As they've done for the past three years — and again without challenge or question — the Hempstead County Quorum Court unanimously approved $500 “Christmas Bonuses” to its full-time employees as money issues dominated last Thursday night's November meeting.

As they’ve done for the past three years — and again without challenge or question — the Hempstead County Quorum Court unanimously approved $500 “Christmas Bonuses” to its full-time employees as money issues dominated last Thursday night’s November meeting.
With Hempstead County employing approximately 136 full-persons, an updated number confirmed Monday by County Clerk Karen Mitchell Smith, the annual “Christmas bonuses,” approved by the Justices on Thursday night and paid in addition to regular county payroll and benefits, cost local taxpayers approximately $67,000.
Commenting afterwards, Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse said he had “No problem with the bonuses,” and cited county truck drivers that get paid less than their private section counterparts.
Justice Ed Darling, who has been spearheading much of the preliminary 2018 budget analysis for the county, supported Morse saying that private industries like Tyson are paying personnel more.  Darling added that employee raises are being proposed for the 2018 budget as well as the Christmas bonuses.
Both US Census and UALR statistics still cite Hempstead County has having 24-percent poverty with 41-percent of its working population working minimum wage jobs, even as the unemployment rate in the county hovers at 3.9 percent. Hempstead also remains ranked as one of the 20 poorest counties in the State of Arkansas.
But against this backdrop, the Quorum Court also passed its annual ordinance to levy 2018 taxes (real and personal) for County general, County road, County Library, all school districts, and all municipalities, which included the increase from 4.2 to 5 mills for residents in the City of Hope.
Justice Lynn Montgomery, who had previously championed a lowering of the county’s general millage from last year, didn’t bother to ask for a reduction for 2018.
“They’re not going to do anything about it,” he said afterwards.
An update on the Farmers Bank purchase also involved increments of money. In the short term, the Justices approved $2,500 in legal fees for a real estate transaction agreement.
In the longer term, Darling said that the county and Farmers Bank would officially close on the purchase of the building for $1.5 million later in December, but the bank would lease the building from the county 15-to-18 months as their new facility goes into construction.
Darling, who has acted as the Quorum Court’s primary liaison with the bank, did not have a contract for the Justices on Thursday night, however, saying that it was held up due to an “insurance matter.”
As the Justices are set for a December 4 budget hearing, Darling said he expected a contract to be ready for the Quorum Court, possibly to be considered at that special session. The budget hearing is scheduled for December 4 at 4:30 p.m.
In other money matters, the Justices approved a transfer from the voluntary tax fund, passed by Hempstead voters two years ago, to the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Department for deputy compensation.
Sheriff James Singleton said that the amount given to the individual deputies was based on years of service to the county. Singleton said approximately $20,000 in voluntary taxes were collected this year.
The Justices also approved a transfer ordinance for $9,456 for a truck from 9-1-1, while another transfer ordinance was approved for $17,970 insurance payment for a Sheriff’s vehicle apparently struck by lightning.
In reporting on the proposed 2018 budget, Darling also discussed other proposed spending including new software for the county clerk’s office, two additional deputies, and $135,000 for mandated new voting machines for the 2018 election.
Of the proposed spending, Darling said, “On any given night, we only have one deputy patrolling out in Hempstead County; to me getting more deputies out there is a matter of public safety.”