The lawsuit that was filed in December 2017 on behalf of 86 Texarkana, Arkansas, citizens asserts that the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, is neglecting to pay its officers’ parity, despite a 0.25% sales tax that has consistently been collected since 1996.
The plaintiffs allege that the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, is using the money for purposes other than that for which it was intended.
The suit also claims that the Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Department is potentially losing prospective applicants to the Texarkana, Texas, Police Department. The City vehemently denies these allegations.
The City of Texarkana, Arkansas, states it cannot pay its police officers the same pay as the City of Texarkana, Texas police officers. The sales tax revenue isn’t enough to equate with Texas-side pay. The 0.25% sales tax collected in 2017 only amounted to $1,017,425, while the cost of parity was $2,042,307.
Many in the community are wondering why the city is now unable to match the cost of parity pay when they were able to 22 years ago.
1) An increase in police salaries have outpaced parity collected;
2) Whatever the reason, the tax collected is not sufficient to cover the parity. Overall sales tax revenues are down affecting small towns across the U.S.
In 1994, there were 75 authorized positions on the Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Department force. Currently, there are 84 filled positions, for which only 82 were budgeted. With the size of staff increasing, costs have risen by approximately 11% in base pay alone, not including holiday pay and salary increases throughout the years.
When the parity pay was approved in 1996, the amount collected was actually exceeding the cost of parity. The trend was sufficient for many years until 2006 when the costs ate into surplus and left the balance with -$424,323.
The current deficit is -$9,231,284, with only $1,017,425 collected last year from the .25% parity tax. Therefore, the city has been forced to subsidize an insolvent parity sales tax through the General Fund.
The General Fund is suffering, with only $19,396,431 in revenues budgeted, their expenditures are equivalent. The Police Department currently accounts for 39% of the entire General Budget. In 1996 the police department accounted for $3,220,300; today, it accounts for $7.6 million, a $4,377,550 increase in budget over the last 20 years.
In contrast, the City of Texarkana, Texas, has a general budget of $34,053,782, of which 25% goes to the police department, equalling $8.6 million. There are currently 91 sworn officers on staff and 5 positions are frozen.
Despite being one of the lowest general budgets in Arkansas, the Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Department is comparable to those in Conway and North Little Rock, which are the highest paid police salaries in the state, with populations and tax revenues much larger than Texarkana.
North Little Rock had a population of 62,304 with a general fund of $66,216,765 in 2017. The total budget for the police department was $17,625,517, only 26% of the total general fund.
Furthermore, the North Little Rock Chief of Police makes $102,517.57, while Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Chief has a salary of $129,802 and collects an annual pension of $35,304.24 from TAPD. North Little Rock entry-level officers make $38,600 and Texarkana, Arkansas entry-level officers make $40,188.
TAPD officers receive an additional $2,009.42 for holiday pay that is then added to their base pay. Their holiday pay is based upon their hourly rate and goes up proportionally when they reach the next pay grade or when they get promoted.
Conway, Arkansas, has a population of 65,300 and their police department has 126 full-time employees, with a budget of $11,507,596 for police alone. Their general budget equates to $32,577,517, the police department accounting for 35% of their general budget.
This isn’t the first time police parity has been evaluated. In 2004, City Manager, Charles Nickerson wrote an extensive letter to the Mayor and City Board of Texarkana, Arkansas. His letter outlines the imminent financial crisis that the City could find itself in.
Nickerson underlined that the City of Texarkana, Texas, has a larger and different tax structure, more legislative flexibility, and a budget at the time that was 111% larger than Arkansas’, with sales tax revenue amounting to 103% greater than that of Arkansas’.
“If we are to continue to provide these particular services at ever increasing levels, then reductions to public safety are inevitable. Without severe cutbacks having already occurred in every other department of the organization, we would have arrived at this point years ago,” wrote Nickerson.
Both respective attorneys were reached out to for a statement regarding parity.
Attorney Brent Langdon who represents the plaintiff believes there is sufficient money available to pay parity. Langdon said the citizens named in the suit are concerned about community safety and reduction in staffing would lead to reduced response time.
“Ultimately the citizens are concerned about the long-term safety of the community, just as they were when voters approved the tax,” Langdon said.
In contrast, APERMA attorney, Ralph Ohm represents the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, and said the city is audited yearly and no discrepancies have been found.
Ohm states, “the City is audited every year, and the auditors have found no discrepancy in the handling of parity pay funds. He continued, “the City would like nothing better than to pay top salaries to the police department, as well as all its other employees, but parity taxes stopped meeting the demand in 2001 for police and 2005 for fire.”
“NLR PoliceCurrent Police Officer Salaries.” Current Police Officer Salaries – Police, www.nlrpolice.org/recruitment/current_police_officer_salaries/.
Winningham, Tyler. “City of Conway Finance Department.” City of Conway, cityofconway.org/media/finance/2018%20City%20of%20Conway%20Budget.pdf
City of Texarkana, Arkansas General Budget, Texarkana Finance Department. City of Texarkana
City of Texarkana, Texas, Texarkana General Budget