TEXARKANA, Ark. — Among the demands in a recent court filing over parity in pay for Texarkana, Arkansas, police officers is that the city return funds to taxpayers collected by a sales and use tax since October 2016.
A civil lawsuit was filed in December 2017 on behalf of more than 80 Texarkana, Arkansas, residents in Miller County circuit court. It contends that money generated through a sales and use tax imposed by voters, through city ordinances in 1995 and 1996, isn't being used for its intended purpose — to keep salaries of police and fire personnel in Texarkana, Arkansas, on par with those in its sister city.
The defendants — the mayor and Texarkana, Arkansas, Board of Directors — responded by claiming the 1995 and 1996 ordinances authorizing the tax violate the state's constitution because they take the power to set salaries for police and fire personnel away from the Board of Directors and give it to the voters and/or the city of Texarkana, Texas. The city defendants argued that the money collected from the tax is used solely for police salaries but isn't always enough to keep them on par with those in Texarkana, Texas.
The tax brings in about $2 million annually.
At the end of a hearing to address the issue of constitutionality last summer, Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson urged the two sides to work toward an agreement that would make a ruling on the issue unnecessary.
Had Johnson found the ordinances violate the Arkansas Constitution by taking the power to set police salaries away from the city's board and giving it to Texarkana, Texas, it would have meant the tax could no longer be collected. That would have left the city with a $2 million reduction in annual funds.
To remedy the constitutional problems with the ordinances, the city passed a measure in December amending the ordinances that restores the power to set police salaries to the city board. The ordinances dictate that the funds collected from the tax will be used to fund police and fire personnel salaries, provide a formula for determining if pay raises are actually possible from the available funds and establishes a system for attempting to keep police and fire salaries competitive with other departments in the region. The ordinances do not require that parity between Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, be maintained.
But that has not satisfied the plaintiffs.
In a "second amended petition for declaratory relief, writ of mandamus, and complaint at law for refund of illegally exacted special sales and use taxes" the plaintiffs argue that the measure passed in December by the board was illegal and unconstitutional because it amounts to the "illegal exaction" of a tax not approved by voters. The amended petition filed July 1 asks that the court declare that the December 2019 action by the board is void.
The amended petition asks the court to issue a writ directing the city to maintain salary parity between the police departments of Texarkana, Arkansas, and Texarkana, Texas, as long as the tax is collected. The petition further asks the court to order the city to "refund or return to taxpayers the money illegally exacted from taxpayers from Oct. 1, 2016" through the date of any court order and that part of the allegedly illegally exacted tax be awarded to the plaintiffs and their lawyers.
The plaintiffs allege the city has failed to maintain parity with Texarkana, Texas, since Oct. 1, 2016.
Essentially, the plaintiffs are asking that the city continue to collect the tax and use it to maintain pay parity and that parity be maintained even if the tax revenue falls short.
The city has filed a response to the plaintiffs' recent filing denying any wrongdoing. Earlier filings point to Arkansas law, which the city maintains gives the board authority to set police salaries and pass measures such as the one passed in December.
A hearing in the matter is scheduled for Aug. 13.