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Washington County officials OK Road Department pay plan that will increase county’s cost of paying department employees by $700,000

Official: Change will cost Washington County $700,000 more per year by Tom Sissom | April 22, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
The Washington County Courthouse is seen in Fayetteville in this undated file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A new pay plan for the Road Department was approved Thursday by the Washington County Quorum Court.

The justices of the peace voted 14-0 in favor of the new pay plan.

Eva Madison, justice of the peace for District 9 in Fayetteville, abstained from voting after saying the county needed to have the testing parts of the pay plan vetted by some outside source. A motion by Shawndra Washington, justice of the peace for District 8 in Fayetteville, to table action on the plan until the testing could be verified as legal was defeated.

The pay scale for Road Department employees has been a subject of discussion for several months, with a number of justices of the peace saying the pay offered by the county is not competitive with private businesses and the Road Department is unable to hire and retain employees.

Brian Lester, county attorney, and Jeff Crowder, the county's road superintendent, presented the plan to the Quorum Court's County Services Committee on April 4, to the Personnel Committee on April 11 and to the Finance and Budget Committee on April 12. Each of the committees voted in favor of the plan.

The proposal would boost pay in the department and provide a process for advancement based on an employee's time with the county, knowledge and experience. Crowder said the department has six or seven vacancies now, with a program of bonuses and hiring incentives the Quorum Court approved last year helping a number of vacancies to be filled.

Crowder said the new plan would increase the cost of pay for Road Department employees by about $700,000.

Madison said she supported increasing pay for the employees but said the county needed to be certain the plan would meet all of the legal requirements and federal labor law guidelines.

"It's not OK," Madison said. "We're being reckless in adopting a program we have not vetted and we don't know if it's legally defensible.

The justices of the peace spent some time debating the implementation of the new pay plan and how it would impact the bonuses and premium pay already approved by the Quorum Court because of the covid-19 pandemic. An amendment was proposed to have the covid-19 pay end when the new pay plan was implemented but was removed from the ordinance before it was finally approved.

A pair of resolutions recognizing groups for their work during the covid-19 pandemic split the justices of the peace at Thursday's meeting.

A resolution recognizing the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Arkansas Immigrant Defense, Arkansas United, The Hispanic Women's Organization of Arkansas, The Marshallese Educational Initiative, and RootED Northwest Arkansas for their dedication and service to Washington County was tabled after some justices of the peace said they wanted to see if there are other groups that should be included in the resolution. Other justices of the peace noted that one of the groups is involved in a federal court lawsuit against the county and said they could not vote for the resolution for that reason. The resolution was ultimately postponed.

A second resolution honoring child care providers was approved but only after several justices of the peace suggested it also should be tabled or amended to include other providers, including parents and teachers, who provided care for children during the pandemic. The motions to table or amend the resolution were rejected by the full Quorum Court.

The justices of the peace also read an ordinance upholding the county Planning Board's denial of a conditional use permit for the Nazareth Retreat Center. The ordinance denying the permit was on its second reading Thursday night. It was read once and will remain on the Quorum Court's agenda for a third and final reading at the May meeting.

The conditional use permit was sought for property at 18316 Vaughn Road in northeastern Washington County. According to information from the planning staff, the three parcels of property comprise 45.93 acres of land that is about a half-mile south of U.S. 412 and also about a half-mile west of Beaver Lake.

Information from the proposal indicates the facility would be used for retreats, group meetings, training workshops, conferences, family reunions, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and other celebrations as well as camping trips. The facility would have an open pavilion for summer events and be adaptable to a closed pavilion with a natural chimney for winter events, according to information provided to the county.

Several neighbors have spoken against the permit at the Planning Board and Quorum Court meetings, saying the facility is not compatible with the rural, agricultural and single-family properties in the area. Specific concerns included noise, traffic, hours of operation and potential negative impact on the environment, including light pollution from the center. Some neighbors said they were concerned about people using the center property trespassing on nearby property, and some said they are concerned about the possible use of alcohol or drugs on the center property.

County zoning

Land in unincorporated Washington County is zoned for agricultural or single-family residential use. All other uses require the property owner to obtain a conditional use permit through the county’s planning process. The permits must be approved by the Washington County Planning Board and the Quorum Court.

Source: Staff report


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