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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown addressing reporters on Sept. 23, 2019 in his office at the state Capitol in Little Rock. ( Josh Snyder)

The number of full-time state employees dipped a bit in the past fiscal year, while it increased slightly at public higher-education institutions, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

By the end of fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, state government and higher-education employees totaled 59,304, a drop of 121 from the year before.

Employees at state agencies declined by 149 to 30,832, the bureau reported.

At the state’s colleges and universities, employees increased by 28 to 28,472, according to the bureau’s latest figures.

However, the total payroll cost of salaries and benefits increased by nearly $20 million, or 0.5%, to $4.15 billion, according to the state Department of Finance and Administration.

“I think we are on the right track with limiting growth and trying to improve efficiencies,” said state Rep. Les Eaves, R-Searcy, who is a co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee’s personnel subcommittee.

“I think it’s a good decrease, [but] we have to make sure we have the correct number of people to ensure that we are providing the services we are required to provide,” he said last week.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the reduction in employee numbers is a result of his administration’s transformation efforts.

“By taking a closer look at state agencies, we are able to devote additional personnel to areas that needs it most, like in public safety at the [Arkansas] State Police, while creating efficiencies in other areas without reducing state services,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

The bureau’s annual report on employee numbers gives a broad snapshot of the changes, though reporting errors sometimes creep into the figures. They are corrected later. The bureau’s report computes the average of full-time employees in the final quarter of each fiscal year.

For fiscal 2018, the bureau reported that the overall total dropped by 754, or 1.3%, in the largest drop since Act 110 of 1985 required agencies and higher-education institutions to report their employee figures.

The first time that they dropped was in fiscal 2011, when they fell by 71. They slipped again by 71 in fiscal 2014 under then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat. Beebe served from 2007 until Hutchinson became governor in January 2015.

Many state employees are in agencies under the direct control of the governor.

But some work for the state’s other six constitutional officers such as the attorney general and secretary of state. And some work for the Legislature, courts and constitutionally separate agencies, such as the Game and Fish Commission and Department of Transportation. Higher-education institutions have some independence under Amendment 33 to the state constitution, although the governor appoints their boards of trustees.

PAYROLL BUMP

The nearly $20 million increase in payroll costs in fiscal 2019 includes a rise in total salaries and benefits for agency employees, but a slight decline in total pay and benefits at education institutions, according to the finance department report.

Total payroll costs increased by $37.6 million to $1.91 billion at state agencies in fiscal 2019, while they decreased by $17.8 million to $2.23 billion at higher-education institutions, the finance department reported.

The primary reason for the increase in the executive branch was the implementation of a pay plan in July 2017, said Alex Johnston, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transformation and Shared Services.

That pay plan guaranteed all employees a 1% increase and significantly improved the salary rates for many job classifications, such as family service worker, state police troopers, correctional officers, etc., she said.

The plan also has increased salary costs in fiscal 2019 as a result of the state hiring new employees into positions with higher minimum salaries.

State agencies were allowed to award performance pay increases to employees. The increases were not to exceed 2.8% of the agencies’ personal services expenditure in fiscal 2019. For fiscal 2020, agencies awarded performance increases of up to 2.4% of the agencies’ personal services expenditure, Johnston said.

“Based on these numbers, the total increase from 2017 to now has been $66,440,082 for all state agency employment, which is only slightly higher than the anticipated cost of the 2017 pay plan,” Johnston said. The anticipated cost of the 2017 pay plan was about $60 million a year, she said.

The average salary for executive branch employees rose from $39,970 in fiscal 2017, to $41,166 in fiscal 2018 and to $42,949 in fiscal 2019. The fiscal 2019 average salary is for 24,858 executive branch employees, she said.

In fiscal 2016 — Hutchinson’s first full fiscal year as governor — total payroll costs declined by $53.3 million, or 1.35%, to $3.9 billion, according to the finance department.

The next fiscal year, the total cost rose by $33.3 million to $3.93 billion. In fiscal 2018, the cost increased by $192 million to $4.13 billion, the department reported.

AGENCY DROPS

The largest executive branch agency is the Department of Human Services. Full-time employees there dropped from 7,301 in fiscal 2018 to 7,138 in fiscal 2019, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

Asked about the decline, department spokeswoman Amy Webb said “it could be that the position turned over and just hadn’t been filled at the time that snapshot was taken, or attrition, for example.”

In the state prison system, known last fiscal year as the Department of Correction, the number of full-time employees rose from 3,966 in fiscal 2018 to 4,141 in fiscal 2019, the bureau reported.

“We did a better job of recruiting in 2019 than we did in 2018, [and] the result was we hired more people,” spokeswoman Dina Tyler said.

But the ranks of full-time employees declined at the Department of Community Correction from 1,375 in fiscal 2018 to 1,348 in fiscal 2019, according to the bureau.

That drop was because, at one point, the agency was over its 1,375-employee cap for the number of filled positions, Tyler said.

“Because of that, the agency was told to stop advertising open positions,” she said. “Once Community Correction fell under the cap, it took time to hire more employees, and with other employees still leaving, the number has remained down.”

Johnston, the transformation spokesman, said the personnel cap was put in place after several years of statewide hiring freezes had succeeded in reducing employee numbers.

“However, in implementing the cap, we were aware that some state agencies were likely to exceed the cap from time to time, usually as a result of regular staff turnover and attrition. In those cases, we would either increase the cap as needed or trust the agency to reduce personnel over time through attrition,” she said.

“The Department of Community Correction, which is now part of the Department of Corrections, is one of those agencies where staffing levels can vary significantly,” Johnston said. “Given the important nature of the agency’s mission, we work with the department as they manage staff changes and ensure the agency has sufficient support to carry out its mission.”

Hutchinson’s reorganization of executive branch agencies became effective July 1. It consolidated 42 agencies into 15 departments and reduced the number of department heads reporting directly to the governor.

“My goal is to right size state government to the needs of the state and to maximize the use of technology and best practices,” Hutchinson said.

“This will ultimately improve the delivery of services and create savings for the taxpayers. The number of state employees [in the executive branch agencies] has declined by 1,589 since the beginning of my administration, and I’m confident that through my reorganization plan we will continue transforming state government, one step at a time.”

The number of full-time employees in his off ice dropped by three to 50 since fiscal 2018, the Bureau of Legislative Research reported.

In the state’s judicial agencies, employees increased from 773 in fiscal 2018 to 780 in fiscal 2019.

Employee totals declined from 425 to 415 in legislative agencies, including a drop from 278 to 269 at the Arkansas Legislative Audit, according to the bureau.

Officials at Arkansas Legislative Audit said several employees retired, and the office increased efficiency through automation and reorganization.

The number of full-time employees at the Department of Transportation slipped from 3,715 in fiscal 2018 to 3,703 last fiscal year, while their ranks dropped from 593 to 587 at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Four-year colleges saw employee ranks rise from 24,223 in fiscal 2018 to 24,267 last fiscal year, while they slipped at two-year colleges from 4,221 to 4,205, the bureau reported.

“The colleges and universities operate independently, and each institution has its own explanation for any increase in personnel,” Hutchinson said.

“I have consistently asked higher education to focus on degree attainment, productivity and efficiency. While there has been success with the new productivity funding model, I trust there will be a long-term commitment to efficiently manage personnel to properly align with the ups and downs of student enrollment,” he said.

At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, employees increased from 10,336 in fiscal 2018 to 10,516 last fiscal year, according to the bureau.

Leslie Taylor, vice chancellor for communications and marketing, pointed out that UAMS submitted its first balanced budget in several years to the UA board of trustees for fiscal 2019.

“We ended that year nearly $40 million ahead of budget,” she said. A balanced budget also was presented for fiscal 2020.

“The financial turnaround UAMS has experienced compared to FY 2018 when we had a reduction in force has allowed us to grow in areas where there is a need,” she said in a written statement. “The majority of that growth has been in our clinical programs and has necessitated hiring of more physicians, nurses and other employees.”

The total for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, increased from 4,178 in fiscal 2018 to 4,219 last fiscal year, according to the bureau.

UA filled several vacant positions, primarily faculty and graduate assistant positions, but didn’t add new positions, said Mark Rushing, a spokesman.

“The University of Arkansas was the nation’s fastest-growing public land-grant institution for the decade ending in 2017, and our campus needed to fill some vacant associate professor, assistant professor, research assistant and graduate assistant positions to adequately serve the needs of our students and support our growing research capability that helps drive the state’s economy,” he said Friday.

At Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the total increased from 1,531 in fiscal 2018 to 1,716 in fiscal 2019, according to the bureau.

“ASU Jonesboro is well below its number of appropriated positions and the difference is in vacancies from one year to the next,” said ASU System spokesman Jeff Hankins.

“Under the … report guidelines, our part-time adjunct instructors and graduate assistants are actually included in the ‘FT employees’ number,” he said. “These can fluctuate greatly one year to the next based on needs.

“In [fiscal] 2018 we had an optional retirement plan so more employees than normal left, and there was also a hiring freeze in place regarding vacant positions. These are among many factors that impacted the higher vacancy number in FY2018,” Hankins said.

At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, full-time employees dropped from 1,244 in fiscal 2018 to 1,142 last fiscal year, the bureau reported.

Steve McClellan, UALR’s vice chancellor of finance and administration, said a yearlong hiring freeze led to the drop. The university needed to reduce expenditures in order to maintain a balanced budget after some unfavorable enrollment trends over the past several years.

At the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, full-time employees dipped from 1,779 in fiscal 2018 to 1,592 last fiscal year, according to the bureau report.

The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College saw totals rise from 344 the previous fiscal year to 476 in fiscal 2019, the bureau reported.

But Pulaski Tech spokesman Timothy Jones said the difference is largely because the fiscal 2018 full-time employee figure “was incorrect in that it did not include part-time faculty” but should have. Jones said Pulaski Tech’s full-time employees actually totaled 456 in the final quarter of fiscal 2018.

State employees down, payroll up

Print Headline: State payroll up, employees fewer

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