JPs vote for pay increase, Walkerville VFD gets $5K for new equipmentby J.D. Bailey on 01/11/22
The Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday approved multiple issues during its regular January gathering.
These issues include the following:
JP PER DIEM INCREASE
Columbia County Justices of the Peace on Monday voted unanimously to issue themselves a compensation boost. The move came after the local governing body voted to amend the county ordinance that sets the per diem rate and annual per diem ceiling rates for attending county government meetings. The rate, which is now $440.17, is closer in line with other counties in Arkansas with roughly the same population as Columbia County, according to one official.
The previous per diem rate was around $280 and has not been amended since the end of 2018. Monday’s vote was passed with an 8-0 vote. Three JPs — Russell Thomas, Penny Cook, and Jenny Whitehead — were not present.
JPs in the state cannot be paid a monthly salary, according to the Association of Arkansas Counties, and are instead reimbursed for their civic services on a per diem, or “by the day,” basis. Since the county officials cannot be paid a standard salary, they are instead reimbursed for attending meetings and traveling to civic gatherings in their personal vehicles.
The bare minimum per diem allowed for JPs in Arkansas, according to state code, is $125. Counties in the state typically stick to a per diem in line with other counties of similar size, but Columbia County’s JP per diem was not up to date for current conditions, according to the ordinance passed Monday.
“The Quorum Court of Columbia County has found and determined that [the ordinance] which sets the per diem compensation to be paid to Justices of the Peace and sets the rate of reimbursement to Justices of the Peace for use of privately-owned motor vehicles in the conduct of county affairs, is antiquated and should be amended to coincide with the compensation currently appropriated for Justices of the Peace for the 2022 calendar year,” said the county document.
The JP per diem rate is typically issued on a per month basis since the Columbia County Quorum Court gathers for its regular session only one day every month. The JP pay increase, according to the ordinance passed this week, cannot exceed $5,282.04 per year. When extrapolated out over 12 months, the rate equals $440.17 per month.
County JPs can, however, miss up to one meeting per year for emergency or personal reasons and still be compensated their regular per diem, according to the ordinance.
The new rate took place immediately upon the passage vote by the Quorum Court on Monday.
WALKERVILLE VFD GRANT
The Walkerville Volunteer Fire Department was issued a $5,000 community grant after a passage vote by attending members of the Columbia County Quorum Court.
The move came after a request letter was sent to the county government in May requesting aid for two new sets of turnout gear for the community fire department.
“This grant would greatly help us in providing the necessary protection when called out to fires,” said Walkerville VFD Fire Chief Jeff Gaddis in the request.
The cost of each new set of gear is approximately $2,500, according to the fire official.
The vote to approve the community aid grant was unanimous among the Quorum Court.
CCSO BODY SCANNER ARRIVES
Announced Monday by JP Rick Waller, chairman of the Quorum Court’s jail committee, the new body scanner purchased last month for the Columbia County Detention Center will be installed on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and training will commence after that. The equipment purchase, which cost $174,000, according to the county, was approved in December by the Quorum Court. It was funded by federal COVID-19 relief aid monies.
According to Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, the scanner is similar to those used by federal TSA agents and can detect body temperature swings to help mitigate the spread of viruses and illnesses in the county jail system. The technology can also help detect potential foreign objects being smuggled into the facility.
COUNTY INSURANCE INCREASES
Building Insurance on county properties is going up, according to County Judge Denny Foster. The exact cost of the increase is not known yet, but the county leader said Monday he estimates building insurance premiums will increase by approximately $23,000 per year.
Workers’ Compensation for the county is also set to increase at an even greater rate, according to Foster. The county official estimates that the annual rate will increase from $42,000 per year to $77,000 per year, or about $35,000.
“We’re still working on that, though,” he said.