Baxter County will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday beginning next month.
The Baxter County Quorum Court made it official Tuesday night, passing an ordinance 11-0 after its third reading to make the birthday of the civil-rights leader a paid holiday for county employees.
“We are the only county in the state of Arkansas, I believe, that does not honor that day as a paid holiday,” Edna Fusco, a justice of the peace from Mountain Home, said Tuesday afternoon before the monthly meeting.
Fusco said county employees who worked on the King holiday in the past had little to do because most other public offices are closed that day.
“They can’t do anything because if they have to get hold of someone in other counties, they’re not there,” Fusco said. “It’s got nothing to do with whether we like or dislike Martin Luther King. It’s strictly for the efficiency of the county.”
Tink Albright, a justice of the peace from Gassville, said the King holiday “should have been added a long time ago.”
“It’ll be a good thing,” she said. “I hate that we’re last. I’d like to be in the forefront of things, but at least we’re getting it done.”
The Quorum Court’s personnel committee voted unanimously Sept. 14 to revise the Baxter County Personnel Policy Manual to add the new holiday, pending approval by the full Quorum Court.
The ordinance went through its first reading in October and its second reading in November. Ordinances normally go through three readings before the Quorum Court votes.
The county will have 10 official holidays now that the ordinance has passed.
Gary Smith, a justice of the peace from Lakeview, said the estimated cost to pay workers on the Martin Luther King holiday is $15,000 to $20,000. If it snows on the holiday, county road crews would be paid overtime to clear roads, and that could push up the cost, Smith said.
Albright said the holiday won’t really cost the county that much because it wasn’t a productive workday for many county employees.
“We can’t pay them what they’re worth, so we can surely give them an extra holiday,” she said.
Albright said 911 dispatchers, employees of the Baxter County sheriff’s office and other essential employees who have to work on the holiday will receive overtime pay.
King was born Jan. 15, 1929. Since 1986, his birthday has been commemorated with a federal holiday on the third Monday of each January. Next month, Jan. 15 is the third Monday of the month.
From 1985 until this year, Arkansas celebrated that day as an official state holiday honoring the birthdays of King and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was born Jan. 19, 1807.
Act 561 of 2017 split the dual holidays, keeping the third Monday in January as an official state holiday honoring King. The law moved Lee’s commemoration as a state memorial day to the second Saturday in October, which is closer to the date of his death, Oct. 12, 1870. Lee’s memorial day isn’t an official holiday for Arkansas employees.