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Quorum Court to take another shot at raising wages following new proposal

The Baxter County Quorum Court has another county employee pay raise to consider after the Quorum Court’s Budget Committee approved the idea of a $2-an-hour raise following a proposal from Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass during its monthly meeting last Thursday.

Additionally, several elected officials, including the county judge, the sheriff, the assessor, the collector, county clerk, treasurer, and coroner, may also receive a pay boost if approved by the court.

The issues now move to the full court, which is expected to meet on Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Baxter County Courthouse.

“It will let us be able to fill or come more likely to being able to fill open positions we have in certain departments without having to bring them up in the pay grade tabular, a little closer to the beginning point of it than to the midpoint of it,  and maybe get a full staff back,” said Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass.

Baxter County Judge Pendergrass proposed a new $2-an-hour wage increase for county employees during last Thursday’s Budget Committee meeting. Pendergrass has been seeking ways to raise wages over time to help the county stay competitive with a rapidly changing economy. Photo by Chris Fulton/MHO.

If this provision passes the court, all county employees, except for members of the Sheriff’s Office, would receive the raise starting March 13. The raise would bump most employees over the $15 an hour mark, though a few positions will continue to earn roughly $14.

Last year, the Quorum Court approved the separation of the Sheriff’s Office policy manual from the county’s. Under the new system, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery raised wages by $1.37 to $2.92 per hour and offered better sick time and vacation benefits to his employees, depending on factors like experience and position.

Issues of legality were brought up during last month’s Quorum Court meeting after Baxter County Justice Ty Chapman and Dennis Frank, who were concerned that the county would be sued by its employees, put forth an eleventh-hour amendment to potentially repeal the Sheriff’s Office ordinance to the court’s agenda.

If it had been repealed, the county would have reversed the extra benefits given to those employees while ensuring they kept their additional pay raise, which was passed separately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

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.

Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass and county attorney David Ethredge discuss their concerns over Ordinance 2021-35 during last month’s Quorum Court meeting. Both men agreed that questions surrounding the legality of the ordinance needed to be addressed by the court. Photo by Chris Fulton/MHO.

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.

Judge Pendergrass, who openly disagreed with the move, issued a rare veto to Ordinance 2021-35 a week later in a letter addressed to the justices on the court.

“The actions taken this past Tuesday evening were both confusing and out of order in my opinion, with many of you all really not knowing what just happened,” wrote Judge Pendergrass in a letter vetoing Ordinance 2022-6. “It has placed considerable stress and concern on me as I take this very serious step. So again, respectfully, I ask that any and all of you please come by and visit with the considerable concerns that I have included in the list below before considering such a move.”

While Pendergrass may have vetoed the ordinance, it may still become law if seven out of the 10 Justices on the court vote to override his veto.

And while the Budget Committee agreed with Pendergrass’s idea last Thursday, at least three of the court’s Justices wish to discuss the judge’s veto during Feb.’s meeting, potentially bringing an override vote to the next meeting.

If the court passes Pendergrass’s proposal, the county can expect to spend an additional $612,000 on wages throughout the rest of the year.

Pendergrass said he expects his proposal to pass in next week’s court meeting.

“I think everybody understands the need that we have by the couple of examples that we gave at the meeting,” Pendergrass said. “I think everyone is on board with it, especially amongst the elected officials, and it appears that the Quorum Court is too.”

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