by Michael R. Wickline | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
October 21, 2023
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.
Requests from several state agencies to create more than two dozen new positions in exchange for surrendering other vacant positions, as well as requests to boost the salaries of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory’s chief medical examiner and the state bank commissioner for assuming additional duties, zipped through the Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday.
The council’s action came after state officials provided lawmakers with information about the total cost of the new positions, pay increases and certification pay. The position and pay changes were approved by the council’s personnel subcommittee on Wednesday.
The position and payroll shifts involve $957,697 in state general revenue, $535,895 in state special revenue, and $7,590 in federal revenue, according to the state Office of Personnel Management. The agencies did not get additional money for the new positions and had to cover them out of existing funds.
State Department of Transformation and Shared Services Secretary Leslie Fisken told the Legislative Council on Friday that state officials have been evaluating the state’s executive branch pay plan and merit pay system.
“Right now we have a meeting planned with [legislative] leadership for next month to discuss … how we could make some improvements on this plan,” she said.
“We also are working at no cost to the state with a consultant that is looking at the overall organizational structure of state government, and also specifically looking at our pay plan and looking at changes that we could make,” Fisken said. “Those recommendations from a consultant are forthcoming. As you can imagine, that will take time. It will be several months before we can get a full analysis of that. But we would like to move quickly and put measures in place to make sure that we are properly compensating all the employees, giving everyone information as we move ahead with those programs.”
Afterward, state Department of Transformation and Shared Services Chief of Staff Alex Johnston said the consultant is the Boston Consulting Group.
In March, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders directed the department to review and rework the state’s existing classification and compensation structure. At that time, the first-year Republican governor wouldn’t support a broad-based pay plan increase in state government’s employee classification and compensation bill that carried an $80 million price tag that didn’t consider the strategic needs in education, public safety, health care and corrections.
In June, the governor authorized merit pay raises for what she called exceptional employees in the state’s executive branch agencies. At that time, the plan was expected to mean that about 5,760 of the state’s more than 22,000 executive branch employees would receive merit raises in July with a total cost of $16.3 million.
State Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, said, “I think this next fiscal session I hope to have some discussion that we go back to the old system of [cost-of-living raises for state employees] and all that.”
The new position requests approved by the council Friday include the state Department of Corrections’ request for the creation of six new positions in exchange for not filling 12 positions.
The six new positions include a mental heath administrator post with a salary range of $86,887 to $125,986 a year; continuous improvement administrator and chief procurement officer positions with salary ranges of $77,862 to $112,899 a year; and policy administrator, chief training officer and chief of inspections and investigations posts with salary ranges of $69,776 to $101,175 a year.
Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri told lawmakers Wednesday that the department will save money under this proposal and he is hoping to reduce the department’s costs over time by not having redundancies among the department’s divisions.
The new position requests approved by the council Friday also include the state Department of Health’s request to create eight suicide prevention call center specialist posts with salary ranges of $45,010 to $65,264 a year, and two suicide prevention supervisor posts with salary ranges of $50,222 to $72,821 a year in exchange for surrendering 10 positions.
State Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Barnhill said the 10 requested positions will be designated to the Arkansas Lifeline Call Center, a suicide prevention phone line that operates around the clock providing support for individuals in need. There are currently 10 positions assigned to the program, and only three are filled.
The other new positions approved by the council on Friday include:
A state Department of Finance and Administration tax appeals staff attorney post with a salary range of $77,862 to $112,899 a year and a legal services specialist post with a salary range of $36,155 to $52,424 a year.
A general counsel post at the state Department of Agriculture with a salary range of $96,960 to $140,592 a year.
A state Insurance Department pharmacy benefits manager division manager post with a salary range of $69,776 to $101,175 a year. The Insurance Department is under the Commerce Department.
Two state Department of Public Safety Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training deputy director posts with a salary range of $77,862 to $122,900 a year.
Also Friday, the Legislative Council approved the Arkansas Department of Public Safety’s request to boost the salary of Arkansas State Crime Lab Chief Medical Examiner Theodore Brown by 3% from $365,750 to $376,722 a year for assuming the additional duties of state Crime Lab director.
Arkansas Department of Public Safety Col. Mike Hagar on Sept. 22 announced the appointment of Brown to fill the Crime Lab director post that became vacant with the retirement of Kermit Channell in August, effective Monday. A former Crime Lab director, J.R. Howard, has served as interim director.
The Legislative Council also approved the state Department of Commerce’s request to offer a 10% salary increase to the state bank and securities commissioner, Susannah Marshall — from $173,918 to $191,310 a year — retroactive to Aug. 28, due to her additional duties of directing the Arkansas Securities Department.
On Aug. 11, Sanders announced her appointment of Marshall, the state bank commissioner, to also lead the Arkansas Securities Department.
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