Council trio hopes employee residency requirement stems tide

A proposed ordinance that would require all employees of the City of Pine Bluff hired after Jan. 1, 2014, to reside in the city limits within six months of their hire date will be up for its third and final reading at the Monday meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council.

The measure is co-sponsored by Ward 1 Alderwoman Thelma Walker, Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown and Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps.

“We want to set a precedent for our young people to show them that they don’t have to leave Pine Bluff to have a good life,” Walker said Thursday. “We are trying to put Pine Bluff first. The city is suffering because of population loss which has led to a loss of some federal funding.”

Walker said there is a tangible difference between only working in a city and actually living there.

“When people live here they have a share in the rebuilding of Pine Bluff,” Walker said.

Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett said Thursday that he believes a compromise reached by the council in 2013 should remain the last word on the topic of city employee residency.

“That ordinance says that a department head has to live within 12 miles of the city limits and I think that is a pretty good compromise,” Brumett said. “I believe that we need to be able to hire the best people we can find and to do that you need to give them some flexibility in where they can live.”

Brumett said some Jefferson County residents work in Little Rock while others work in Pine Bluff and that some Pine Bluff residents work in Little Rock.

“I believe that we need to give people the most freedom that we can on where to live and give them the opportunity to work for the city,” Brumett said.

Brown said Pine Bluff city government does not have the luxury of allowing its employees to live wherever they wish in the same way that Little Rock city government does.

“Little Rock doesn’t have the problem of declining population because they are the melting pot of Arkansas,” Brown said Thursday. “They have a large population, successful businesses and tourists who visit regularly. They don’t have to worry about where their city employees reside. Pine Bluff is declining instead of increasing and we have to stop the bleeding.”

Brown said any qualified individual is invited to apply for city job vacancies but will need to move into the city within six months if they are hired.

“We’re not saying that everything the city needs is already here,” Brown said. “We’re just saying that if you are qualified and live somewhere else, just move in when you get the job. As aldermen we were elected to protect and to preserve the city’s interests. We can’t control what businesses in town do with regard to hiring but as aldermen we can regulate city employment.”

Brown said there is no way around the reality that something must be done to stop the city’s population decline.

“If you don’t stop the bleeding of population you’re going to have a death,” Brown said. “We must have people living here to be able to have restaurant and entertainment options. I hope the other aldermen think the same way.”

Stepps said the city presently employs more than 100 police officers and firefighters who live outside Pine Bluff.

“Suppose that each of them has two children?” Stepps said. “What would that do for your school system and for our total population? They should be required to live in the city. We feel like it will help boost the city’s tax base and will help boost the economy and the population.”