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Washington County officials mull employee covid bonuses

by Tom Sissom | June 8, 2021 at 7:28 a.m.
File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN The Washington County Courthouse is seen July 27 in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's justices of the peace on Monday discussed, but took no action on bonuses for most county employees who worked throughout the covid-19 pandemic.

Lisa Ecke, justice of the peace for District 6 in Springdale, is chairman of the committee. Ecke said she wanted to begin a discussion of possible bonuses, but the decision will be made by the Quorum Court's Finance & Budget Committee. That panel will meet tonight at 6 p.m.

"It's up to them to decide who gets one and how much money we have to spend," Ecke said. "We need to prioritize."

The Quorum Court last month approved bonuses for employees who worked at the Washington County Detention Center and the Juvenile Detention Center.

The justices of the peace voted to spend $297,865 from the $4.5 million in CARES Act money the county has received to compensate jail employees. According to Patrick Deakins, justice of the peace for District 5 in northeast Washington County who sponsored the ordinance, full-time employees are eligible for additional pay of $50 for each pay period they worked in the past year. Part-time employees are eligible for $25 for each pay period they worked. Deakins said the maximum amount any employee could receive is about $1,300.

The initial ordinance raised some questions since it's limited to the jail and juvenile detention center employees. Other county elected officials asked their employees also be considered. Several justices of the peace said they want to have all county employees who worked throughout the pandemic be considered for bonuses.

The employees of the Coroner's Office were mentioned several times as examples of other "high-risk" jobs and some justices of the peace pointed out many county employees were asked to work in offices where they were in contact with the public to keep county government open and functioning throughout the pandemic.

Willie Leming, justice of the peace for District 13 in western Washington County, said the county shouldn't single out some employees. He said all of the employees work together to provide the services county government provides.

"About every employee the county has got had to deal with it at some point," Leming said. "If you're going to give bonuses to some employees you've got to give it to all of them. We've got to be fair. It takes all."

The committee also discussed, and took no action on, a proposal to pay all of the elected officials the maximum amount allowed by state law. That proposal will also be taken up by the Finance & Budget Committee.

Arkansas's 75 counties are divided according to population into 7 classes, with the three largest by population being Pulaski, Benton and Washington counties in class 7.

State law sets salary ranges for elected officials in each class of county. For 2021, according to information from Benton County's 2021 budget, the ranges for county judges and sheriffs in class 7 counties was a minimum of $49,833 and a maximum of $137,349. The remaining county elected officials -- the Assessor, Collector, Coroner, Circuit Clerk, County Clerk and Treasurer -- all have a range of a minimum of $45,833 to a maximum of $129,293.

Washington County adopted an ordinance in 2016 that set elected officials pay at 80% of the state maximum for their first year in office. As amended in a later budget control ordinance, the pay would increase by 2.5% each year they remained in office after that until at 9 years it reached 100% of the maximum allowed by state law. The salaries would increase after that only when the state increased the maximum allowed.

According to the 2021 Washington County budget, Sheriff Tim Helder's 2021 salary was $133,349.

County Coroner Roger Morris' 2021 salary was $125,527.

Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester's 2021 salary was $122,389. County Clerk Becky Lewallen's 2021 salary was also $122,389.

County Judge Joseph Wood's salary was $116,681.

Assessor Russell Hill's 2021 salary was $116,113. County Treasurer Bobby Hill was also paid $116,113.

County Collector Angela Wood's 2021 salary was $109,837.

The proposal brought to the committee by Justice of the Peace Jim Wilson of District 14 in southern Washington County would increase the elected officials pay to the maximum in one of two ways. The Quorum Court could vote to set the salaries at the maximum level when an official first takes office or begin at 80% and increase it to the maximum over four years. All of the officials serve four-year terms.

'At the start of their second term, I've got to believe they know what they're doing," Wilson said.

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What’s next

Washington County’s Finance & Budget Committee meets at 6 p.m. June 8 in the Quorum Court meeting room of the County Courthouse, 280 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville.

Source: Washington County

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