Buddy Villines wants to retire as Pulaski county judge at the end of this year with a new agreement on financial contributions to operations of the county jail. He started negotiations with a tariff too high for mayors in the county.
Yesterday, in a closed session including Villines, mayors and representatives from the business community (the shadow government of Little Rock), parties got closer to a compromise. The outline, as described by a participant in the talks yesterday:
There’d be a five-year agreement with all cities in the county. It could be renegotiated in the unlikely event that the Republcan-controlled state legislature stepped up to the plate and paid a reasonable rate to counties for holding the backlog of state prisoners. Rather than a 3 percent increase in city contributions every year, the increase would be based on an index like the consumer price index, not a flat percentage. More details are to be worked out.
Running the jail is the county’s main responsibility — a $25 million annual tab under a contract that took effect in 1994. The county also has rural road duties, but those are covered by a separate road tax that is rich enough, thanks to property wealth in the cities, to pay for amenities such as pedestrian bridges.
The five big cities — Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville — are currently contributing about $2.9 mllion a year to the jail. State and federal payments for inmates and some court fines contribute to the budget.
But remember, the county isn’t exactly hurting.
It has a one-cent sales tax, collected primarily in the incorporated areas, to operate the jail, courthouse and an otherwise lean county government. (It’s not so lean for governing JPs. They bonus themselves just about every year on top of $11,000 pay and have fully paid health insurance for themselves, a tax-free perk worth thousands of dollars.)
In fiscal 2013, for example, Pulaski County raked in $80.2 million in sales tax revenue. The rest of the cities in the county combined collected $87.7 million. Little Rock accounted for $72 million of that, on a 1.5-cent sales tax. so you can see where the county money is coming from — about two-thirds from Little Rock proper. (I should have added originally that the county sales tax is divvied up according to population, with about 40 percent going to Little Rock and the county retaining about $12 million of it, on top of a general property tax millage on all property that produces $31 million.)
Costs rise. Cities like Little Rock, which have turned over detention duties to Pulaski County, are going to have to share the pain. But the imposition of an immediate 5 percent increase, as Villines originally proposed, with an annual escalator worthy of JP emoluments, was too much. Talks are moving in the right direction.