City & County

Pay raises on table for county’s officials, employees

12/7/2022: This article has been updated to correct the amount of the proposed raises, and to include comment from Justice of the Peace Ricky Arnold.

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

Pay raises for elected officials and county employees will be up for discussion the next time the Clark County Quorum Court meets.

On Monday, Dec. 12, justices of the peace will consider an ordinance adopting a base-pay threshold for new full-time county employees. Raises are in the works for all elected officials and full-time county employees, with the top elected officials to be pulling down the highest figures.

The ordinance is calling for a $1,500 increase from the most recent raise justices approved for 2022, and would be the fourth raise since 2018. A 2.5% increase was given in 2019, with 2020 being a stagnant year for pay increases before a $1,500 raise was awarded in 2021. 

Should the quorum court approve Ordinance 2022-09, each of the county’s top elected officials will be earn nearly $12,000 more in 2023 than they did fives years ago, based on data provided to The Arkadelphian.

The county judge’s salary in 2018 was $53,600; the proposed salary of $65,500 makes for a difference of $11,900.

The sheriff’s salary in 2018 was $53,250; the proposed salary for 2022 is $65,142, a difference of $11,892.

Salaries for the circuit clerk, county clerk, assessor and treasurer in 2018 were $46,800; the proposed salary for each position is $58,530, a difference of $11.730.

An administrative assistant’s salary in 2018 was $25,050; the proposed salary for that position in 2022 is $33,236, a difference of $8,186.

Deputies with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office pulled down $29,000 in 2018. Those positions will pull down $5,398 more in 2022 than they did five years ago should justices approve the ordinance.

Chief deputies from each office (circuit clerk, county clerk, assessor and treasurer) in 2018 was $25,050; the proposed salary for those positions in 2022 is $5,186.

How Clark County stacks up

The Clark County judge’s position currently rakes in $64,000 annually. Compared to other Class 3 Arkansas counties — of which there are 15, with populations between 20,000-29,999 — the Clark County judge is the sixth-highest paid. The highest paid Class 3 judge, in Johnson County, earns $78,117, and the lowest paid Class 3 judge, in Logan County, earns $54,700. 

The Clark County sheriff’s position currently rakes in $63,642 annually. Compared to other Class 3 counties, the Clark County sheriff is the sixth-highest paid. The highest paid Class 3 sheriff, in Johnson County, earns $78,117, and the lowest paid Class 3 sheriff, in Logan County, earns $54,700.

Those elected to the offices of county clerk, circuit clerk, assessor and treasurer currently rake in $57,030 annually. Compared to other Class 3 Arkansas counties, Clark County elected officers are the sixth-highest paid. The highest paid elected officials, in Johnson County, earn $69,539, and the lowest paid Class 3 elected officials, in Polk County, earn $45,795.

Asked for an opinion on the proposed raise schedule, District 7 Justice Jenna Scott noted the county has several “underpaid” employees — namely sheriff’s deputies, dispatchers and jailers — working in “horrible conditions.” Those employees, she opined, should receive a larger percentage than others. “We have high turnover in those areas, and if we don’t do something we’re going to continue having to spend money on training those high-turnover positions,” Scott said.

Conflicts and lame ducks

There are two potential conflicts of interest among members of the court regarding a vote on raises.

Justice Tracy Rider will be sworn in as the county clerk come Jan. 1, 2023, so a vote from Rider as a justice means a vote for or against her future salary. Likewise, a vote for or against a raise from outgoing Justice Ricky Arnold would affect the salary of his spouse, Treasurer Karen Arnold.

Ricky Arnold said he discussed the potential conflict with the Arkansas Association of Counties in previous years and determined he should not recuse himself from a vote concerning pay raises. “Considering the number of employees the county has, I will vote for a raise for all county employees,” he said, adding that he would not vote if Karen’s salary was the lone salary up for vote.

The December meeting will mark the last for Rider and Arnold, as well as outgoing justices Tom Calhoon, Darrin “Spud” Buscher and Austin King.

Pay remains stagnant for JPs

Clark County justices earn $200 per meeting and will continue to do so despite a cry from District 4 Justice Albert Neal, who in November requested his colleagues consider increasing that figure by $50. His motion to increase justices’ per diem payments died for a lack of a second. 

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There has been no raise for members of the quorum court — the legislative body in control of the county’s coffers — in more than two decades.

Among the five Class 3 counties in Southwest Arkansas, Clark County justices receive the least amount of per diem pay. Justices in Ouachita County (Camden) receive $450 for each meeting. Justices in Columbia County (Magnolia) earn $440. Hempstead County (Hope) justices make $300 per meeting. Justices in Polk County (Mena) earn $247 per meeting.

Neal said he is in favor of doling out raises to county employees “if the money is available” but also supports a raise for quorum court members.

Scott, on the other hand, said that while she isn’t opposed to a raise for justices she would prefer the matter be decided by voters in a regularly scheduled election.

2023 budget also on table

Although the county’s budget committee failed to meet in November, the quorum court is set to consider a separate ordinance establishing the county’s 2023 budget.

A note on the agenda notes that the county judge’s office will furnish the ordinance at a later date. The budget committee did not meet as scheduled in November because of a scheduling conflict with District 5 Justice Tom Calhoon, who chairs that committee. Calhoon has since said he aims to make it a “priority” to have the budget complete in time to comply with the deadline.

District 7 Justice Jenna Scott said she will not vote for a proposed budget unless she has time to “review it well in advance” of Monday’s meeting. The meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Clark County District Courtroom.

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