Baxter County, Ark. approves wage increase for deputies and jailers

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 5:01 PM CST
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MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (KY3) - The Baxter County Quorum Court approved the 2022 county budget on Tuesday night with the biggest item on the agenda being a wage increase for all deputies and jailers with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

In September, the quorum court voted unanimously to adopt a new personnel policy manual for the sheriff’s office, the first step in the process to separate these employees in the county’s wage scale.

With the county already budgeting a $1 per hour increase to all employees in 2022, Sheriff John Montgomery faced several hard questions when he proposed an increase of $270,000 for the department. He says the primary reason for the increase was a lack of recruitment and retention towards other local agencies who were paying on average $5,000-6,000 more just to “walk across the street.”

Since the pandemic, many people have experienced labor shortage. But for the Baxter County Sheriff, it far exceeds that.

”When you drive down the road and McDonald’s has a banner saying $14 an hour plus hiring bonus,” said Sheriff Montgomery. “Or you go to Hobby Lobby and all these places where starting salaries are much higher, it’s extremely difficult.”

With deputies starting at $12.83 per hour and jailers at $12.16 per hour, the sheriff also has to combat against other agencies.

”We have lost numerous officers over the years who worked for us, but would then would go to Gassville or Mountain Home just because it was a $5,000 or $6,000 pay raise just to walk across the street,” said Sheriff Montgomery.

So an increase only seems necessary, right? But it wasn’t so easy for the raise of $270,000 to get approved. The county balances payroll for over 180 employees, and had already budgeted an increase to all employees in 2022.

”So what we proposed in our original budget was a dollar an hour increase across the board, for every employee in Baxter County,” explained Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass. “We felt comfortable to pass that, when the sheriff came with the proposition to double down on that in his two departments.”

Only problem, in order to approve the wage increase, deputies and jailers had to be removed from the county pay scale.

”The money is more than likely going to be there, it’s the policy that goes with it,” Pendergrass explained. “I believe it could have been kept in the same pay grade tabular on the job grading, it could have just been adjusted and did the same thing.”

Montgomery feels the dollar an hour wouldn’t help attract or retain workers from other agencies.

”We’ve only had one employee in the sheriff’s office that has retired with 28+ years, and all of those years there hasn’t been an incentive to stay,” said Sheriff Montgomery. “So we think this will do two things, it will give an incentive to keep the retention for people already here and we think in turn that will attract more people when we have new positions open.”

The wage increase will result in about a $7,000-$8,000 bump for deputies and jailers within the sheriff’s office. All wage increase for county employees will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

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