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Baxter County Quorum Court votes to amend county employee benefits

Baxter County employees might be getting an overhaul to their benefits after the Baxter County Quorum Court voted Tuesday night to replace and amend sections of the personnel policy manual of both Baxter County and the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

If signed by Judge Mickey Pendergrass, Ordinance 2022-6 would guarantee that all employees of all offices and departments in the county would receive the same benefits as each other. The previous ordinance originally gave more benefits to the certified deputies within the Sheriff’s Office.

“I think the Quorum Court spoke on behalf of the employees of the county,” said Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery. “I think they stood up and did what was right for all employees. That’s what our goal was, and I think we accomplished that.”

The debate over benefits and personnel policy manuals returned to the court Tuesday night after Baxter County Justice Ty Chapman and Dennis Frank put forth an eleventh-hour amendment to potentially repeal Ordinance 2021-35 to the court’s agenda.

The ordinance, which was passed in Sept. 2021, separated the Sheriff’s Office policy manual from the county’s, allowing Sheriff Montgomery to provide extra benefits to his deputies.

If it had been repealed, the county would have reversed the extra benefits given to those employees while ensuring they kept their additional pay raise, which was passed separately in Dec.

Questions surrounding the ordinance’s legality arose after new information came to light about potential state code violations.

“My concern with this whole thing is if there’s a group of employees in this county that are not part of the Sheriff’s department,” said Justice Dennis Frank when speaking on his concerns about the ordinance. “And once they figure out, ‘I’m getting ready to retire and here’s how much I’m going to get here and here’s how much I could get with the department. I’m suing.’ And if they sue, the first one that sues and if he wins, they’re going to line up, and we’re going to be bankrupt. And everything the Sheriff is done and that we have done is going to be for nothing.”

After a motion to table the ordinance until next month failed, Justice William Waldrop proposed an ordinance to repeal sections of Ordinance 2021-35 and amend sections of the Baxter County Sheriff’s personnel policy manual and the Baxter County personnel policy manual.

The ordinance repealed sections 500.3, which oversees vacation leave, and 500.4, which oversees sick leave, of the Sheriff’s Office policy manual.

The court then amended both policy manuals to mirror each other regarding vacation time and sick leave. It now awaits Judge Pendergrass’s signature.

Employees can now expect to see the following if Baxter County’s judge signs Ordinance 2022-6.

Baxter County Employees will accrue 15 days of vacation per year, jumping to 20 days per year after their fifth anniversary. The number of days jumps again from employees’ 10th anniversary to 25 days per year.

Accrued vacation leave may not exceed 240 hours for 8-hour civilian employees, 230 hours for 10-hour civilian employees, or 348 hours for 12-hour civilian employees. Any vacation leave above 40 hours at the employee’s anniversary date will automatically be forfeited.

Employees would also be paid for accrued but unused vacation unless employed for less than 12 consecutive months.

For sick leave, employees can begin to acquire 20 working days per year of paid sick leave, starting after their first 30 days of full-time employment. Employees will now be allowed to accumulate up to 90 working days of sick leave. Additionally, payouts for sick leave to those employees who leave after five years of service so long as they are not terminated for cause.

“If you don’t feel like voting for it, don’t,” Montgomery said as he addressed the court. “I’m just asking the court to vote yes. Do what you feel like you need to do. I’m trying to look out for not only my employees but every employee in the county. And the reason for that, and I’m just going to tell you. County government exists for one reason, and that’s to supply service to this community. The better the employee, the better the service.”

While the ordinance passed, the issue surrounding its legality still stands. While Sheriff Montgomery said the new ordinance takes potential lawsuits off the table during last nights meeting, some members of the court wanted the issues to be worked out and dealt with while moving forward for the benefit of the county’s employees.

“We’ve passed this tonight. There are issues. I think David would agree that there are some issues with that,” said Justice Robert Lowery. “I think whatever issues there are, we can rectify those. That way there will be no more issues and this rather ugly issue can be put behind us, and the county employees will benefit.”

Judge Pendergrass said he would be taking the next seven days to look into the funding of the new ordinance. If vetoed by Judge Pendergrass, the ordinance would need the vote of seven justices during next month’s Quorum Court session to go into effect.

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