Friday, December 20, 2013

TOP STORY >> JPs extend beaver tax

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Quorum Court met for about 20 minutes Thursday night and passed two ordinances — one setting the voluntary tax for beaver control and the sheriff’s drug-control program and another appropriating $1,026 to pay for security monitors for the courthouse.

JP Tim Lemons said after the unanimous vote to leave the voluntary tax at the current millage, “It’s a lot simpler than last year.”

There were nods of agreement but no discussion about the months of turbulence that finally led to a vote in January to stop collecting the voluntary tax for a host of nonprofit agencies in the county that provide services to children, unwanted animals, the elderly and the poor.

The tax brought in less than $70,000, which was divided among the various agencies.

The county started collecting the tax for the nonprofits in 2002, several years after an opinion from the state attorney general that collection of voluntary taxes for nonprofits is illegal. The county was written up in state audits three times for the practice.

Doug Erwin, who took office in 2011, had to answer for the collections for 2010and came back from the capital telling the quorum court that changes had to be made.

In November 2012, Erwin brought in Mike Rainwater from the Rainwater Holt and Sexton law firm for a special quorum court meeting to help the JPs work through the problem.

Rainwater said, near the end of that November meeting, one solution would be to change the collection from a voluntary tax to a donation or gift that could be accepted by the county judge and appropriated by the quorum court.

But, two months later, the quorum court voted to do away with all the voluntary taxes except for the two that were approved Thursday.

Since those two are for government agencies, the collections are not against state law.

There was also no discussion about the request to transfer $1,026 from a special fund to the general fund to pay for the security monitors at the courthouse.

Judge Sandy Huckabee said after the meeting that the monitors would cover the south side of the courthouse and would produce recognizable pictures of anyone coming into or leaving the main courtroom on the second floor.

He reiterated that he wasn’t asking for new money, only that existing funds be appropriated.

At the end of the brief meeting, the county judge invited everyone to dinner at the courthouse.

His wife, Gail, paid for the ingredients and prepared the food, Erwin said. No county money was used.

The judge also asked for prayers for the families of Charlie and Sharae Bryant of near Austin. Sharae was found dead Thursday morning from a gunshot wound.

Charlie, who was shot in the abdomen, was treated for his injuries and then arrested for capital murder by state police investigators, who took over the case at the request of Sheriff John Staley.

Charlie Bryant was a former reserve deputy for the sheriff.