By Ray King

A new Jefferson County Health Department building, a new coroner’s office and a new Veteran’s Service Office are one step closer to reality as the Quorum Court on Monday approved a resolution establishing a Public-Private Partnership with an Arkansas Corporation that will handle all the financing and construction costs up front, with the county making payments over a 30-year period before the buildings become county property.

At a special meeting of the county’s legislative body, a representative of the private company, called P3, said the new health department is to be located on the campus of Jefferson Regional at 42nd Avenue and Hickory Street, and will be a 12,800 square building which will feature a covered-driveway for COVID-19 testing.

The new coroner’s office is to be located on county-owned property near the juvenile detention center and will be 9,000 square feet and will also have a decontamination facility inside the building while the 5,000 square foot Veteran’s Service office will be located on county-owned property at East 2nd Avenue and State Street. It will feature a mini-museum and office space as well as space for veterans to wait before getting a ride to the VA Hospital at Little Rock.

County Judge Gerald Robinson talked about the need for the building.

The total cost of the three buildings was put at just over $13.2 million with an initial payment of $350,000 in mid-2022 and then payments of $695.474 annually for 30 years.

Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd asked Robinson about that initial payment when the county “can’t afford to keep the juvenile justice center.”

Robinson said there have already been negotiations with Southeast Arkansas College about buying the current health department building, there are grants of about $700,000 available and revenue from the casino is projected to be around $400,000 a month when the casino is fully operational.

A resolution authorizing the count to enter into the public-private partnership was approved as was a motion to set a public hearing on the plans. The date for that hearing will be set later but it will be before the Quorum Court meets in July.

On another matter, the county’s legislative body voted to transfer money that had been set aside to pay court bailiff’s through the end of the year to the Sheriff’s Office to manage the court bailiff’s, despite the fact that Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr., has said he did not have the manpower to handle the job.

Robinson said despite what Woods says, the sheriff’s office will handle the job.