Court passes annual property tax levy

Madison County Clerk Tamitha Blocker prepares to show how new voting equipment works.

The Madison County Quorum Court passed the annual property tax levy ordinance, which assigns millage rates on real estate and personal property for the current year. The biggest chunk of money from property tax goes to schools – 80 percent for property owners in unincorporated parts of the Huntsville School District and 80.3 percent for those in the Jasper School District in Madison County.

Property taxes levied in 2019 are due in October 2020. Rates vary depending on the property’s location and are allocated for particular services. Millage rate totals on property, both real and personal, were set as follows.

Property in the incorporated towns of Huntsville and St. Paul are set at 49 and 46.6 mills respectively. For properties outside of those towns, total millage rates depend on the school district. Property within the Huntsville, Jasper, and Berryville school districts have total rates of 45, 45.8, and 51.5 mills respectively. See Ordinance 2019-7 elsewhere in this issue of The Record.

County Clerk Tamitha Blocker demonstrated the county’s new voting equipment. “We’d been kind of limping along,” Blocker said. “We kicked the can down the road as far as we could” with the old machines.

Madison County had been using hand-me-down voting equipment from Carroll and Sevier counties. The county had been saving money over time in an earmarked fund for the new equipment. Blocker urged the court to keep the voting equipment fund open and add to it as time goes on in anticipation of required upgrades in the future.

Blocker told justices of the peace that the new system is safe from encroachment.

“There’s no possible way for someone to hack in on votes,” she said.

The new voting machines employ passwords, encryption, security seals, and other security measures. The votes will be counted digitally and backed up by paper ballots that will be printed on-site, so election results will be known more quickly, she said. The State Board of Elections will select counties at random to sample and compare ballot-to-machine counts and ensure accuracy in Arkansas.

All registered voters will get a new voter ID card with which to sign in for the March primaries. Demonstrations of the new machines will be offered around the county, Blocker said, and a two-minute demonstration is available online at http://www.madisoncogov.com/Elections.html.

In June, it was estimated that Madison County would need to pay $106,892.46 (36 percent) of the $297,584.69 for new equipment. With additional equipment such as a printer and memory sticks, the county needed a total of $121,564.07. The state paid more than $190,000 toward the total cost of nearly $290,000.

Blocker encouraged voters to be informed when they come to vote. “Know the candidates, know the issues, be ready to cast your vote.” She said the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service publishes excellent summaries of statewide ballot issues that are clear and impartial. “The extension guides are very helpful,” she said. Check online for them at https://www.uaex.edu/business-communities/voter-education/.

Japton VFD

Robert Samuels presented a notice from members of the Japton Volunteer Fire Department of their desire to change their designation from department to district, as described in Senate Bill 461 of 2019, Act 1077.

The creation of a fire district would allow the Japton department to move from collection of voluntary dues to creation of a tax that would ensure reliable funding for the fire fighting service.

Currently, the voluntary $50 dues are paid by only 40 to 50 percent of property owners in the Japton area, Samuels said. That means equipment upgrades are difficult to maintain.

SB 461 requires the establishment of defined borders for new fire districts along with an accurate map. Those requirements are necessary before voters in the district can be identified, then 10 percent of those voters must sign a petition to the quorum court for the scheduling of public hearings.

The change would affect resources of the county offices of clerk, assessor, and collector, all of whom said more personnel would be needed to establish and continue oversight of the fire district. Justices agreed they need more time to study the matter, and it was tabled.

Grant for fair

The court passed Resolution 2019-10 that authorized the county to apply for a County Fair Building Grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission on behalf of the Madison County Fair Association.

The county grant will request $4,000 and will be matched by the association, which has raised $4,000 in community donations. The grant will allow the association to establish an area for better placement of the carnival rides, which will reduce congestion on the site.

Extension Report

Darrin Henderson, county extension chair, presented the year-end summary of activities supported by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Madison County.

“Madison County is still an agriculture-based county,” he said, and many of the programs he described are aimed at helping farmers improve their cattle, poultry, and crop production.

Caramie Edwards, extension agent for 4-H and FCS, discussed those programs.

Jamie Adams, Snap-Ed program assistant, talked about teaching grade-schoolers about gardening and nutrition. Her position is full-time and supported half by extension and half by Huntsville schools.

Other

A committee to discuss the Madison County Jail will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse, said County Judge Frank Weaver.

Travis Dotson told JPs that a new nonprofit, the Madison County Arkansas Veterans Association, will raise money to help the county keep the veterans affairs office open two-and-a-half days a week. Dotson said the nonprofit will make quarterly donations to the county, and they expect to make their first donation in March.

Weaver said the county is in phase I of a grant to install an elevator in the courthouse, part of a long list of improvements completed mostly with grants from the Heritage Commission, he said.

“Within the next fiscal year, some work on an elevator should begin.”

Weaver broached the topic of budgeting for a cost of living raise for county employees “if we can afford it.” JPs voted in favor, in principle, of granting a 1 to 3 percent  raise if funds are available.

JPs passed Ordinance 2019-9 to establish the Additional Motor Fuel Tax Fund. This new fund is required by the Arkansas General Assembly.

“The state wants to track the amount and use of the new tax,” Weaver said. JPs also passed Ordinance 2019-8, which reassigned $320 in county funds to address a slight increase in health insurance charges.

The next meeting of the Madison County Quorum Court will be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the courthouse in Huntsville.

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