Sebastian County election coordinator pay raised, still at part-time status

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 117 views 

While the Sebastian County Quorum Court passed an ordinance that raises the pay rate of the county’s election coordinator, the salary is still the lowest in the state for the position compared to similarly sized-counties.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued an update to the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime rule that increases the salary threshold for exempt employees (employees exempt from overtime pay) from $35,568 to $43,888, effective Monday (July 1). Exempt employees, because of their rate of pay and type of  work that they do,  are not eligible for overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a work week.

The county had three positions affected by the rate – the elections coordinator, chief deputy coroner and assistant golf course professional. To remain compliant with the new regulation, these needed to be increased to $43,888 by Monday or become non-exempt positions.

The Quorum Court approved an ordinance at its June 18 meeting to raise all three positions. The chief deputy coroner salary went from $43,024 to $43,888, a raise of $864. The assistant golf course professional salary went from $42,095 to $43,888, a raise of $1,793. The election coordinator salary went from $36,088 to $43,888, a raise of $7,800.

Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz had recommended to only raise the salaries of the chief deputy coroner and the assistant golf course professional.

“Two of them require a little bit of money to get them up and move forward. The third one is the election coordinator. To bring that up would require a $7,800 raise. So in my memo (on the matter included in the court packet for the meeting), I proposed we not do that and let it become non-exempt, which would mean, we would pay overtime over 20 hours a week. It’s a part time job,” Hotz said at the June 18 meeting.

Because it is a government job, the county can give comp time instead of paying overtime, which Hotz also recommended doing. Hotz said the options for the election coordinator position would be to leave the salary as it is and let the position become non-exempt, paying time over 20 hours in comp time; raise the salary to $43,888 and keep it an overtime-exempt position until at least the first of year; or raise the salary to around $58,000 and make it a full-time position.

“They (Department of Labor) have another proposal that will take effect Jan. 1 that will up (the salary requirement for exempt employees to $58,656). What we are trying to do is what we have to do between now and Jan. 1. … This is a temporary fix. If that goes into effect Jan. 1 it will affect 24 employees and to just bring those 24 employees up to minimum is $188,000,” Hotz said, noting that the proposal is being contested in court.

The courts have thrown out earlier proposals, he added.

Court members asked how much overtime the position would be working. Hotz said the salary was based on a 20-hour week and he didn’t believe there would be any overtime needed for a majority of the time.

“During an election it could be a 60 hour week, so there could be a lot of overtime. Or it could be more. When it’s not an election time, it’s a 20 hour week, I believe. That could be disputed,” Hotz said.

Quorum Court members agreed that because the upcoming November general election will be busy with presidential, congressional, state, county and local races contested, the election office should be kept running smoothly without making drastic changes. So the election coordinator position was added to the list of those getting the raise to stay exempt.

Hassler said she has only received two raises since began as the election coordinator in 2015. The first was when the Department of Labor mandated the minimum be raised in 2020 and the second was a 50-cent an hour raise in 2022, she said in a memo to Hotz.

“With inflation, I am now making less than I was making when I was hired nine years ago,” she said in the memo dated June 18, before the Quorum Court meeting. She added that the job has evolved over the years and is very different from what it was when she started in 2015.

“It is Important to get our employees up to the level that all the other counties are, and finally after many years, to try to get rid of this part-time employee status, which I fought for years, long before Steve was county judge,” Lee Webb, who served as a Sebastian County election commissioner for more than 12 years, said to Quorum Court members before the June 18 meeting.

Before the raise, the Sebastian County election coordinator position was paid $34 an hour, Hotz said, making it the highest hourly pay for any of the other Class 6 counties in the state. Class 6 counties are those with 70,000 to 199,999 residents. Class 7 counties have 200,000 residents or more. Sebastian County is the largest Class 6 county in the state with 127,799 residents, according to the 2020 census.

The Sebastian County’s hourly rate was slightly lower than Washington Country (245,981 residents) and Benton County County (284,333 residents) and $4 below Pulaski County (399,125), Hotz said.

“Your pay rate beginning July 1 will be $42.20 per hour for a 20-hour work week, making you the highest paid Election Coordinator on an hourly basis,” Holtz said in a memo dated June 20 to Meghan Hassler, the Sebastian County election coordinator.

However, Sebastian County is the only Class 6 or Class 7 county in the state with a part-time election coordinator, Hotz said. Other Class 6 counties range in salaries for the election coordinator (or like positions) from $41,022 (Garland County) to $57,381 (Saline County), according to information in a memo to Hassler from Becky Lynch, director of human resources for the county.

In the Class 7 counties, Washington County pays its director of elections $70,802 annually; Benton County pays its election coordinator $72,976 per year; and Pulaski County pays its election coordinator $80,457 per year.

The Sebastian County election coordinator job description states that the coordinator assists the election commission in administering elections in Sebastian County in accordance with applicable federal and state laws and county operating procedures.

The almost 30 duties prescribed to the coordinator also include developing a working knowledge of federal and state election laws, monitors changes and keeps officials and staff informed, assists the programmer in maintaining the current software database of county precincts and vote centers and programming each election in accordance with state election law requirements, trains all poll workers, monitors voting activity through internet software during voting, monitors courthouse activity on election night, completes and files federal election reports as required, maintains election trainer certification, and works with the election commission, county and municipal officials every 10 years to redistrict wards and justice of the peace districts and precincts based on new census data.