County employees will be getting a 4-percent across-the-board raise, it was decided by the Faulkner County Quorum Court.

The raise is possible, according to County Judge Preston Scroggin and county treasurer Regina Oakley, because the county has been "frugal" and prepared the 2010 budget with an eye for making up 2009’s lack of an employee raise.

"We usually try to give a 3-percent raise every year," Scroggin said after the meeting. "Last year, we couldn’t give any raise, and so this is what we’re doing to make up now that we’re confident that we have the money."

Two members of the audience voice objections. 

"We just heard concerns about revenue being down ... is it prudent to give raises now?," audience member Janet Crow said.

Crow was referring to concerns voiced earlier in the meeting that the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery was sluicing off sales tax revenue "because people are buying lottery tickets instead of a Coke and a chicken wing" and that the Criminal Justice Sales Tax was being hit hard by unexpected end-of-year jail maintenance expenses.

Oakley responded by saying that criminal justice funds were separate from the roughly $254,000 being used for the raises and that "county general is in better shape this year than I have seen it."

She also said that even with the raises the county is expected to operate at a 12-percent general fund reserve — 2 percent more than the state-mandated 10 percent reserve.

Jack Sotallaro told JPs that he was "glad to hear that the county is in relatively good financial shape," but that "a lot of people (in the private sector) haven’t gotten raises in two or three years."

"If the only growth industry is government, then I think a lot of people are going to be relatively unhappy with that," Sotallaro said.

Justices including Steve Goode, Jimmy Bryant and Dan Thessing replied that the raises were prudent. Bryant said that some county employees make as little as $22,000 per year, resulting in high turnover in some areas, most notably among detention officers. Bryant was joined by Goode and Thessing in saying that the money spent on raises is offset to an extent by savings in training new employees, as more employees may be paid enough to entice them to stay for more than a year or two.

"I am never, never intending to operate a government institution by taking food out of (county) employees’ mouths," Thessing added.

Justice Ancil Lee was alone in voting against the raises.

In other business, the court approved 2010 expenditures including one that adjust the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office had gone over budget in December, spending "about $560,000" when $400,000 had been appropriated.

Faulkner County Sheriff Karl Byrd and Chief Deputy Jerry Gross explained that the unexpected expenses came as a result of a series of mechanical failures at the Faulkner County Detention Center Unit II, or "new jail." A chiller, boiler and air conditioner failed, Byrd and Gross said, and Gross also said that over the course of operating the jail inmates have smashed enough of the porcelain bathroom fixtures that jail administrators have had to move to all-steel units.

Warranties are up on all of this machinery, Gross said, and due to the computerized nature of the machines’ control units and other "proprietary" accoutrements only one company can repair them, thereby excluding a competitive bid process.

After some discussion among JPs regarding the nature of these warranties and the consultant’s advise on which the decision to buy such machinery was made, Scroggin instructed County Attorney Stephan Hawks to contact the various companies that sold the machines and warranties and seek whatever after-the-fact satisfaction may be had for machinery that broke before what Scroggin said after the meeting was a reasonable service life.

Also, JPs unanimously passed an ordinance mandating ethical conduct for all county officials and employees. Hawks told the court that about 95 percent of the ordinance repeats the sections of Arkansas Code dealing with ethics and that the remaining five percent, which concerns private interests of county employees and officials conflicting with their public interests, he condensed from existing state code governing counties and municipalities in such matters.

This ordinance was introduced by Justices Jerry Roberts and Thessing. Roberts said after the meeting that he intended the ordinance to bring various aspects of pertinent state code that he said were hard to find in different sections of state code into a single piece of county legislation reflecting the body of state legislation on the issue. He also said that, as his and Thessing’s ordinance adds a provision by which "any citizen of a county or the prosecuting attorney of a county may bring an action ... to remove from office any officer or employee who has violated the rules of conduct set forth in this section," their ordinance adds "more teeth" to existing law governing ethics.

The court also voted to divide among all county public school districts a $5,384 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission education grant, as only one school district had officially requested funds from the grant and Scroggin expressed concern that the request process may not have been sufficiently explained or advertised. Also approved was a state-funded tax-back resolution for Rock-Tenn Corp. and a resolution applying a Beaverfork Volunteer Fire Department grant and an ordinance recognizing projected revenue.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)