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Baxter County Quorum Court to revisit Sheriff’s Office new personnel policy in meeting tonight

The Baxter County Quorum Court will take another look at the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office new personnel policy after Baxter County Justice Ty Chapman and Dennis Frank put forth an eleventh-hour amendment to the court’s agenda.

Ordinance 2021-35, which separated the BCSO’s personnel policy from the county, would be repealed if passed.

“There is a concern, as stated in the ordinance, by many that the code quoted in the ordinance states that all county employee policies will be the same for every employee,” said Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass. “That’s the concern. And the consensus gave them the reason to present this ordinance back. If passed, it would revert back to the original policy.”

The change to BCSO’s personnel policy came about in Sept. of last year after Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery approached the court with a new payment plan focused on increasing pay to stop the retention issues plaguing the Sheriff’s Office.

Under the plan, BCSO would separate its personnel policy from the county, allowing Sheriff Montgomery to increase the minimum wage for his deputies and jailers.

The ordinance passed with 10 justices voting in favor of the new personnel policy after suspending the court’s rules to vote on the ordinance in one reading instead of the traditional three readings. Baxter County Justice Ty Chapman was absent at that time.

The new ordinance has allowed Sheriff Montgomery to raise deputies’ wages to $16.75 an hour starting at the beginning of this year. Jailer’s wages were raised to $15.75 an hour.

This wage increase netted the Sheriff’s Office an additional $270,000 to its budget. BCSO employees also kept the additional $1 raise provided to all county employees for this year, along with their yearly 3% raise that goes into effect on the anniversary of their start date.

Montgomery also secured the ability to offer higher wages to experienced deputies and jailers that joined the department. Under the ordinance, he could offer up to a 24% increase in starting wages.

A certified deputy with 10 years of experience would receive credit at a 50% rate for five years, with a 3% pay bump for each of those five years, totaling a 15% increase in pay to start.

The Baxter County Quorum Court’s 2022 budget was a record-setting budget for the county, clocking in at $29.9 million.

In addition to the Sheriff’s Office changes, the court secured a $521,000 salary increase for employees that went into effect Jan. 1.

During a previous interview with the Observer, Pendergrass said Baxter County had seen a strong increase in revenue, allowing the county to focus on raising wages in preparation for a potential $15 an hour minimum wage hike.

In addition to the pay raise, county employees will also receive premium pay this year through the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden in March of this year.

Through the plan, the county has budgeted an additional $731,000, which will be paid out to employees in spring after the county receives a $4 million cash influx from the rescue plan. The extra money means employees will receive a $1.2 million total increase in pay next year.

Together, county employees can expect a full $2 per hour raise for the year, netting them an additional $3,000 in their pockets.

The Baxter County Quorum Court meets tonight at 6 p.m. in the 2nd-floor courtroom of the courthouse.

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