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Baxter County, Ark. to increase benefits of all employees

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 5:25 PM CST
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MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (KY3) - The Baxter County Quorum Court approved an amendment to a personnel policy increasing benefits for all county employees.

The county already implemented a raise for all county employees starting in 2022. The leaders decided to extend benefits originally intended for sheriffs deputies and jailers in the county.

The discussion hinged on a concern employees should be treated equally and receive the same amount of benefits, including leave and vacation time.

“So what we proposed in our original budget was a $1 an hour increase across the board,” explained Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass. “This process then started when the sheriff decided to double down on that for his deputies and jailers.”

One month ago, the Baxter County Quorum Court voted to remove deputies and jailers from the county pay scale to give them larger benefits and pay increases. A decision to help the county compete with local law enforcement agencies.

”We’re the training ground for the other local law enforcement,” said Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery. “So, 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.”

Although approved unanimously without one council member present, some members of the court question the policy’s legality.

”Yes we have become a feeder system, but we’re a feeder system across several departments,” said Pendergrass. “The money is more than likely going to be there, it’s the policy that goes with it. I think it could have been kept in the same pay grade tabular that we use on the job grading. That could have been adjusted and done the exact same thing.”

Pendergrass believes the policy may not treat all county employees equally, which he says could violate state law.

”As a county judge that’s my responsibility, because constitutionally it gives me the responsibility for spending the whole budget,” he said.

When the council looked to repeal the personnel policy that removed the sheriff’s office from the county pay scale, it was struck down. Voting instead extended the benefits of the sheriff’s office to all employees. Despite the stalemate, everyone signifies the continued increases wouldn’t be possible without the continued growth of the county revenue.

”Better benefits can bring better employees,” said Sheriff John Montgomery. “We’re hopeful this will attract new people.”

”Because we have the revenues that we’re blessed with, if we were across the county line in either direction, we’d be out of luck,” said Pendergrass.

While the amendment was approved, it has yet to be signed by the county judge, which he has until the end of the day Tuesday to do.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday evening, Judge Pendergrass notified the Baxter County Clerk and Justices of the Peace that he would veto the amended policy to extend extra paid time off to all county employees.

Pendergrass said the actions taken at the council meeting last Tuesday were both “confusing and out of order.”

In his veto memo provided below the county judge advised the county justices to not override his veto.

The ordinance will be revisited at the next Quorum Court meeting on Feb. 1.

Click here to view the entire veto letter.

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