A police and firefighter pay plan is the only agenda item for a special meeting of the Texarkana, Ark., Board of Directors called for Wednesday.
The Board will take up an ordinance sponsored by Assistant Mayor Linda Teeters meant "to establish revised competitive pay rules and to regain and maintain a competitive pay package for Texarkana, Arkansas Civil Service employees," according to its caption.
The city announced the meeting shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda specifies "first reading only," and no public comment is scheduled. An ordinance must be read in public three times before the Board may vote on it.
In 1996, Arkansas-side voters approved a pair of quarter-cent sales taxes to fund keeping TAFD and TAPD employees' salaries equal to their Texas-side counterparts', which is known as pay parity. Pay parity has been a continually contentious issue in the city since, pitting city officials who say the taxes are insufficient against employees and citizens who claim the funds have been mismanaged.
The ordinance sets out four contingencies for firefighter and police officer pay, depending on how much sales tax revenue the city collects and how much money is available in the city's general fund in a given year:
— If the parity taxes generate enough revenue "to cover any deficits in the total cumulative cost of parity, parity will be met."
— If the parity taxes do not generate enough revenue and the city's unreserved fund balance is less than 60 days of expenditures, police officers and firefighters will not get a raise.
— If the parity taxes are not enough and the unreserved fund balance is between 60 and 90 days of expenditures, there will be a 2% raise toward parity.
— If the parity taxes are not enough and the unreserved fund balance is more than 90 days of expenditures, there will be a 4% raise toward parity.
Asked last month whether they support the plan, Police Chief Robert Harrison declined to comment and Fire Chief David Fletcher signaled possible support.
"The Fire Department would be willing to consider any proposal that commits to maintaining parity fully or by increments if necessary," Fletcher said in an email. The proposal "does set as a goal maintaining parity pay and is acceptable to the Fire Department," he said.
In December 2017, a group of city residents filed suit against then-Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell and City Manager Kenny Haskin to force Police Department pay parity with a court ruling.
The city has argued that the parity taxes are unconstitutional, and Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson may rule that they can no longer be collected. Last year the taxes generated about $2.26 million in revenue.
In a hearing July 1, Johnson accused city officials of "undermining the will of the people" and warned of possible consequences.
"If this court finds this unconstitutional it appears to me that a number of things may occur. We may lose police officers. We may lose firefighters. We may lose money that would have gone to repair streets. We may need to lay off police officers, may need to lay off firefighters. We may need to lay off administrators," Johnson said.
The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 216 Walnut St.
Gazette reporter Lynn LaRowe contributed to this report.