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County raises top $315,000 hike

JONESBORO — Craighead County taxpayers will pay an additional $315,186.50 this year in salaries for county employees.

The 2021 county budget reflects $10,513,906.50, compared to last year’s $10,198,720.

Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said the county was prepared for the increase in cost.

“We went into it knowing what The Johanson Group recommendations were and how much it would cost. We knew exactly what that number would be,” he said.

Day said there are still several county positions that are not quite at fair market value.

“I hope the quorum court continues to move forward and get us to that midpoint,” he said.

County employees received raises across the board, a measure approved by the quorum court during its Dec. 14 meeting.

Day said most of the raises were between 3 percent and 6 percent and went into effect Jan. 1. Day said the raises were based on recommendations by the Johanson Group, which conducted an independent salary analysis of all county employees.

“This is the first time that Craighead County has ever used that company,” Day said, noting he was aware of other towns and cities that have utilized the services. “For me, you have to look back at history. The quorum court wanted to do the right thing and be fair to the employee and the taxpayer.”

Day said, in his opinion, Johanson did a great job examining the positions and deciding what the fair market value was for each one.

According to documentation submitted to The Sun which listed county employee’s names, salary information for 2020, and expected salary information for 2021, some employees in the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department received increases around the 9 percent and 10 percent mark.

Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said those increases were not part of the county’s salary increase but were instead within the department itself. For example, Boyd said Craighead County Deputy Cody Ladner received a $4,308 increase in salary compared to last year.

“(Deputy Ladner) was new, and he started out at a lower rate,” Boyd said. “Once (employees) finish the academy, they receive full pay.”

Boyd said the base pay for deputies is set at $43,000.

“When someone hires in, they hire in at $3,000 less than the base pay,” he said. “After certification, and one year of employment, (employees) receive a $1,500 increase.”

It’s a step process with the deputies, he said.

Other employees within the Craighead County Sheriff’s department reflect a decrease in salary of about $282. After some discussion, Day realized those numbers did not include shift differentials and stipends allotted to deputies based on special certifications.

The Craighead County Quorum Court will be passing a resolution to amend those errors during Monday night’s quorum court meeting.

“We are passing a resolution to correct salary errors,” he said. “It was a math error that had to do with shift differentials for three employees.”

Craighead County Election Coordinator Jennifer Clack said she had no idea until the budget was passed that a wage increase was in the works.

“I am very grateful for my job here, whether we had gotten that (raise) or not,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people that have put themselves at risk this year.”

Although attempts were made to contact several other county employees about their thoughts on the raises, there was no one available for comment.

In addition to data on what salaries would be for the year, the salary report indicated there are several employee vacancies in multiple county departments.

The sheriff’s department alone has a vacancy for a detention center sergeant and seven officer slots. Day said that’s an area where the county has really been struggling.

“It is my understanding we are really having trouble hiring people at the jail,” he said. “After speaking with Sheriff Marty Boyd, as much negativity that has been in law enforcement on a national level, it has spilled over to the local level.”

Day said the last time the county advertised for positions in the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department, four applications were received.

Craighead County also has several positions open, including a road mechanic, a payroll clerk in the county clerk’s office, a building maintenance person, a deputy land records clerk, and an administrative position in the county assessor’s office.

Day said those are just a matter of timing and finding the right candidate.

“With what payroll has been through with Kade Holliday, the county’s human resources director Lacey Rush has been helping,” Day said.

On a recent warm day in Jonesboro, firefighters from Station No. 2 took an ice cream break at Andy’s on Highland, social distancing and wearing masks or ready to wear one should it be needed. The firefighters from left are: Adam Alpe, Margan Walling, Chris Nugent and Justin Weston.

Ice cream break

Felicia Johnson, owner of Northeast Arkansas Real Estate School, spent most of Friday preparing for the real estate brokerage classes set to begin Monday morning. “This is for people who have been in sales for two years,” Johnson said.

Preparing for Brokerage Classes

Jonesboro’s Amarion Wilson drives to the basket as Greene County Tech’s Benji Goodman defends during the first quarter of Friday night’s game in Paragould. Jonesboro improved to 2-0 in 5A-East conference play with a 50-35 victory.

MAPC to study Southern Hills development

JONESBORO — Final plans for a mixed-use subdivision that could reshape development of Jonesboro’s southwestern section will be on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Arae Planning Commission.

The 118-acre planned development known as Southern Hills Addition at 3506 Southwest Drive, will offer a mix of residential, professional and retail uses.

Southern Hills Real Estate LLC developers Carroll Caldwell, Prateek Gera and Matt Millerd plan to construct retail uses along Southwest Drive to Keller’s Chapel Road. Multifamily housing of various types would go between the retail sites and a single-family subdivision containing about 80 units backing up to the Twin Oaks subdivision off of South Culberhouse Street near Craighead Forest Park.

Caldwell, the managing partner for the development, told The Sun Friday the 118 acres will be divided into 14 separate lots for marketing purposes. Unlike most major developments, Caldwell said the infrastructure won’t be installed in phases, but all at once.

“I hope to have all streets, utilities, bike trails and sidewalks completed by July of this year,” Caldwell said. “I will start marketing in May. I do have a lot of prospects calling.”

Unrelated to Tuesday’s business, Caldwell said construction of a convenience store is expected to begin this spring at Southwest Drive and Keller’s Chapel Road.

At last report, The Arkansas Department of Transportation estimates more than 22,000 vehicles pass the property per day.

Also Tuesday, the commission will review a draft of a proposed ordinance that would introduce a new housing concept to Jonesboro – cottage housing development.

“A cottage housing development is an alternative type of detached housing providing small residences for households of typically one to two individuals without undergoing the subdivision process,” according to the draft proposal. “Cottage housing is provided as part of the City’s overall housing strategy, which intends to encourage affordability, innovation and variety in housing design and site development while ensuring compatibility with existing neighborhoods, and to promote a variety of housing choices to meet the needs of a population diverse in race, income, household composition and individual needs.”

Cottage homes would be built in clusters of four with a maximum of 12. The clusters would share common green space.

Other requests on the agenda:

Bayird Auto, 3000 E. Parker Road, request to pay $7,905 in lieu of sidewalk construction due to state right of way and utility restrictions.

Cheddars Casual Cafe, 2123 Red Wolf Blvd., request to pay $10,050 in lieu of sidewalk construction due to restrictions

City Water and Light, request for conditional use for a new sewer diversion structure at 413 Ridgecrest St.

C & O Enterprises for preliminary subdivision for The Landing @ Hudson, 22 single family lots on 6.38 acres at 3423 Hudson Drive, east of Old Greensboro Road.

The commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance in the meeting room will be limited. Residents may view the proceedings on Suddenlink Cable Channel 24, or on two options on the city’s website, www.jonesboro.org.

Major road plans revealed

JONESBORO — Even as several major road improvements are already under construction in the Jonesboro area, the Arkansas Department of Transportation hopes to begin construction on more than $80 million in more work by the end of September.

Those projects would range from the eastern bypass, which would upgrade Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly Commerce Drive) from Interstate 555 and extend it north to U.S. 49 (East Johnson Avenue) at Clinton School Road.

That estimated $34.5 million job is among projects listed in the proposed Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is a plan for transportation and safety improvements through 2045.

The Northeast Arkansas Regional Transportation Planning Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to formally adopt the plan. The proposal had been available for public comment since early December.

The commission’s planning area includes Jonesboro, Brookland, Bono, Bay and the unincorporated portions of Craighead County between those cities. The commission’s job is to recommend the best use for federal transportation funding. The metropolitan plan will become part of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan.

Other projects proposed for federal fiscal year 2021:

Intersection improvements to Arkansas 351 (Old Greensboro Road) and Airport Road, $7.1 million.

Widening Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B) 0.33 miles south of Parker Road, $2.9 million.

Railroad overpass on Airport Road, $14.6 million.

Pavement preservation of 6.77 miles of U.S. 49 and 49B in Brookland, $4.3 million.

Pavement preservation of 2.65 miles of U.S. 63 from Southwest Drive (U.S. 49) to Washington Avenue, $400,000.

Pavement preservation of 8.18 miles of Arkansas 91 from Arkansas 349 to U.S. 49 in Jonesboro, $2.5 million.

Major pavement preservation and other improvements to 68 miles of U.S. 63 from Dan Avenue to Southwest Drive, $20 million.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting will be conducted online. Residents may view the meeting on Suddenlink Cable Channel 24 or on the City of Jonesboro’s Facebook Live page.

The planning document can be found at: https://www.jonesboro.org/DocumentCenter/View/7511/Joint-Committee-Agenda-11221

School return from Christmas break with more COVID-19 cases

JONESBORO — Although COVID-19 cases are a bit higher for some schools than they were before Christmas break, the number of those in quarantine are lower.

Christian Smiley, COVID-19 point of contact for Valley View School District, said the district has seen more positive COVID-19 cases since returning from Christmas break.

“We do have a few more positive (cases) with (students),” she said, noting they were due to traveling during the break. “... Because they contracted it during the break, we are seeing less in quarantine due to close contact.”

Valley View, as of Thursday, had a total of 17 positive COVID-19 cases, 86 students in quarantine, and 33 teachers testing positive for COVID-19. “The number changes every day,” Smiley said.

She said the students seem to be taking the COVID-19 illness seriously. “They are aware of how dangerous it can be, and are taking the precautions, socially distancing, and wearing masks appropriately,” she said.

Nettleton Assistant Superintendent Grace Peterson said the district has also seen an increase in numbers since returning from Christmas break. As of this week, Peterson said they have a total of 18 students who have tested positive, 115 quarantined, 11 employees that have tested positive, and 12 in quarantine.

Peterson said the first semester of the school they had to close two different buildings.

“We closed Fox Meadows School of Creative Media, and we closed Fox Meadow Elementary,” she said. “Our closures were due to the fact that we could not staff those buildings.”

Peterson said the closures are impacting students.

“I feel like the inconsistency with the instruction has been a struggle. You might be a student in quarantine for so many days, then turn around and come back and your teacher be in quarantine,” she said.

School officials are aware that Phase 1b is right around the corner, which is when educators will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccination. “We just sent out a survey Friday morning and so far more than half of the staff has said ‘yes’ they are going to take the vaccination,” Peterson said.

Jonesboro Public Schools has also had its struggles with COVID-19 said Jonesboro Public School Assistant Superintendent William Cheatham said.

“MacArthur went to remote virtual learning at the beginning of the year, but it was the only school that went fully remote,” he said.

Cheatham said the school has been fortunate to see steady numbers with very little increase. The school currently has 17 to 20 staff who have been in quarantine and four or five who have tested positive for COVID-19. Cheatham said there were 30 students in quarantine.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health report on COVID-19 cases in educational institutions, the Jonesboro school district has 18 active cases.

Jonesboro, like Nettleton School District, is preparing for the next phase of the Arkansas Department of Health’s vaccination plan.

“We are developing a plan and putting information together for our staff, sending out a survey and asking if they are willing to take the vaccination,” he said.

Cheatham said when the district obtains the numbers, the administration will make a plan.

“We will make a plan based on what we know, and we don’t know much,” he said.

Although an attempt was made to contact both Westside and Brookland School Districts, neither responded.