FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's justices of the peace heard spending requests from seven county officials Tuesday as the county began work on the 2022 budget.
The Quorum Court's Finance and Budget Committee met for its first formal budget session Tuesday. The panel heard budget presentations from the county treasurer, county collector, county clerk, circuit clerk, coroner, prosecuting attorney and Circuit Judge Joanna Taylor.
Coroner Roger Morris told the justices of the peace his office is bracing for another year of dealing with covid-19 related deaths.
"[The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences] is saying the next few months are going to be as bad as January," Morris said.
Morris said he expects his office will handle more than 3,000 deaths in 2021. Last year, he said, the office handled between 2,700 and 2,800 deaths.
Morris said his 2022 budget for general supplies, which includes body bags, has increased by $5,000, from $20,000 to $25,000, so his office can maintain needed supplies on hand.
Morris also told the justices of the peace he wants to create one more full-time position in his office to better handle the increasing workload.
Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett also discussed the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on his office.
Durrett said that in 2019, the felony caseload for deputy prosecutors, which is the number of active cases a deputy would have in their office at a given moment, ranged from a low of around 150 to a high of around 200. With circuit courts mostly shut down during the pandemic, he said, the backlog of cases for deputy prosecutors climbed as high as 400 cases.
Durrett said that as the courts reopen the number of cases should decrease, but it will take some time.
"The main thing for us is to just press on forward," Durrett said. "We've got a lot of cases that have been sitting there for a year."
The justices of the peace took no action on any of the budget requests at Tuesday's meeting. Patrick Deakins, justice of the peace for District 5 and committee chairman, said he wants to have the committee review all of the budget requests before approving any of them. He said he is still waiting on information about the cost of employee compensation for 2022. Deakins said he wants to have reviewed all of the individual budget requests in advance of the Finance and Budget Committee meeting in September when the justices of the peace can consider the 2022 budget as a whole.
The Washington County Quorum Court’s Finance and Budget Committee will continue working on the county’s 2022 budget when the panel meets at 6 p.m. July 29 in the County Courthouse.
Source: Staff report