Texarkana, Arkansas, firefighters refuse to be drawn into the ongoing pay parity dispute between the city and the Police Department, according to their union local president.
Attempts to blur the lines between firefighters and police by plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city are not welcome, said Jeff Pritchett, president of Texarkana Arkansas Fire Fighters, aka International Association of Fire Fighters Local 502, citing social media activity.
A pair of quarter-cent sales taxes enacted by Arkansas-side voters more than 20 years ago were meant to ensure pay parity between the city's police and firefighters and their counterparts in Texarkana, Texas.
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How the taxes are spent has been a contentious issue since, culminating in the lawsuit, which seeks a court ruling to increase police pay. The judge in the case could rule that the police parity tax is unconstitutional and can no longer be collected, which would cost the city more than $1 million a year in revenue.
Plaintiffs have claimed such a ruling would affect the firefighter parity tax as well, doubling the financial detriment to the city.
On Thursday, Pritchett broke the union's silence on the matter to assert that the Fire Department is committed to cooperation with the city and to argue against any attempt to merge the two taxes into a single half-cent sales tax.
"We have been responsible partners with the City to ensure the parity referendum is implemented without adversely impacting the fiscal health of our city.
"In 2005 we struck an agreement, through a board approved ordinance, to ease the fiscal stress of lawfully compliance to the parity referendum. We have continued to operate under that ordinance since," Pritchett said in a statement. "In spite of our good will — we are now being dragged unwilling into this issue and thrown in with the police department."
Combining the taxes is not acceptable, he said.
"This in essence is a revenue grab for the police department since their department has more employees, their rates of pay are higher and their overall budget is significantly higher. This will further muddy the water as all the revenue will flow through the general fund. The citizens voted on two completely different issues and we intend to make sure they remain separate.
"We wish to stand by ourselves and the police can either negotiate for themselves. Or, continue with their lawsuit," Pritchett said.