The Arkansas County Quorum Court recently passed an ordinance abolishing the Arkansas County Southern District-DeWitt court clerk position. This was the only option, according to Arkansas County Judge Glenn “Sonny” Cox, after salary adjustments were approved through the Arkansas Legislature.
The adjustment increased the southern district’s maximum salary range to match that of the northern district in Stuttgart. Arkansas Code (16-17-108) establishes the district's salary ranges. Three years ago, these ranges for the district judge alone were $13,000 to $23,000 for the southern district judge and $35,000 to $50,000 for the northern district judge. But after the increase the county’s portion for DeWitt also went up to $20,000.
“This is the best thing we could come up with, which was to eliminate that position,” Cox said. The position was filled at the time so one employee did lose their job in the process.
The increased maximum salary range is now $50,000. The range can be changed by the state representative for that district during the regular legislative session that begins in January.
“We didn’t have a choice, because that’s the law,” Cox said of the legislature approving the salary increase. “It surprised us all.”
The Quorum Court voted against the increase in salaries for the southern district in 2012, but it was later approved through the Arkansas Legislature. Cox said the legislature sets the limits and they have to follow.
Cox gave case load as one example of why the court did not pass the increase. In case numbers, Southern District Judge Park Eldridge presented Administrative Office of the Courts reports to show that the northern district received 3,420 total criminal and traffic cases in 2011 and 3,183 total criminal and traffic cases in 2012. The district had 494 civil cases in 2011 and 303 civil cases in 2012.
For the southern district, which includes St. Charles and Gillett, there were 3,487 total criminal and traffic cases in 2011 and 4,562 total criminal and traffic cases in 2012. The district had 196 civil cases in 2011 and 175 civil cases in 2012.
Eldridge was re-elected to his position as judge for the DeWitt district court after running unopposed in the primary on May 22, 2012. His current term will expire in January 2017.
Cox claimed the recession is still having an effect on finances in the county. Although the court did approve a raise for county employees in the 2014 proposed budget, they weren’t prepared for this much of an increase in the southern district court, so one position had be eliminated to fund the increase in the salary.
Most, if not all, county employees had not had a raise since 2011. The Stuttgart Daily Leader will have a more in-depth article on the 2014 proposed budget that was approved by the quorum court. Look for the article in upcoming editions of the Daily Leader.