TEXARKANA, Ark. — The city Board of Directors in a meeting on Tuesday passed ordinances meant to keep police and firefighter compensation competitive in hopes of ending a long-standing dispute over pay parity.
Spokesmen said Fire Department employees are neutral and the Police Association is against the identical plans, which tie potential annual raises to tax revenue and city funds available in reserve.
Mayor Allen Brown called upon city staff to prepare an ordinance for the Board's next meeting that would give all city employees, including police officers and firefighters, an immediate 2% pay increase.
At issue is the fate of a pair of quarter-cent sales taxes approved by voters more than 20 years ago to fund keeping Arkansas-side police and firefighter pay at parity with that in Texarkana, Texas. Pay parity has been a continual issue since, with citizens and employees who say the tax revenues have been mismanaged at odds with city officials who say they are insufficient.
According to the new ordinances, any year the parity tax generates enough revenue to fund competitive pay — which is not defined — and Texarkana's police and fire departments are not competitive with others within a 50-mile radius, competitive compensation will be paid.
Any year when the tax is insufficient to fund competitive pay and the general fund reserve is less than 62 days of expenditures, police and firefighters will not get raises. If the tax is not enough but the reserve is more than 62 days, they will get raises to competitive pay or 2.5%, whichever is less.
Fire Chief David Fletcher said firefighters are "neutral" regarding the plan.
"It's not as good as the ordinance we currently have, but if it helps us avoid a disaster, it's acceptable," Fletcher told the Board.
The Police Association did not agree to and does not accept the new plan, said Detective Tom Briggs, the group's president, after the meeting. He cited some differences over the language in the ordinance but declined further comment because of an ongoing lawsuit.
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 against the state constitution because they effectively let another entity — Texarkana, Texas — set the the Arkansas side's pay policy. The new ordinances are an attempt to stop Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson from ruling that the parity taxes can no longer be collected. Last year the taxes generated about $2.26 million in revenue.
Brown said he hopes the city can now move on and emphasized that the lasting solution is economic development that will increase city revenues.
"This will allow the city to move forward and hopefully take care of an issue that has plagued us for quite some time.
"We have got to try to remedy our problems by creating opportunities with economic development. We can do that with city resources, but we are also going to need to do that with city funding," Brown said.
The Board's next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16.