Computer science staffing has become a pressing issue for Pulaski County officials.
Since September, the county’s budget committee has been ironing out the 2017 budget — a process that determines the allocation of just over $70 million. But decisions over funding for information technology positions have raised ire between committee members and the county’s elected department heads.
Issues initially arose when, earlier this year, the death of a sheriff ’s office staff member left a data processing position vacant. The salary for the position was about $58,000, an amount that can’t compete in the current job market, officials said.
“Two people applied from outside, and they laughed when we told them what we paid,” Chief Deputy Michael Lowery told the budget committee last month. “They ran out the door so fast.”
The department ultimately hired from within, someone “not near as qualified” as the applicant they had initially desired, Lowery said.
The situation caused the county offices of the treasurer, clerk, assessor and sheriff to ask the budget committee for salary increases for several of their IT employees.
But the eight-member committee opted for a waitand-see approach to increasing the salaries as turnover occurs.
The positions in question have become increasingly integral to county operations. There are 15 IT positions in the county’s four departments, with salaries ranging from $42,000 to $66,000. The budget committee has approved salary upgrades for four of those positions in the past 10 years, according to county data.
The four department heads requested salary increases for five positions, which in total would cost roughly $40,000 annually. The county’s current financial standing would allow such increases, according to the county comptroller.
“In the last 10 years, this office has moved from the 19th century to the 21st century in the way that we conduct our business,” Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said.
According to county data, his department includes five IT staff members who are involved in, among other things, managing document accessibility online for the circuit court, managing real estate transactions made online — of which there are roughly 12,000 a year — and managing all technology used in the county courthouse.
“We have an area of expertise that is in demand across our society, and our people, of course, have skills that are sellable outside of this building,” Crane said. “I have lost several people over the last six years. I’ve had people who were literally stolen from me by other enterprises.”
County Treasurer Debra Buckner said her four IT staff members are facing more responsibilities today than what was in their original job description. She too reports that her data processors and analysts have been approached by outside recruiters from the private and public sectors.
“We cannot build the county government of tomorrow with today’s limitations and shortcomings,” Buckner said.
During the budget comm i tte e’s f i n a l m e e t i n g earlier this month, as the eight-member panel struck down each of the department heads’ requests, chairman Donna Massey sounded off some criticism:
“I’ve heard this several times over the past weeks about certain positions — how if a person happens to retire or what have you, we won’t have anyone qualified to fill their shoes,” Massey said. “Well what are we doing in our departments where we don’t have anyone underneath that person to be able to step into their shoes? I just don’t understand that. To me that’s just not good business practices.”
“I have some wonderful ideas for our IT department considering this problem,” she added.
One of those ideas, she later said, was the possibility of consolidating all of the county’s IT employees under a single roof — a proposal the department heads oppose.
Earlier this month, County Judge Barry Hyde — who selected each member of the budget committee — issued a letter to each of the Quorum Court’s justices of the peace revealing his intentions to hire an outside consultant group to conduct a “salary survey for internal IT positions.”
“This was kind of a contentious issue, so I felt that it would be a good idea to have third-party experts put this together for us for these few positions,” Hyde said.
A co n t ra c t w i t h t h e consultant group, Fayetteville-based Johanson Consulting, has not yet been drawn up, officials said. However, the judge’s office last week arranged December meetings between several IT employees and consultants.
“I think it’s good work on the committee’s part not to just take someone’s word for it — that we’re just not paying enough,” Hyde said. “I think it’s very prudent on their part to say, ‘we don’t know if these folks are correct in their assumption or not, so let’s get a professional opinion.’”
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