Quorum Court

Columbia County Judge Denny Foster, right, speaks during a March 1, 2021, Columbia County Quorum Court meeting in Magnolia. Also pictured is Columbia County Attorney Becky Jones.

A long-lingering leaky roof problem at the Columbia County Library may soon be remedied.

On Monday, the Columbia County Quorum Court unanimously passed a resolution to apply for a state aid grant that, if approved, would help fund a roof replacement at the local public library. According to Columbia County Judge Denny Foster, an office at the facility is currently flooded because of a leaking roof. The damage has affected the library so much so, that some employees are currently working from home.

“Their office was flooded, and they’ve lost everything,” said the judge.

The approved resolution authorizes the submittal of a community development grant application to the Arkansas Community and Economic Development Program (ACEDP) to help complete the project. The ACEDP is a state aid program for small towns and cities in the state. The application will be submitted by Foster, according to the resolution.

The county judge said Monday that the grant was already “in the works” when he took office last year, but he did not know how much the ACEDP grant could net in funding.

“This (resolution) has to be done before we can apply for any grants,” he said.

If the application goes through, the leaky roof at the library may finally be an issue of the past.

As part of the application process, the county was also required to adopt a policy prohibiting law enforcement's use of “excessive force” against individuals during any local non-violent civil rights demonstrations. The policy’s enactment is required as a condition of ACEDP program funding and follows the U.S. Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, according to Monday’s resolution.

The provisions in the policy explain that county law enforcement “will be mindful and protective” of the rights of non-violent demonstrators and can only use force “when necessary to protect the rights of individuals or to uphold the law.” The policy also states that law enforcement agencies within the county’s jurisdiction will enforce all state and local laws against physically blocking or barring entrance to and exit from a location where a non-violent demonstration may take place.

The policy was passed unanimously by the Quorum Court.

Columbia County on Monday also handed out a few grants of its own in the form of two $5,000 community aid grants to help improve the McNeil Rural Fire Department and the Walkerville Volunteer Fire Department.

In a grant request letter to the county, McNeil Rural Fire Department Chief Jake Price asked for funds to help purchase two sets of new firefighter turnout gear for the agency. Turnout gear includes the flame-resistant equipment worn by firemen during an emergency call. The equipment can be expensive.

The cost of two full sets of gear, according to Price, is just over $5,000.

“Our department is steadily growing, and (Columbia County’s) willingness to help us has helped tremendously over the years,” said Price in his grant request.

Walkerville VFD also received approval for a $5,000 community aid grant by the Quorum Court. The funds will be used to help purchase a 16-foot by 24-foot portable building to be used as a training and office building at the department. The total cost of the building, according to Walkerville VFD Fire Chief Jeff Gattis, is around $7,500. The remaining costs will be funded by the agency, according to the grant request.

“Our VFD is growing, and we feel this (building) would be beneficial to our department both now and for the future,” said Gattis in his funding request.

Both community aid grant requests were passed unanimously by the Quorum Court.

In other Columbia County Quorum Court news:

-- JP Annette Pate, who chairs the Quorum Court’s finance committee, stated that a proposal for the purchase of a new rescue truck is ready to be presented at the appropriate time. The county and the city governments are still in negotiation stages on the joint project, according to Columbia County Attorney Becky Jones, but the two sides’ legal teams are still working out the final contract details of the deal. Magnolia Fire Department recently took over countywide rescue services from Columbia County Ambulance Service -- the private company that had handled rescue duties for the last two decades -- but a new truck and updated rescue equipment are still needed to modernize and streamline the emergency service.

-- A resolution was passed to appropriate funds within numerous departments in the county’s budget. The transfers included amendments within the county clerk’s office, circuit clerk’s office, county treasurer's office, county tax collector’s office, county assessor’s office, quorum court, county courthouse, election office, county buildings, county civil attorney’s office, county health office, county sheriff’s office, circuit court, Rural Development Authority, county road department, county library, solid waste, county jail, central dispatch, and public defender's office.

The budget amendments primarily consisted of professional services, office and utility expenses, and supply and maintenance costs.

-- A resolution of appreciation was approved for former Columbia County JP Jason Ray. The recently re-elected District 11 official resigned his office effective February 3.

He had been a Columbia County justice of the peace since January 1, 2019. Ray resigned due to a residential relocation out of District 11.

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