$400,000 nod nets an additional $87,000 for firemen’s pension

The Pine Bluff City Council didn’t offer a permanent fix to an ailing pension fund for firefighters who began working here before 1983, but provided a measure of temporary relief.

The council on Monday night unanimously endorsed an Alderman Charles Boyd-sponsored resolution appropriating $400,000 from the city’s operating reserve as a “one-time contribution” to the firefighters’ pension fund “to strengthen the financial ability of the fund and allow” it “to qualify for state assistance.”

The local allotment netted an additional $87,000 from the state in premium tax revenue, a return of nearly 22 percent.

Finance Director Steve Miller informed council members of the possible return before their Dec. 3 meeting, stressing that such an appropriation faced a Dec. 31 deadline to qualify for the state tax monies.

Prior to the council’s vote, two former fire chiefs — Ray Jacks and Eddie Lunsford — asked for the panel’s support of the resolution during a public comment period.

Jacks, a fire department member for half a century, pointed out that firefighters who started their careers before 1983 weren’t allowed to pay into Social Security if participating in the pension program.

“So the pension is all that these retired firefighters can depend on,” he said.

Lunsford, who retired after 35 years, echoed Jacks.

In the November general election, voters statewide rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have in part allowed the issuing of bonds by local governments to retire unfunded liabilities for old pension plans here and in several other Arkansas cities. Also, voters would have had the option to approve a sales tax to pay off the bonds if the constitutional amendment has passed.

Here, voters in May boosted the pension by approving a millage increase to the state maximum.

The city’s police pension fund is said to be more secure than the firefighters’ account, which has been nearing “insolvency within a few years,” according to Arkansas Fire and Police Pension Review Board actuary Joey Carreiro of Little Rock.

Transition of power

The council also approved an Alderwoman Irene Holcomb and Alderman Steven Mays jointly-sponsored resolution designed to help in the transition of power involving elected city positions. The measure authorized Holcomb, who was presiding as mayor in the absence of Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., to coordinate orientation sessions for Mayor-elect Debe Hollingsworth, Treasurer-elect Greg Gustek and Ward 1 Alderman-elect Lloyd A. Holcomb Jr., who is succeeding his mother.

Irene Holcomb said that while Gustek previously served as treasurer and is already familiar with “the ins-and-outs” of the job and city networking, he perhaps could use a refresher course. Holcomb, who said she would lead in providing training, figures her son and Hollingsworth might need more-detailed instruction.

“I think this is something they all deserve, especially Mrs. Hollingsworth,” Holcomb said.

The council also approved three other resolutions and another ordinance.

The resolutions:

• Urged the Arkansas congressional delegation to extend the federal middle-class tax cuts; allow tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans to expire; oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid; and use the revenue earned by ending tax cuts for the wealthiest to restore funding for “vital public services carried out by state and local governments.”

• Authorized the mayor to execute a contract with JMJ Construction of Little Rock to construct restroom facilities at Regional and Martin Luther King Jr. parks, and funding to pay for the work.

• Called for the mayor to close city hall and other city offices and permit municipal employees to be granted a paid holiday on Monday, Dec. 31.

The ordinance:

• Changed the age requirement for new firefighters from 18 to 21, in keeping with revised state mandates.

Ordinances receiving a second reading call for:

• Amending the current code of ordinances to include new guidelines concerning speed breakers or bumps (referred to the traffic and aviation committee for additional consideration).

• Authorizing employees and officials to be reimbursed for gratuities added to meal charges while on city business.

Ordinances receiving first readings called for:

• Adopting the 2012 edition of the International Existing Building Code as guidance to be employed by the inspection department.

• Adopting varied revisements to the fire department’s policies, procedures and guidelines manual (three separate measures, each referred to the public safety committee).

A Mays-sponsored resolution calling for the renaming of Catalpa Street from Sixth to 13th Avenues to Saint Dewitt Hill Street was read at Mays’ insistence but then sent to the development and planning committee.

A planning commission-generated, typed statement on the proposal was distributed and headlined “Recommendation Concerning Street Name Changes.” It included 10 “disadvantages to renaming streets” including personal, commercial and governmental disruptions and expenses.

It suggested that any such street name changes follow procedures as were applied to designations concerning Levert Blunt Jr. Drive, Gwen Buckingham Drive and L.A. Prexy Davis Drive. In those instances, the actual street names weren’t renamed, but “street sign toppers” honoring the three were placed on existing street signs. “The commission feels that this would honor the person who has given back to the community while keeping the street system intact,” the statement reads.

A proposed resolution authorizing the mayor to provide funding from the city’s general fund to recapitalize the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff/City of Pine Bluff Micro-revolving Loan fund – and to provide annual funding to UAPB’s Economic Research and Development Center in helping to provide technical assistance to local small businesses – was referred to the ways and means committee. Because of other appropriations, they city does not possess available, existing funding to enact the measure.

The council’s next regular meeting — the first to be presided over by Hollingsworth — is scheduled for Jan. 7.