In a letter sent to Quorum Court members earlier this week, Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals said he would not be “actively promoting” a tax increase to support “Sheriff’s Office needs and payroll.”
Ryals had earlier this month announced plans to promote a half-cent sales tax in the county to support pay increases for deputies and other department personnel, including jailers, and to provide for needed equipment upgrades as well as improvements to the county jail system.
That proposal is now “on hold,” Ryals said.
Since the plan was announced, county Treasurer Scott Sanson presented to the Quorum Court Budget and Finance committee that county revenues were well above projections – by more than 15 percent. In Sanson’s report, the county was over $1.1 million in revenue ahead of where it stood at this time last year.
Based on this projection, Ryals has put the tax proposal – which required cooperation from city governments throughout the county for it to meet sheriff’s department funding goals – on hold.
A tax would not be needed “if the court put public safety in the forefront” during the forthcoming 2022 budget process, Ryals said.
The county will soon begin the budgeting process for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin Jan. 1. Additional projected revenues are expected to bring an increase in carryover funds, that is funds not specifically earmarked for a given program or department.
Ryals has repeatedly cited being unable to pay deputies and jailers what is being paid for the same job in other counties this size as impacting his ability to hire and retain employees. The county detention center system, spread between two locations in Conway, the courthouse and South German Lane, also needs to be addressed, Ryals said in his earlier justification for the tax proposal.
From Ryals’ letter: “During the October committee meeting last Tuesday and for the first time since taking office, the county treasurer projected news of a substantial projected increase in revenue.
“Although I will always be preparing plans to protect our immediate needs for the Faulkner Sheriff’s Office and the future needs of our county, I question: could this projected revenue increase be the beginning of our needs being met and a glimpse of relief from the required state mandates we are demanded to follow?
“A proposal to the public for a tax increase should be a very last resort. Prior to this projection, I and many others felt, as a county, we have no other options.
“However, moving forward into this next year, I will not be actively promoting a tax increase. I believe it is only fair to see if this projected revenue will be sufficient to move our public safety needs forward. I pray that it does.
“As we move forward into 2022, I will be asking for the support of this court of sufficient salary-survey equality raises for hiring and retention and movement toward advancing on the already-approved allocated funding for a maximum security jail.
“Thank you for your commitment to Faulkner County,” the letter concludes, followed by Ryals’ signature.
Pay raises, including pay for sheriff’s deputies, were a concern of the Quorum Court in its approving the 2021 budget last December. That budget was submitted by the Budget and Finance Committee to the court for approval and included a 3 percent cost of living increase. The court lowered that to 1 percent in a 6-4 vote. At the time and in debate for the pay scale, the concern was the sheriff’s department pay raises needed to be higher than 3 percent.
The move to 1 percent was the only change to the submitted budget by the court.
Justices indicated at the time in approving the 2021 budget and lowering the proposed pay increase that pay raises would be reviewed in 2021.
That same budget also included funding for six additional deputies.
In recent meetings the court has approved pay increases for dispatch center staff. Pay raises were also approved at the Tuesday night Quorum Court meeting for those holding the Chief Deputy position in the Assessor, Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Treasurer and Collector offices.
Unlike larger government bodies, county government in Arkansas is required by state law to not budget over 90 percent of its projected revenues.