Quorum court supports raises for detention officers

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Meeting in a special session Tuesday night to address a looming crisis at the county jail, the Carroll County Quorum Court approved a motion calling for a $2-an-hour raise and a $500 retention bonus for detention officers.

The motion called for the retention bonus to be paid at the end of August.

The quorum court voted 10-1 to approve the motion by District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton. The lone dissenting vote was cast by District 3 JP Harrie Farrow, who represents Eureka Springs. Farrow explained later in the meeting that she voted against Deaton’s motion because she doesn’t feel the raises are high enough.

The raises won’t be official until the quorum court approves an actual ordinance on the issue. Deaton said Wednesday morning that such an ordinance will be on the agenda for the quorum court’s next regular meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, May 17, at the county road department garage at 93 Homestyle Drive in Berryville.

The 2021 county budget approved by the quorum court set the minimum salary for a detention officer at $26,520 — $12.75 an hour for a 40-hour work week. Benefits including health insurance and retirement bring the county’s liability to more than $42,000 for the lowest-paid detention officers.

An advisory committee appointed by County Judge Sam Barr had recommended a $3 hourly raise for detention officers after holding its first meeting Monday.

The committee, comprising mayors and police chiefs from Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest as well as Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson, Carroll County District Judge Dale Ramsey and Berryville accountant David Killingsworth, was appointed on Friday, May 7, and sworn in before Monday’s meeting by County Clerk Connie Doss.

Barr said at Monday’s meeting that he formed the committee after meeting with Maj. Jerry Williams, chief deputy for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, on Friday about a staffing crisis at the Carroll County Detention Center. Williams told the committee Monday that the jail has been operating with a total of 20 detention officers — 10 fewer than the number allotted in the county budget. Six of those 20 have given their notice, Williams said, which would leave just 14. Williams said the state requires that four detention officers be present in the jail at all times regardless of the number of inmates being held in the facility. With detention officers working 12-hour shifts, Williams said it would be virtually impossible to meet the state’s minimum standards.

“Our jail will fall below a number that the state believes we can no longer adequately maintain our jail with what we have,” Williams said. “In essence, we will have to take our prisoners and … move them elsewhere.”

Sterling Penix, the state jail standards coordinator, participated in the meeting by phone. Carroll County prosecuting attorney Tony Rogers asked Penix if the jail was facing a deadline to keep the jail open.

“I think it’s even more serious than that,” Penix said. “In talking to Chief Williams and the team there in Carroll County, I think by their estimation if we’re not able to discover some type of plan, I think they’re going to have to close at the end of the week. And that’s going to be just because the operation just simply ran out of gas.”

Williams told the committee that he believed a $3 hourly raise would be enough to persuade some of the detention officers to continue working at the jail, and the committee voted unanimously to recommend that number to the quorum court.

The advisory committee will hold another meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the same location.

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