Friday, November 25, 2016

TOP STORY >> County passes $8.2M budget

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Quorum Court on Tuesday approved next year’s county budget. At $8,227,558, it is up $560,302 compared to last year’s $7,667,257 budget.

The budget was the only item on the agenda, and it passed unanimously without discussion.

Revenues next year are expected to be $8,234,071.

Special Funds spending is slightly up and expected to be $14,628,937. This year’s Special Funds spending was $14,480,083.

Expected Special Funds revenues for 2017 are estimated at $19,381,130.61.

Part of the extra Special Funds revenues includes an approximately $8 million Road Department surplus, said County Treasurer Patty Weathers.

In addition to the higher costs of doing business, JP Roger Lynch, who worked on the 2017 budget, said the sheriff’s office grew by three employees and the raises caused an increase, but overall, “the department heads held their costs close to last year’s.”

He said county officials are easy to work with, and he added, “I think the whole process went well. We were pleased with it.”

JPs B.J. Weathers, Adam Justice and Bill Ryker missed the special meeting.

Problems with pay raises

Prior to the budget’s passage, Lonoke County Judge Erwin said he was upset over the unfairness of the way the county gives pay raises.

Approving the budget was delayed last week until the pay raises were straightened out.

He said he thought all employees were to receive 3 percent raises, and he based his calculations on that assumption.

“But that was not in compliance with the ordinance,” he said.

After the meeting, Erwin told The Leader that he disagreed with the ordinance.

“It’s not fair to some employees, and it doesn’t treat everyone the same. There’s no credit for experience or long-term employment,” he said.

He was referring to a 2015 ordinance that set employee salaries and laid out a formula for determining raises.

Under the new system, a Level 2 starting salary is $22,500 and the employee maxes out at $30,000. Raises are figured on the gap between an employee’s current salary and the cap, so an employee just starting out is eligible for a raise based on $7,500, while a more experienced, longer serving employee’s raise, who is higher on the Level 2 pay scale, would also be based on the gap.

An employee’s raise — making $27,000 — would be based on $3,000. That means the employee making $22,500 is eligible for a 3 percent raise of about $810, while the employee at $27,000 is eligible for a 3 percent raise of about $675.

An employee, who had reached the cap, isn’t eligible for a raise under this system, Erwin said.

“Based on this, the guy who has driven a grader for 17 years, who is more valuable to the county and has more experience, receives a smaller percentage (or no) raise than the person that’s been with the county for three years. I want to be fair to everyone,” Erwin said.

While taking a roll call vote, JP Darlene Byrd hesitated before voting “yea” for the budget, and when asked after the meeting about her long delay, she said, “I almost voted no because of the unfairness of the raises.”

While Byrd was appointed to fill a seat vacated by Matt Sanders about three months ago and will be off the quorum court Dec. 31, she said, “The ordinance isn’t doing what it was designed to do. The quorum court will need to revisit this issue in the future.”

Allen Dodson is now serving as the quorum court’s attorney. Dodson, who serves at the pleasure of the Lonoke County Judge, has a practice in Conway.

The Lonoke County Quorum Court’s next regular meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22 in the Lonoke County Office of Emergency Management conference room at 210 N. Center St. in Lonoke.