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Members of the Pulaski County Quorum Court shied away Thursday from raising salaries of five elected county officials to the legal maximum but did settle on more moderate increases.

An ordinance before the budget committee would have raised the annual salaries of the county judge, sheriff, treasurer, assessor and clerk to the maximum allowed under state law, starting April 30.

County elected officials' pay ranges are set each year by state legislators and are based on county size. Pulaski County, with a population of around 400,000 people, classifies as Class 7, the highest designation.

Last year, County Judge Barry Hyde and Sheriff Doc Holladay were paid 84.4 percent of the state maximum for their jobs, according to county data. Assessor Janet Troutman Ward was paid 77.3 percent of the state maximum.

And Circuit/County Clerk Larry Crane and Tax Collector/Treasurer Debra Buckner made 75.8 percent of the state maximum for Class 7 officials in dual positions.

After back and forth Thursday night, the budget committee decided to veer from that maximum approach. Members voted 6-2 to back an ordinance dictating that county officials be paid 85 percent of the competitive market rate for their positions. Those rates were established by an independent firm last year.

Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers, who originally argued for the maximum salaries, said, "We've got to look at this in the long-term." It would attract competent candidates after the people currently in office retire, he said.

Kathy Lewison, a Quorum Court member who isn't on the committee, objected.

"We've got all these people running," she said, referring to this year's election cycle. "It doesn't make sense that we're not going to get qualified people."

Quorum Court member Teresa Coney agreed, saying "the elected official is fine, but the support staff they have are even greater. They're making this county operate."

Last year, Pulaski County salaries were compared with those in the two other Class 7 counties, Benton and Washington, plus the city of Little Rock, state departments, nonprofits and private companies.

The study, conducted by the Johanson Group, found that the average Pulaski County employee is underpaid. What the study also revealed is that the five county elected officials are underpaid, Justin Blagg, director of Quorum Court services, explained to the committee.

The pay for those five officials lags anywhere from $27,000 to $34,800 behind the market average, the study found.

"After looking at that, there actually was some justification and credence to raising these up" to the maximum cap, Blagg said.

Committee members rebuffed that reasoning, asking to cap those five salaries at 85 percent of the competitive market rate. Stowers changed his mind and voted to back that ordinance.

Coney and Justice of the Peace Doug Reed voted no. The amended ordinance was sent to the 15-member Quorum Court for full consideration.

Last year, Hyde and Holladay were each paid $103,030. If Thursday's ordinance is passed by the full Quorum Court, the pay for Hyde's position would be $110,529 annually and for Holladay's position it would be $111,875 annually.

Crane and Buckner were each paid $90,784 in 2017. If the ordinance is adopted, the pay for Crane's job would be $106,777 and for Buckner's job it would be $105,572.

Ward was paid $88,820 last year. Under the ordinance, the pay for her position would be $104,567 annually.

Crane and Holladay announced that they are not seeking re-election this year. No candidates filed to run against Hyde, Ward and Buckner, according to information on the clerk's office website.

Reached by phone before Thursday's meeting, Crane said he wasn't involved in drafting the ordinance but that he'd be "happy, pleased, proud to get a raise."

Crane said he brought up the issue a year ago for the treasurer, assessor and clerk positions, but it didn't go anywhere.

Holladay also agreed with adjusting to get closer in line with the countywide pay study.

"I just think that it's fair, at least going forward, that our salaries be more in line with what is allowed under the law, given our statutory responsibilities," he said when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the week, the budget committee indefinitely tabled adjustments to salaries and starting salaries for employees in Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley's office.

On Tuesday, Jegley asked the committee to raise the minimum hiring salaries for about 30 positions after a 2017 countywide pay study lowered them. He also asked to raise salaries for about 10 other positions that he said were below par before the study took place. That would cost the county about $30,000, he estimated.

The committee rejected both proposals, with some members saying they worried that allowing those pay adjustments would lead to more department requests.

Metro on 04/20/2018

Print Headline: JPs favor uptick in salary for 5 officials

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