After an extended, and at times heated, debate, Faulkner County Quorum Court passed a Premium Pay payment to county employees.

Premium Pay, essentially a bonus, was a provision included in America Rescue Plan funds, $24.3 million over a two-year period, received by the county as part of a federal program. This is coupled with a near $1 million in CARES Act funding, in both cases stimulus funds to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Premium Pay ordinance was first presented to the full court last month after court committees approved a $5,500 maximum bonus to county employees based upon hours worked during the health emergency. Committees had arrived at the $5,500 amount after reviewing what other counties had provided, including Conway County at $5,200.

The court had given employees a 1 percent pay raise for 2021, down from the proposed 3 percent, due to budget concerns.

The court returned the Premium Pay ordinance to Budget and Finance Committee at last month’s meeting, with several justices citing the amount of money being too high, and in some cases that more money needed to go to sheriff’s deputies than other county employees. Budget and Finance reviewed the ordinance and returned it to the court unchanged.

At the Tuesday night court meeting the ordinance, actually an ordinance pair, was presented, with protest by Justice Kris Kendrick who said the Budget and Finance Committee was “not transparent” in discussing, and returning, the ordinance without ordinance discussion being on its agenda.

Justice Randy Higgins, Budget and Finance member said that the ordinance would require three readings, leading to it being enacted at year’s end after three court meetings, allowing transparency.

An obviously upset Kendrick replied that he was not sure if bringing the ordinance forward that night was not “playing games.”

The ordinance pair was due to the funding source, with one ordinance using CARES Act funding, and the second using the American Rescue Plan money. This was due to the laws regarding the use of each fund, with some employees possibly not meeting the standards for Premium Pay set in the American Rescue Plan.

Justice Andy Shock said that he had been “around Faulkner County employees as long as anyone” and “could not understand why anyone would not support these two ordinances.”

Kendrick then brought that the Premium Pay being an appropriation, the three-reading ordinance format was not appropriate, since other appropriation ordinances were done in single reading.

This led to some back-and-forth, including concerns by Justice John Allison that the premium pay should only apply to law-enforcement-centered employees, such as deputies and jailers.

“I don’t think we are being honest,” Allison said, and proposed an amendment that the amount be changed to $1,000 for non-law-enforcement county employees, and up to $5,800 for law enforcement.

Kendrick said that changing numbers on the fly would be a problem, as well as outlining job duties during a court meeting. He recommended that the ordinance be returned to committee where it would be put on the agenda and “We’ll quit screwing around and get this done.”

Justice Strain agreed with Kendrick, saying that in his research private sector employees did not receive as sizable a bonus, and those who did received bonuses in the $1,500 range, although nobody “in the community” that he researched received a bonus.

Kendrick again cited a lack of transparency in committee, for which Judge Jim Baker asked him to “stop scolding.”

Higgins replied there was transparency.

Allison’s amendment was voted down. Kendrick responded by asking that the ordinance be changed to a single-reading as other appropriation ordinances. This would require vote by the court, he was told.

This led to a debate, with ultimately County Attorney Phil Murphy reviewing laws of procedure after being challenged on procedure requirements by Kendrick. Once the law was clarified, Kendrick moved for an agenda change, then a single reading, seconded by Justice Matt Brown.

During this Justice Rose Roland suggest the Premium Pay be changed to $2,000-$2,500 per employee, and the matter be re-visited in 2022.

Kendrick’s changes to a single reading passed. This was met by a motion to amend by Justice Justin Knight, capping the premium pay at $3,000 “for all current employees.”

This ultimately, and mirrored by both ordinances, was passed by the court, with Justices Allison and Brown voting against.

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