Raises coming up for Eureka Springs city employees

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Many Eureka Springs city employees will soon be getting a bump in salary.

No action was taken by the city council on the issue at its regular meeting on Monday, but after hearing that the city could afford to make many city employee salaries at least $15 an hour, Mayor Butch Berry said the increase would likely go into effect the first pay period of May.

“We have the money in the budget right now, and we will be implementing this as soon as [department heads] get their paperwork into my office,” Berry said. “There’s still paperwork they have to do.”

Butch Berry

After hearing that the raises wouldn’t negatively impact the city’s finances, council members Bill Ott and Terry McClung asked if a vote was needed on the issue. 

“We can do that at mid-year budget review,” Berry said.

The mayor said he recently discussed the raises with department heads.

“[The department heads] have resubmitted their new budgets indicating that our full-time employees now have a minimum $15 an hour salary,” Berry said. “… We can address when we are amending our mid-term budget.”

The raises will cost the city $122,755.20 annually the council was told — $82,000 this year with eight months remaining.

“This is amazing,” council member Harry Meyer said. “This is good. We have been working hard for the last few years to give our employees better wages now that the city is doing better.

“We’ve watched the budget closely. Now we’ve done it. I think we owe ourselves a pat on the back.”

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, the council unanimously approved amended ordinances which split into two positions the roles of city attorney and city prosecutor and, at least for now, make them appointed positions.

Each amended motion was approved on its third reading and an emergency clause was also approved 6-0 making the new ordinances in effect immediately.

Berry had previously reported that Clint Scheel, who is also the prosecuting attorney for Berryville, was interested in the Eureka Springs prosecuting position, a role that will pay $1,700 a year. Longtime area attorney Forrest Jacobi is taking the role of city attorney, Berry said, a position that will pay $1,800 a month.

The action came after the recent passing of longtime city attorney Tim Weaver, who held both roles.

The council also unanimously approved an ordinance that changes ward boundaries based on population influxes in the city.

“Ward lines were adjusted to try to get approximately the same number of people in each ward,” city clerk treasurer Ann Armstrong told the council when introducing the proposed ordinance. “We know that some of the people on the voting list are deceased or they’ve moved, or they haven’t changed their location. But you have to work with what the county provides from the voter registration.

“So, it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s as close as we could get it.”

Armstrong said after each census, ward boundaries are modified to have an equal number of voters in each ward, within a 2 to 6 percent margin.

“I go for 3 percent if I can,” Armstrong said. “And so, it’s that the line for Ward 3 moved north into Ward 2.”

McClung and Meyer represent Ward 3 and Melissa Greene and Ott represent Ward 2.

In another 6-0 vote the council approved the application of Robert Tollett to join the vacant Position 1 spot on the Cemetery Commission.

In new business, the council was urged by Greene to read and think about a pair of items she is proposing on the topic of procedures and code of conduct by the council.

Specifically, Greene talked about setting procedures as to making sure a council member is recognized and called upon by the mayor during discussions, and also making sure that electronic devices aren’t being used to communicate with fellow council members during meetings.

“There’s one thing in here that is very concerning to me,” Greene said. “It says a city council member recognizes that all electronic transmissions sent or received in performance of their duties as a city council member are subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

“I’m watching people at this table text back and forth on a cell phone and we talk about transparency. Is somebody conducting business at the table? I don’t care if somebody is just texting you to bring a question up, you need to set that on the table. Say, ‘look, so-and-so just texted me. This is the question they’re asking.’ It’s a lack of transparency.

“We don’t know what people that are using their cell phones are texting back and forth. Maybe they’re making dinner reservations. We don’t know. But if somebody was to Freedom of Information Act somebody’s cell phone records, we would know if they were talking or texting to certain people. And I’m going to say I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think it’s not transparent. And I think it’s meeting outside of what is called the Open Meetings Act. So, I’m going to ask that all cell phones be off.

“Do you want to bring a laptop to look up information? I think that’s great.”

McClung responded: “Isn’t a phone the same thing as a laptop, basically?”

“I suppose you could text on a laptop … then we can’t bring laptops, you know, you just can’t conduct business,” Greene replied. “And I know there’s been business done on these cell phones and that’s not good.”

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