Crawford County employees can now donate vacation time for co-workers who need to take time off because they or a family member is suffering a catastrophic illness.

Crawford County Justices of the Peace passed a donation of vacation time policy with a majority vote of 7-6 during their regular monthly quorum court meeting Monday night.

As part of the voluntary program, full-time employees that have worked for the county at least one continuous year can donate accrued vacation time to a vacation time "bank."

Employees must retain at least 40 hours of vacation time for themselves, meaning they will not be able to participate until they have been with the county for at least two years.

To be eligible to benefit from the program, an employee must participate, so new employees will not be able to receive donated hours until after they have been with the county two years.

"The main thing is, you can’t use it unless you are a part of it," JP Stanley Clark said in an interview before the meeting.

Clark introduced the resolution to implement the new policy, said it would take about two years for the policy to get "fired up," meaning it would take that long to build up the hours bank. The policy outline was written by Clark with the help of the county’s attorney, Chuck Baker.

"I feel like it’s a start," Clark said. "It’ll take a little time to see how it works and to see the response from people who want to donate to it."

County Clerk Teresa Armor spoke up during the meeting with an objection to the 40 hours retention requirement that would prevent a new employee from benefiting. Clark told her that other groups with a similar policy require a retention of 80 hours.

An employee or their immediate family, as amended during the meeting to include the employee’s parents and parents-in-law as well as their spouse and children, must be suffering from a catastrophic illness to be eligible for the continuation of pay and benefits.

Other portions of the policy include a specific definition of "catastrophic illness," a requirement to notify the employee’s department head, how much leave time can be granted and specifics on how to apply for it.

Crawford County officials have been discussing the issue since June, after an employee in the road department fell ill and needed extra time off.

A portion of the county’s personnel handbook that allowed employees to give away benefit hours was taken out when JPs overhauled the handbook last year.

JP Carrie Jernigan was one of the six justices who were against approving the policy. Jernigan’s main concern was that it would be a liability issue for the county, she said.

"I think it opens the county for a potential lawsuit that will have merit, and the potential gain for the county and the employees that will need this is minuscule," Jernigan said after the meeting.

Jernigan admitted that the policy was as well written as possible and "it did tighten up all the gaps" from previous versions.

Still, she believes it could cost the county money in lawsuits and in pay for part-time and contract labor to fill in for employees using banked hours.

Clark agreed that the county paying for temporary workers is a possibility, but that has not been an issue in the past, he said.

"Most offices [right now] if there’s somebody missing, they just do without," Clark said.

Clark also feels that when an employer provides benefits to its employees, they give back in turn, he said.

"I believe that if you help your employees and take care of your employees, they give back tenfold, and that’s how it benefits the county," Clark said.

Also during the meeting Monday, JPs approved ordinances to levy millage rates for the county and area school districts and municipalities.

Millage rates are as follows: For the county, 2.9 for general taxes, 3 for roads and 1.4 for libraries; for school districts, 39.1 for Mountainburg, 43.4 for Alma, 39.6 for Van Buren, 36 for Cedarville and 36.4 for Mulberry-Pleasant View; for cities, 3.5 for Alma, 5 for Chester, 5 for Dyer, 5 for Kibler, 2.1 for Mountainburg, 3.2 for Mulberry, 5 for Rudy, 2 for Van Buren and none for Cedarville.

County Judge John Hall announced that the county will be keeping its current insurance with a 4 percent increase, or about $40,000 cost to the county.

JPs also approved a budget agenda that included $10,000 to the sheriff’s department for housing inmates in jails outside of the county.