Some Faulkner County justices of the peace have concerns and questions they’d like answered before committing to a proposed Regional Intermodal Transport Authority (RITA) agreement between Faulkner and Perry and Conway counties.
The issue was discussed at Tuesday night’s county road committee meeting.
Generally speaking, the counties participating in the RITA would be represented by an appointed committee, and this quasi-governmental committee would have the power to lobby for federal grants, enter contracts, borrow money or issuing bonds and exercise eminent domain. For the past several years the possibility of a large riverport near the convergence of the three counties has been discussed, but the Arkansas River would have to be extensively dredged to accommodate the large ships that would use it.
On the smaller-scale, "intermodal" means that the RITA could build any transportation infrastructure project, including roads, rail and airport infrastructure. For instance, a RITA project to build a railroad bridge across the Arkansas River connecting Faulkner County’s Union Pacific railroad to the railroad that runs through Bigelow has been talked about.
As proposed, Faulkner County would have five committee members, appointed by the county judge; the other counties would have four each.
JP Steve Goode said that he and some other JPs are concerned with giving an unprecedented amount of authority to five appointed people who would make up the county’s RITA committeemen, who he said wouldn’t, as appointed officials, necessarily be accountable to the people of Faulkner County — an arrangement that he said could invite an abuse of power, whether intentional or unintentional. He also said that Faulkner County has the lion’s share of the resources and tax base that would benefit the RITA as a whole, and so Faulkner County should have a greater share of the RITA’s decision-making authority than has been proposed
Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) was among those speaking in favor of the RITA at the meeting, saying that the governmental framework of RITAs had been well-vetted and that it would be a good way for the three counties to get access to resources otherwise unavailable to them.
The committee decided to revisit the issue at a future meeting of the full Court.
In other business, a slight change was made to the Animal Control Ordinance effected late last year. Where the ordinance had called for all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian, the new language approved on Tuesday requires only proof of vaccination, meaning that dog owners can satisfy the ordinance by vaccinating their own animals.
In addition to routine appropriations, the Court approved the yearly subsidy of about $46,000 to MEMS, the county’s ambulance service provider. County Judge Allen Dodson said that this amount was about the same as last year’s subsidy.
The Court also voted to give the county authority to seek grants for the Faulkner County Farm Roundup Committee. The roundup is a yearly program designed to educate the county’s second-graders on the importance of agriculture. It will be held at the Don Owen Sports Center’s riding arena on April 16 and 17, and on the evening of the 17th the public will be invited to participate.
(Editor's note: an earlier version of this story stated that Goode expressed concerns that the RITA leadership framework could invite corruption. Goode has clarified that he did not use the term "corruption," but did say in the meeting that he had concerns that the leadership framework could lead to abuses of power.)