The Faulkner County Quorum Court voted on Tuesday to approve two five-year loans totaling $5 million to continue building the Faulkner County Criminal Justice Center.
Also, County Treasurer Regina Oakley offered her resignation. She will leave office at the end of the year. Her retirement is mandatory based on a retirement plan Oakley picked seven years ago, and she thanked the court and administrators she’s worked with during her 35-year career in the treasurer’s office.
County Judge Allen Dodson thanked Oakley on behalf of the county.
The court also approved about $13,000 in raises for several county positions at the request of various department heads, including all “second in command” positions at county offices and the full County Clerk staff. Justice Steve Goode said that piecemeal raised had “caused disharmony with other county employees,” and that Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detention officers were underpaid compared to those in similar counties. Justice Johnnie Wells said that across-the-board raises for all county employees at once would be impossible, that some degree of disharmony would result regardless of which category of employees are given raises, and that competitive salaries to retain quality workers are important to county operations.
Justice John Pickett said that he’d researched county salaries and found them to be slightly higher than comparable counties, and also that there didn’t seem to be “undue turnover” among county employees.
Deputies and detention officers, Goode countered, were paid lower than those in comparable counties, and he maintained that these salaries should be addressed first. Justice Frank Shaw agreed that detention officers especially are “grossly underpaid,” but the issue was “whether we’re going to treat this group of employees like we’ve treated other employees all year” who have similarly gotten raises at the request of department heads.
Dodson said that a procedure to guide salary increases “in the near future” to give the court more structure in deciding who gets raises would be a good idea, but that raises such as those requested aren’t unusual.
“If a department head thinks someone’s underpaid, they’ve always approached the court,” Dodson said, adding later in the meeting that “if Sheriff (Andy) Shock shows up” asking for raises, the court would consider this as well. Also, in response to a question by Justice Johnny Brady, Dodson said that when next year’s budget is complete raises for deputies and detention officers would be possible.
“There’s so many employees in those departments, and so much of their budget comes from the criminal justice sales tax, and the criminal justice sales tax is down,” County Treasurer Oakley said. “(Previous Sheriff) Karl (Byrd) and I would get into it sometimes, and I’d tell him if you’re going to put 250k or 300k in your budget every year for cars, you’re never going to save enough for raises.” Oakley said that FCSO has similarly spent about $236,000 on cars this year. FCSO Fiscal Officer Leslie Moore defended buying the cars, saying that the money spent to refresh the fleet would otherwise be spent on maintaining older cars.
Ultimately, the court voted to approve the raises requested, with Justices Damon Edwards, Goode and Higgins voting “no.”
Shock arrived a few minutes before the meeting adjourned, and said that the value of deputies who respond to 9-1-1 calls in cars with around 60,000 miles or less, and so can be relied on to make it to the emergency, is a worthwhile thing to spend money on as well.
The court also tabled a proposed Verizon cellular phone tower with capability to take on three other carriers in Southwest Faulkner County west of Mayflower, an area that currently lacks cell service, until a newly formed cell tower committee could give a recommendation. The tower, which as proposed would be 250 feet high, has received FAA approval (required of structures more than 150 feet tall), a Verizon representative said. Construction of the tower isn’t set to begin until December.
The court also approved a resolution honoring FCSO Reserve Commander Wesley Scroggin for 20 years of service.
At the county road committee meeting held before the full meeting the committee briefly discussed joining a Regional Mobility Authority and Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA). Both are partnerships of cities and counties formed to make a stronger case for federal funding related to streets and intermodal (primarily air, waterways, and rail). The RITA would be related to the long-term riverport project, Dodson said.
The committee also heard that Indian Head Road residents will pay for three loads of gravel to bring the road “up to spec,” allowing inclusion into the county’s road network.
Also, County Attorney David Hogue has written a memo to instruct developers on building roads rather than referring them to a number of various of road county ordinances and Conway’s extraterritorial zoning requirements.
Dodson said he wanted to again remind developers and anyone wanting the county to take in a road that the first step is to bring the road to county specifications. By law, a county judge cannot consider taking in a road that does not meet these specifications, he said, and then a county judge may use his discretion to decide if the road’s utility to county citizens warrants the use of tax money to maintain it.
Hogue also recommended redrafting an ordinance that, as written, requires County approval, in the form of a $100 permit, for any driveway or other roadway joining a county road. The ordinance isn’t enforced, Hogue said, and he advised redrafting or striking the ordinance if the court didn’t think the requirement was necessary.
The committee also discussed the possible need for a separate road ordinance for new roads likely to be used by heavy commercial vehicles.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)