the latest expansion of the county courthouse and courts building campus.

The transfer will fund the acquisition of 538 W. Grand Ave. According to property records, the county acquired 518 W. Grand Ave. and the backside of 510 W. Grand Ave. for $218,000 in March 2020.

County officials have talked about converting the backside of 518 W. Grand Ave. into parking for the Garland County District Courts Building at 607 Ouachita Ave. The two district judges in the county became full time, state judges at the start of the year, converting the local district court into District 41 State Court.

Mahoney said last year that an increased caseload was expected to accompany the change, creating more demand for parking at the county campus.

"It's the last piece of property on Grand that adjoins the back of the election commission and the back of district courts," Mahoney, referring to 538 W. Grand Ave., told justices Monday night. "Once we have that purchased, we'll have a swath that goes from 538 [W. Grand Ave.] down to 510 [W. Grand Ave.] that will adjoin the back of the election commission and district courts. It's an older building. Until we decide to do something with it, we may look at trying to lease it out."

The quorum court will consider an ordinance next week authorizing the purchase of 538 W. Grand at a special-called meeting.

The county acquired 415-A Ouachita Ave. last year for $176,000, according to property records. The purchase allowed the public defender's office to relocate from the Woodbine Street address the county leased for many years.

Appropriations of $2,924 from the coronavirus relief fund and $581 from the library fund will provide free outpatient counseling and other services for county employees.

The outlays will pay the $22.38 monthly premium Southwest EAP Connections charges per employee for its employee assistance program.

"We like to think of it as a maintenance contract on your employees," Allison Atkinson, SWEAP Connections director of organizational development, told the quorum court. "We help with wellbeing. It's somewhere where they can easily, for free and confidentially, get support very quickly."

The counseling sessions are also available for employee spouses, Atkinson said. The company's suite of services include financial and legal consultations, work performance coaching, stress management and marriage counseling.

"It's something we definitely need for our employees," Mahoney told the quorum court. "It's a huge asset for employees. It will keep them healthy mentally. It's something that we've not ever had before and I think we definitely need to do it."

The catastrophic leave policy the quorum court authorized Monday night will allow employees to donate sick leave or paid time off to colleagues who have exhausted their paid leave.

"We're going to set up a committee that looks at each case one by one," Mahoney told the quorum court. "The committee will rotate out. There will probably be a couple of elected officials who look at each individual case and make sure the case qualifies for what our catastrophic leave policy is going to cover."

The coronavirus relief fund, which the quorum court established last year for the $2.35 million the county received from the state's $1.25 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allocation, had a $1.62 million cash balance at the end of August, according to a summary of accounts presented to the quorum court.

A $601,323 appropriation from the coronavirus relief fund provided in December hazard bonuses for county employees.

The county fenced off HVAC units at the Garland County Health Unit to keep out the homeless. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen
The county fenced off HVAC units at the Garland County Health Unit to keep out the homeless. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen

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