- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - The mayor of Texarkana said financial realities and not mishandled tax revenues are making it difficult to fund pay raises for police and firefighters.

Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell told the city Board of Directors that city officials are not cheating officers out of “parity” pay raises, the Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/2g7eIRU ) reported.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” Penney-Bell said. “It’s a misconception that this group, the city manager, the finance director and I … are conspiring against our civil servants. We’re not cheating anybody.”

In 1996, Texarkana voters approved two quarter-cent sales taxes to keep police and firefighters’ pay competitive with those on the Texas side.

Arkansas-side officials had planned a parity raise next month, but have delayed it for six months. Finance Director TyRhonda Henderson said fire department raises cost $1.3 million in 2016 and police cost $1.8 million, while the taxes only generated $1.1 million each.

Penney-Bell said funding police and firefighter pay parity could result in other city employees losing their jobs.

Public Works Director Jeff Whitten and Controller Cheryl Brewer also voiced concern that other city staff would think they are considered “second-class” employees and leave to the Texas side.

“I think it’s unfair to ask one employee to take a 20 percent cut when you’re giving other people a raise,” Brewer said. “They need a job; I need my job. It’s not fair.”

Police Chief Bob Harrison proposed an election to reaffirm the taxes, define parity and put the money into a trust account. He said a decision on the proposal would be made later this week.

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Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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