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Officials on panel to weigh raises for Pulaski County workers

by William Sanders | April 7, 2021 at 4:28 a.m.

Pulaski County Budget Committee members will consider a pay increase for most county employees during their Thursday meeting.

According to Quorum Court Director Justin Blagg, the pay increase will bump up all county employees paid below 92% of the market rate to that percentage rate, with many jumping from the current county rate of 88%.

The market rate is the average similar-sized counties, municipalities and some private industry pay their employees. Pulaski County currently is paying at approximately 12% below that average.

In November, Justices of the Peace approved the budget without pay raises for the staff after Comptroller Michael Hutchens cited financial uncertainty during the covid-19 pandemic.

With the courts shut down and less in fees and other revenue coming in, Hutchens said at that time that the county could not confidently give raises, so neither county employees nor elected officials received pay raises.

Hutchens on Tuesday said the numbers for the county were looking good to go ahead and offer raises, which would cost the county about $760,000 for the rest of the budget year.

"I didn't know what our final revenues for the year were going to be due to covid, and it actually turned out we did pretty good," Hutchens said.

According to Hutchens, the Pulaski County final revenue was in excess of $70 million.

In late 2020 and now, Hutchens described himself as a "conservative" in his recommendations for the budget to the Quorum Court.

"I knew how it was looking throughout the year, and it was looking pretty good," Hutchens said. "But I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I kept waiting for there to be a problem, and we actually had a few revenue reductions and fines and penalties and fees, and that kind of thing. But everything else, the taxes and all that, we were solid on."

The Quorum Court members and County Judge Barry Hyde wanted to raise the staff's pay late last year but decided to hold off into the first quarter of this year to see how the county funds ended up.

Hyde said the raise given to county workers at the end of 2019 was lower than what he wanted to give.

"I was really bothered by the fact that in [2019] budgeting for [2020] we didn't feel like we had the funds or the revenue to give a 2% raise, what we wanted to give them," Hyde said. "We ended up giving a 1% [raise], which is not much."

Hyde said this especially hurt because the market rate pay for many of the jobs had gone up by at least 2%.

"At the same time we had updated our database on all of the market rates for each of our jobs, and they had gone up from at least 2% but in many cases 3 or 4%," Hyde said. "It was like we were losing ground for our employees."

Hutchens cited risks in giving raises at the end of a budget year and said he would consider the county's first-quarter finances to determine if the county could afford to give them this year.

"I told them back then that I would look at it after the first quarter of this year to see how we were doing, and then, if they could take some action then, they could," Hutchens said.

With the pandemic hitting many county workers hard, Hyde said he is thrilled to give a wage increase to county employees.

"Our employees deserve it," Hyde said. "They've worked hard through this pandemic and even a 4% raise barely keeps them on track [with the market rate]."

Justice of the Peace Donna Massey, chairman of the Budget Committee, said she is happy that after looking at the finances, the county government will be able to give the raises.

"I am extremely ecstatic," Massey said. "I am very happy to be able to do that."

Justice of the Peace Paul Elliott said that as long as it won't cause financial problems for the county later, he will also be on board.

"As long as everything's up to snuff, that's what matters," Elliott said. "As long as it won't put us in a hole or anything like that, I think we'll be alright. That's why we waited."

The Pulaski County Budget Committee meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday and will be streamed from the website: pulaskicounty.net/pulaski-county-quorum-court/.

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