By Keith Keck, Justice of the Peace, Saline County Quorum Court

SALINE COUNTY UPDATE: it has been a few months since I provided an update on what is happening in regards to western Saline County.  Below I have listed a few items of interest.

1. Saline County Detention Center continues to run at full capacity of 234 prisoners plus, making for selective release of some current prisoners to make room for incoming prisoners as well as the booking only of most minor quality of life crimes.  Currently, the Saline County Detention Center is the smallest sized facility for a county of equal population size in Arkansas. Also due shortfall of space in the State of Arkansas Correctional System, the County must hold convicted State Prisoners longer waiting for a spot at one of the state prisons.

To address this situation, Saline County Sheriff Rodney Wright presented a proposal for American Rescue Plan Funding (ARP) to expand the Saline County Detention Center by 84 bed spaces, as well as increase the medical treatment area of the Detention Center based on the experience of dealing with prisoners during COVID.  This request was for $8.5M of ARP funding.

The Finance Committee of the Saline County Quorum Court passed a motion to proceed forward with funding this request, with one stipulation, that follow-on operational costs of this expansion must be further reviewed to ensure the County will not be fiscally challenged once the additional areas of the Detention Center go operational.

2. Currently, both eastern and western Saline County have some significant emergency communication coverage shortfalls with emergency responder portable and mobile radios.  The Saline County Office of Emergency Management presented a proposal for ARP Funding to address these communication shortfalls within the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN).

This $5.3M proposal would install 2 new AWIN towers, one in the East End portion of the County and the other in the Salem area of the County.  These two new towers would be linked via a simulcast system with the two existing AWIN towers already operating in Benton and Bauxite.  With the addition of these towers and linkage to existing towers, all populated areas of the County would be rated as 95% coverage capable.

The Finance Committee of the Saline County Quorum Court passed a motion to proceed forward with this funding request.

Both these ARP Funding requests should be on the agenda for approval at the September 19 Saline County Quorum Court Meeting.  If approved, these two requests along with the previously approved $10M Saline Regional Water Authority Proposal will commit the full amount of ARP Funding received by Saline County ($23.8M).

3. At the end of August, ARDoT and Saline County officials met with HSV POA Leadership to discuss future road improvements in western Saline County.  An emphasis item of this meeting was the Highway 5 and DeSoto Blvd Intersection.  With the current residential and commercial building underway on the east side of Hot Springs Village, officials want to ensure the state/county roads are sufficient.

Based on this meeting, Saline County Judge Jeff Arey formally requested ARDoT conduct a new Traffic Safety Study for this intersection.  A previous study was conducted during the height of COVID restrictions and prior to the building increase. Also during this meeting, Saline County Officials voiced a willingness to partner with ARDoT to address any issues identified by the Study.