An ordinance amending the budget for Jefferson County, Arkansas for a 30 percent slot reduction by way of furlough, was heavily discussed in a two-hour Quorum Court meeting Tuesday evening.
According to Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, under the furlough, employees would be able to draw unemployment and receive an additional $600 from the federal government for 14 weeks and the county would pay 50 percent of the insurance.
“This is the best deal that I’ve seen,” said Harden. “I’ve looked at two or three different plans and the judge is behind this.”
According to the Chief of Staff, when doing her research on the Shared Work Program, a reserved account was needed, which Jefferson County does not have. She also stated doing a Shared Work Program would save them less money in comparison to furlough.
“The revenues for March and the revenue for April are going to be down,” said Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson. “ Even with the businesses opening up like they are, and we are getting back to opening up everything, we know we are still at least a couple of months into having those revenues that are going to be down.”
While some of the committee agreed with the furlough, Justice Alfred Carroll said he could not support it.
“The majority of us have not heard the majority speak,” said Carroll. “We don’t have any documents to substantiate any of the numbers that we’ve heard about so that we can look at them ourselves and see what they say.”
The furlough would include every department in the county but Sixth Division Circuit Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr. said he respectfully disagreed with the Chief of Staff.
“The judge said if we had any alternate ideas that the elected official had, to bring that forward,” said Brown. “The judge indicated his idea was to furlough but many other department heads who had another proposals, they could do that.”
Brown said he submitted his application Friday for the Shared Work Program and spoke with the director of the Arkansas Division of Workforce about the provisions of the program.
According to Brown, his application was approved and he provided confirming documents during the meeting.
“I am asking if a department can show that they can do a Shared Work Program or a reduction in hours, mine was reduced from 40 hours to 30 hours a week, they still would be eligible for the $600 and their unemployment through the shared work program, I’m asking for another approach,” said Brown.
The Chief of Staff questioned Brown stating the information she received from the assistant director was that the program had to apply to the entire county.
Brown stated each department could apply separately.
Robinson said the reason the furlough was chosen is because that was the best choice for the employees but he was willing to exempt Judge Brown due to his unique situation.
Under the program, Brown stated pay for his employees will be cut by 25 percent for 24 weeks and could be extended.
County Tax Collector Tony Washington said his department could not operate if his loses any staff.
“I have an automated fund that I can put two people in, the same as a furlough,” he said. “They will be no problem to the county at all.  They will be nonexistent to the county budget.”
Washington explained that every office was different and he has the funds to run his office for up to five months.
County Assessor Yvonne Humphrey agreed with Washington saying this was her busiest time and she could not layoff anyone in personal property.
“I agree with our judge on some things but somethings I just don’t,” said Humphrey. “You don’t personally know what goes on in each individual office.”
She goes on to say that the future is unknown but for now her job is to help the people that are employed and the citizens who elected them.
“We have to kind of juggle stuff. If ya'll don’t let us juggle stuff, we can’t do our job,” said Humphrey. “If we don’t learn how to juggle or maneuver and listen to what everybody is saying, we’re never going to come together as one.”
Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. said this dialogue should have took place early on so the committee could have had the opportunity to hear some of the alternatives and concerns.
“You all know the job I do and there’s no secret the department I oversee make up the bulk of the budget,” said Woods as he explained his responsibilities as sheriff.  “We employ the most people.”
Woods noted the city of Pine Bluff Work Shared Program excluded public safety and stated there was no guarantee the proposed furlough would benefit the entire county.
“The city of Pine Bluff did the Share Work Program but they also made an exemption for public safety,” said Woods. “Public safety is not included. It’s not included for a reason. If you all read the newspaper, watch television, you talk to neighbors, you know why they weren’t included.”
Woods explained not excluding public safety would create foreseeable issues as he pointed out that almost every person in the room had a need for the Sheriff’s Office at one point.
“If you do not make an exception for public safety then I’ll have to address what I have to do,” said Woods. “If I have to reduce the population down to 50 because that’s the only staff I have to operate, that’s what I’ll be willing to do.”
Woods addressed the committee to consider the public safety exemption when they roll out the plan.
A motion was made by Carroll to table the ordinance, which failed.
The ordinance was then amended to exclude Brown and any other department that can show a plan that will match the savings of the furloughed plan by Monday, May 11.