Quorum court approves raises for detention officers

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Detention officers and supervisors at the Carroll County Detention Center will receive a $2-an-hour raise with the opportunity to earn a $500 retention bonus, approved by the county quorum court.

In a special meeting Tuesday, May 11, the quorum court voted 10-1 to extend the raise to the lowest-paid detention officers, along with the retention bonus if they remain in their positions through August.

On Monday night, the court voted unanimously to apply the raise and bonus opportunity to supervisors in the jail — a lieutenant, four sergeants and two corporals.

District 6 Justice of the Peace Craig Hicks, who sponsored the ordinance approved Monday night, said there was some confusion about the raises approved in the May 11 special meeting and who would receive them.

“I think this was an oversight,” Hicks said. “There were seven positions left out.”

Hicks noted that the ordinance he sponsored does not include raises for the sheriff, the jail administrator or an administrative assistant. He pointed out that unless the supervisors covered in the ordinance received a raise, they would be making less than the detention officers they supervise.

“I think there was some miscommunication the other night,” Hicks said.

“This was an oversight,” District 2 JP Chuck Olson said. “I agree that the supervisors should be making more than the people that work for them.”

While some county officials have been critical of the jail administration, District 10 JP Larry Swofford noted that staffing issues at the jail are not new.

“Every sheriff we’ve had has had problems keeping people at the detention center,” Swofford said. “Is it worse right now? Yes, it is, but every business in town has a ‘Help Wanted’ sign out.”

The May 11 special session was called to address a looming crisis at the detention center after Maj. Jerry Williams, chief deputy for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, told County Judge Sam Barr on May 7 that the jail was in danger of closing because it wouldn’t have enough personnel to meet the state’s minimum staffing requirements.

Barr appointed an advisory 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.

At the committee’s first meeting, on May 10, Williams said 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.”

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.

At the May 11 special meeting, District 1 JP Jack Deaton made a motion for the raises and retention bonus for the lowest-paid detention officers. District 3 JP Harrie Farrow cast the lone dissenting vote, explaining later in the meeting that she voted against Deaton’s motion because she didn’t feel the raises are high enough.

County Clerk Connie Doss, speaking at the May 11 meeting, warned that increasing salaries in the jail will lead other county employees to want more money, as well.

“It’s just going to snowball, guys,” she said.

“Just throwing money at this is not going to fix it,” Doss said later in the meeting. She outlined a number of other ideas for improving retention, including improvement in the jail administration, exit surveys conducted by a third party and anonymous surveys of the current employees.

Some JPs expressed their displeasure at being “backed into a corner” regarding the need for immediate action.

“Nobody likes that,” said Berryville mayor Tim McKinney, chairman of the advisory committee. “But a corner’s where we’re at.”

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.

The Carroll County Quorum’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, June 21, at Southern Heights Baptist Church, 279 Highway 221 South in Berryville.

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