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Quorum Court passes pay raise and expanded benefits for all county employees

The debate over county employee compensation is finally over after the Baxter County Quorum Court took up the issue for a final time during Tuesday night’s court session.

After the court session, county employees walked away with a $2 per hour wage increase and the expanded benefits that Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass vetoed after January’s meeting.

The court also established a $1 million employee liability fund to cover any issues that may arise following their veto override of expanding benefits to all Baxter County employees.

“We need to do it. We need to continue to pay the benefits, to pay the higher wages,” said Justice of the Peace Cameron Davis. “We need to attract, keep and grow the same quality of people we got. And they’re doing a fantastic job, even at the lesser amount. I believe we got the people that would do the same kind of job regardless of the pay, but we got to, we got to look forward.”

Ordinance 2022-6 guarantees that all employees of all offices and departments in the county receive the same benefits as each other. The previous ordinance originally gave more benefits to the certified deputies within the Sheriff’s Office.

In a rare move in January, Judge Pendergrass vetoed the ordinance in a letter sent to each member of the Quorum Court. Pendergrass, who had issues with how the ordinance was passed, was not against raising wages or benefits but wanted to ensure that the county could cover the costs of any increases and that the process was done correctly.

The popular judge, who is retiring this year, proposed and advocated for the $2 per hour wage increase for all employees that also passed Tuesday night.

After nearly 20 minutes of debate, the court voted to overrule his veto, with only Justice Dennis Frank dissenting.

Under Ordinance 2022-6, 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.

Other actions from the court included the appropriation of funds for a $20,000 upgrade for the security cameras at the court’s complex, the appropriation of funds for a jailer’s position, and a resolution to declare a vacancy in District 3 following Justice Robert “Bob” Lowrey’s retirement from the court.

During the meeting, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery announced that every position in the county jail is now filled.

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