Committee formed to study county's emergency communications options

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Carroll County Judge Sam Barr will appoint a seven-person advisory board to study options for upgrading the county’s emergency communications system.

The Carroll County Quorum Court on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance establishing the ad hoc committee, to be composed of city officials, law enforcement representatives and fire service representatives from across the county.

District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton, who sponsored the ordinance, said earlier in the meeting that he believes the most viable option for financing the communications upgrade would be a countywide sales tax with a four-year sunset clause. Deaton said a sales tax proposal could be placed on the ballot in March 2020, coinciding with the state preferential primary and thus avoiding the need for a costly special election.

Deaton did not mention a specific sales tax percentage at Monday’s meeting, but has said recently that he believes a quarter- to half-cent should be enough to pay for the communications upgrade.

The project would include replacing equipment installed on communications towers across the county, although the actual towers would not have to be replaced. Law enforcement and firefighters in the county would also need new hand-held radios that would be compatible with the new system.

Replacing equipment on the towers would cost several million dollars. Deaton said Monday that revenue from the sales tax also could be used to buy radios for first responders countywide.

“This money would generate enough to buy all the departments in the county — every rural fire station, every police station, the sheriff’s office, everybody would be coming up with a new radio system to last us for many years down the road,” he said.

At the same time, Deaton said it would be wise to have the issue studied by public safety professionals.

“It’s no sense in Jack Deaton being involved doing all this stuff. It’s a community deal,” he said. “I’ve worked in emergency service for 32 years. … I could fill this room with people whose lives have been saved because of the 911 system. But right now it’s not up to me. I think we need to form a committee of individuals that’s using this equipment and let them pick up where I left off and come up with a good functioning system and an ideal way to fund it.”

District 3 JP Harrie Farrow questioned the wording of the ordinance that created the committee.

“I don’t see where it clearly states that the members of the committee have to be spread out equally throughout the community,” said Farrow, a first-term JP who represents Eureka Springs. “It does say ‘from throughout the entire county,’ but I’d like it to show more clearly that there has to be some kind of a balance that the whole county is represented fairly in there. I’d like to see stronger wording on that.”

“The judge is going to be the one appointing them, so he can keep that in mind, where they’re coming from,” Deaton said.

“If we don’t put it in here, he doesn’t have to keep it in mind,” Farrow replied.

“I’ll let you write the next one,” Deaton said.

Former county judge Richard Williams who addressed JPs during public comments to voice opposition to a sales tax, was recognized to speak again during the discussion regarding the creation of a committee.

“To the best of my knowledge, you can form a committee without an ordinance,” Williams said. “An ordinance you have to pay to publish in the paper and all. You form a budget committee, every other kind of committee. Why do you have to pass an ordinance to form a committee this time?”

“I just thought it was a good idea to get it formalized, so it’s done in the paper,” Deaton said.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, May 20, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.

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