Senate passes bill that could change courthouse's function

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Senate bill that could change how the Craighead County Eastern District Courthouse operates is moving forward in the state legislature.

Jonesboro Sen. John Cooper filed SB535 calling it an act concerning dual judicial districts.

"It's a bill that he has sponsored that will help us to clean up the workings that are going on in Lake City," Craighead County Circuit Clerk Candace Edwards said. "It will not close the Lake City Courthouse."

That bill would repeal Act 61 of 1883.

The Senate read it for the third time Thursday and passed it with a 33-0 vote. It now heads to the Arkansas House.

That 1883 legislation divided Craighead County into two judicial districts that should operate as separate entities.

That means each district is required to operate its own set of financial books, keeping revenues and expenses separate from the other.

Cooper thinks that is not happening now.

"Right now, they are supposed to be raising their own revenue and operating their own expenses over there, the things they spend money on, and I just do not believe that is happening right now," Cooper said.

He said eliminating the old legislation will allow county officials to more effectively do their job.

"I think it will go smoother because the elected officials will be more in control of the job and they will be able to initiate the policies that they need and have the authority to have those carried out, which I think is not happening now," Cooper said.

Since the courthouse at Lake City is not a state-owned property, local officials are still left to decide its function if the bill passes.

Edwards said she has spoken to other Craighead County officials and they have no intention of closing the courthouse, they just want to bring it into compliance with state statutes.

She said they are going to increase the services available at the Lake City location.

"Right now for tax collector, they are only allowed to pay delinquent taxes at the Lake City Courthouse," Edwards said. "I have spoken with Wess Eddington, our newly elected tax collector, and he is going to extend the services where they can collect all taxes out there."

She said the assessor's office will also expand to be able to do all property, personal, and business taxes.

"For the circuit clerk, you're not going to see any difference because we are the office that is lined out by the law," Edwards said. "We're going to be out there no matter what so we already offer all the services."

Cooper said the one thing it does change is where district court can be held, but he made sure no judiciary positions would be lost.

The act also states a treasurer employee must be at the Lake City location and there currently is not one. There are also people crossing over on job positions.

"We have employees that are doing all four positions," Edwards said. "So, we are working on getting that separated and where each elected official has their employee out there."

She stressed, though, that the average taxpayer would not see a change in the service they receive at either courthouse.

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