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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials continued work on the 2017 budget Thursday with a review of elected officials' pay and other personnel requests.

Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said the county has about a $4 million surplus in anticipated revenue over operating expenses. Guenther said the elected officials and department heads have submitted about $4.8 million in capital requests and $2.1 million in personnel requests, including raises. If all of those requests were approved, Guenther reported, the county would have to find $2.9 million to cover the cost of the requests.

The panel discussed a plan to tie elected officials' pay to the maximum limits set by the state. Barb Ludwig, human resources administrator, said setting elected officials' pay at 80 percent of the state maximum would increase the costs about $35,108 in the general fund and about $33,449 in the commissioned fund. Ludwig said the salaries will increase as the state Legislature increases the pay range. The elected officials' pay would automatically increase by three percent a year, unless employees didn't receive at least a three percent increase. The Personnel Committee didn't recommend pay increases for justices of the peace but the Budget Committee revived the issue.

Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said not increasing pay for justices of the peace would leave them as "second-class" officials.

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and Budget Committee chairman, said the pay for justices of the peace has been neglected because of concerns about when to have increases go into effect and the election cycle. He said the pay is too low and the county needs to set the increases in an ordinance along with the other elected officials to remove the uncertainty and take politics out of the equation.

It's never going to be popular," Allen said. "We just need to do it."

Included in the items discussed Tuesday was a recommendation for employees to receive 1 percent cost-of-living raises and for elected officials to have a pool of another 3 percent from which to give merit raises. Ludwig said the Budget Committee will probably set a cap for individual raises. Ludwig said the raises will cost the general and road funds about $775,812 and other funds about $183,433, if the full amount is approved.

The committee also reviewed a package of wage adjustments, salary compression adjustments, possible increases to federal overtime regulations, reorganization requests and requests for new personnel. The total cost of the package to the general and road funds was estimated at about $2.2 million. The recommendations would cost another $303,857 from other revenue funds.

The panel revisited the ranking of the new positions agreed on by the Personnel Committee. Allen said he would move a request from the Sheriff's Office for a cyber crimes detective from No. 7 to No. 1.

"In my view, public safety is the number one thing that government needs to be sure we're providing," he said.

Sheriff Meyer Gilbert also said the rankings needed to be reconsidered. The Personnel Committee ranked a sergeant for a warrants division as No. 6 and four deputies for the warrants division were ranked from 9 through 12.

"If we don't get the deputies, we don't need the sergeant," Gilbert said.

The Budget Committee also considered the cost of complying with new federal regulations governing overtime. Ludwig said the county will face about $85,000 to pay employees who were exempt from overtime pay.

The committee also considered increasing pay for members of the Election Commission and Planning Board from $100 per meeting to $125 per meeting.

General News on 11/09/2016

Print Headline: County budget panel considers personnel costs

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