QC Talks Budget, Personnel Policy Issues at Meeting

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Members of the Clay County Quorum Court gathered for their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 16, a day late due to the MLK Day holiday. Facing a light agenda, the justices approved an ordinance amending the budget; discussed the formation of a personnel policy committee and heard an update from Judge Mike Patterson. Sheriff Terry Miller also requested additional funds for part-time deputies, and informed court members of a plan to place a resource officer at Piggott High School.

With justices Mike Hill and John Mansker absent, Patterson called the meeting to order at the courthouse in Piggott. After dispensing with the usual agenda items, the court members turned their attention to Ordinance 2018-01, which amends the current budget.

The ordinance serves to amend the budget by appropriating a $7,882 refund from Traveler's Insurance, payed by the county's previous fleet insurance carrier. The monies were then divided between the sheriff''s department and the county road department. It also appropriated a $5,618 reimbursement from EMAC for costs incurred when the Emergency Task Force members were deployed to the disaster site in response to Hurricane Harvey, applying the funds to the budget for the boat safety fund. The ordinance also corrects an error due to a miscalculation of the judge, sheriff's and collector's salaries.

The ordinance was placed on first reading, title only. Afterward, the justices waived the requirement it be read on three separate occasions, holding the second and third readings, title only. The ordinance, and the accompanying emergency clause which allows it to be in effect immediately, were passed on a roll call vote of 7-0.

The complete ordinance may be found elsewhere in this edition.

Patterson then asked for input on forming a personnel policy committee, and requested that it be chaired by Justice Duane Blanchard. Joining him from the court were members Greg Ahrent and Richie Culver.

At the suggestion of Justice David Cagle, added to the committee were County Clerk Pat Poole and Sheriff Terry Miller. Additional members were also likely to be added at a later date.

Patterson indicated questionnaires will be handed out to department heads and employees, giving the committee members input on matters which need to be addressed.

“There are also a number of things suggested by the county judge's association we need to take a look at,” Judge Patterson noted.

One of the matters facing the committee is comp time, which has recently caused issues with the sheriff's department. Miller noted he had been meeting with state official the past two weeks, after an employee apparently raised concerns about the way the comp time system was being operated within the department.

“I'm not sure any of us understand exactly what the law is, but I've gotten a pretty good education the past week or so,” Miller told the court.

County Clerk Poole noted each elected official is responsible for the time sheets for each employee, and are required to sign-off on their hours. “We have no right to question it,” she explained.

“I just know we can't give a blank check when it comes to comp time,” Cagle added. “We can't allow that and we need some kind of guidelines.”

He noted there are no line-items in the county budget for overtime, adding “it does exist, but we can't pencil it in and there's no way to know how much it will be ahead of time.”

A longtime member of the finance committee, charged each year with drafting the budget, Cagle offered more insight.

“Each year when we finish the budget we ask each elected official and department head if they're satisfied,” he offered. “I hate to lay it on the elected officials shoulders, but we need to know what we can do legally—pay or comp time. And, it needs to be dealt with immediately.”

Afterward, Miller requested additional funding from the court to allow him to hire three part-time deputies.

He indicated the part-time deputies will be utilized to cover vacation and sick time, and asked for an additional $10,000 to cover pay, taxes and SSN deductions although no retirement will be paid.

Miller also reported the dispatch operations had been operating with “bare minimum” staffing, due to a variety of reasons—including a maternity leave.

When asked if the sheriff's department budget would have to be adjusted he noted, “you can do it any way you'd like, add to the budget or move some funds around. If it's not enough I can come back to you later in the year.”

In response, Cagle suggested the court increase funding by $15,000, allowing the additional hirings and providing a buffer for later in the year.

“We'd much rather go ahead and allocate $15,000 now, than to have to go back and do it again later in the year,” he added.

Along with the three part-time deputies, the department staff includes Miller, one investigator and nine deputies.

Miller also discussed ways his department could be more proactive in solving the issue of comp time, a sentiment shared by the court members.

“We have to figure out a better way to keep up with comp time, I guess we're done with the honor system,” the sheriff explained. “We need a way of keeping up with it in writing.”

The justices inquired whether the sheriff's department vehicles were equipped with GPS devices, allowing Miller to know the whereabouts of all the units at any given time.

“It would be good to know if somebody was going home and sitting three hours,” Cagle offered.

Miller indicated not all of the vehicles are equipped with GPS, but noted he is currently seeking grant funds for upgrades.

“We hope to be able to get some grant money that will allow us to have a mobile hot spot, and GPS tracking, in all the units through Verizon,” he added.

Cagle noted the county general account had slightly more funds than had been forecast, thanks to an incrementally larger carryover. With that in mind, he offered a motion to allow the $15,000 one-time increase for the sheriff's department. The measure passed on a vote of 7-0.

Miller also reported he was working with the Piggott School District on placing a resource officer at the high school. He indicated the position would be paid by the district, but the person would also be available as an auxiliary deputy as well. He was to report on the effort at the next meeting.

During his update, Patterson noted he had been contacted by the owner of a gravel pit who had previously done business with the county. He reported the county had not hauled from the pit in several years, but indicated there was an apparent mix-up at the time.

“We had a agreement to clean-up the pit when we were done, but apparently another pit nearby was cleaned-up instead,” he noted. “The county had been hauling out of that one, too.”

Patterson indicated the clean-up was done by a company contracted by the county, and noted the owner was seeking $7,500 to complete the work.

After visiting the site, and speaking with the owner, Patterson made a counter offer of $6,000, which was accepted. On a vote of 7-0, the justices agreed to allow the payment to be made and paperwork drafted absolving the county of any responsibility.

In other business the court--

Selected Justice David Cagle as the delegate to the annual state convention of counties.

Set the monthly meeting times and dates, as required by law at the first meeting of each year. Without dissent, the JPs agreed to continue to meet at 7 p.m. on the third Monday, barring a holiday.

In a related note, the justices were reminded the February meeting falls on the President's Day holiday, and the gathering will be held the following day, Tuesday, Feb. 20.

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