Judge, sheriff comment on state legislative audit findings of county

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The State of Arkansas’ Legislative Audit of Independence County government showed three findings of note: two from the county judge’s office and one from the sheriff’s department.

One finding regarding the county judge’s office was the building of a public road at Batesville High School with the school paying the county workers.

“The [Arkansas Code] 14-14-910 permits public bodies to assist each other,” County Judge Robert Griffin told White River Now’s Gary Bridgman. “It’s explicit in law for that to happen. We were building a public road for the benefit of the public up around the school campus, but we did not have time for our road crew to do it during normal work hours. So they volunteered to work, and between myself and the road foreman, we supervised work on Fridays and Saturdays. And the finding is because, basically, the school paid the employees instead of the county. That’s how deep in the weeds that audit goes, and they do a great job. But sometimes you’re so deep in the weeds, it makes you regret doing things that stretch tax dollars and give a great public benefit by economy of scale and extending the use of publicly paid equipment in a public project.”

Griffin told the legislative audit he disagreed that the way the project was done was improper. He said the county employees choose to work such projects as a second job, not unlike so many other Americans. In doing so, they assume the tax liabilities like so many other workers in contract jobs.

Batesville Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hester said the district appreciates such partnerships and efficiency of services in our community.

“The Batesville School District is so appreciative of our relationship with Judge Griffin, and how our partnership is always finding ways to stretch tax dollars to put students first,” Dr. Hester said. “BSD needed to alleviate our daily traffic congestion at our secondary campus of over 1,700 students and families. The county road work schedule was full, but the judge was willing to supervise the work, and county workers were willing to work on their days off to clear the land and create the base for a roadway to help with the traffic safety concerns.”

Hester said the district was able to pay the county workers for their service on their off-time which saved public taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to create safer traffic patterns.

The other audit finding from the county judge’s office was an improper use of funds. Griffin said the intent for the transfer in question was noted to the Independence County Quorum Court in a regular meeting. However, the judge said, “We failed to appropriate the transfer. We believed we had obtained permission at the time the quorum court was notified. We will fix this technicality in a formal meeting by an appropriation to the fund.”

The finding from the sheriff’s department had to do with its commissary report, noting the bank account balance was not identified in the report. This was the second finding on the same subject. The balance is $17,905.

Independence County Sheriff Shawn Stephens said yesterday the funds in the account are to go to former inmates that his office has been unable to contact.

“We now have an answer as to how we can take care of it, and we are in the process of doing that,” Stephens said.


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