Mays proposes 3 percent ‘privilege fee’ for non-resident city employees

Alderman Steven Mays, who is sponsoring proposed legislation calling for the “grandfathering “ of current Pine Bluff department heads on a new requirement that they reside within 12 miles of the city, is now seeking to require all city employees who live elsewhere to forfeit 3 percent of their gross salaries for the “privilege.”

The ordinances are on the agenda for Monday night’s city council meeting, and due for their second and first readings, respectively. The council’s administration committee voted 2-1 Thursday to recommend approval of the residency requirement measure.

The newest proposed ordinance states that “employment within the city is a privilege which can limited to city residents under Arkansas law.” It further declares that “in order to continue to permit department heads and employees to live outside the city, while taking into consideration the loss of revenue to the city, it is appropriate that non-resident employees pay” a fee “for the privilege of living outside the city while in its employ.”

Mays wants a “community friendly privilege fee” to take effect Sept. 1. The ordinance calls for each employee to confirm a residential address before that date. Those failing to meet the deadline “will be presumed to live outside the city.”

The city’s human resources department would be charged with transmitting residency records to the finance department, which would “take steps to implement and levy the privilege fee.”

Non-resident employees who later move to the city would no longer be subject to the fee unless they moved out of the city.

Mays is proposing that money raised with the assessment be “segregated” under the designation of “community friendly privilege fee funds” and allocated only on:

• Promotion of youth employment and prevention of juvenile crime and delinquency for youths ages 13-18;

• The covering of drainage and over ditches; or

• The construction and improvement of sidewalks along city streets.

Several council members in opposition to allowing department chiefs to reside elsewhere have based their disfavor in part on revenue they say lost in the employment of non-residents.

Alderman George Stepps, the most vocal foe of relaxing or eliminating residency requirements for department leaders, said in Thursday’s committee meeting that he would never support legislation allowing the police chief to reside elsewhere. The residency requirement controversy erupted after Mayor Debe Hollingsworth appointed Jeff Hubanks as interim chief soon after taking office and firing former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones on Jan. 1.

Stepps has also said that the city is experiencing a financial loss by not enforcing previous council-enacted residency requirements, but admits that such restrictions have not been been consistently imposed.

Alderman Glen Brown said he wants to help Pine Bluff grow, an accomplishment which he feels should be made easier with the presence of a four-year University of Arkansas campus here. Saying that he’s troubled by the city’s steadily declining population and consistent problems with unemployment, poverty and crime, he fears Pine Bluff won’t be able to rebound unless its elected leaders “make sure we keep the wealthy” here.

Allowing department administrators — the city’s highest-paid employees — to reside elsewhere is foreign to his plans for the city’s revival, Brown said.

Hollingsworth said she wants the best possible personnel for city jobs, especially department chiefs, and doesn’t think it’s wise to limit possible fields solely to Pine Bluff residents. She thinks nationwide applicant searches are sound. Stepps disagrees, and believes there are enough quality candidates already here for any position that might open.

Alderman Wayne Easterly raised some eyebrows during the committee meeting when he said Pine Bluff is home to a number of people “who aren’t willing to work.” Easterly and Hollingsworth noted that efforts to restrict city employees’s residency could result in litigation against the city.

Stepps had previously said that he isn’t concerned about legal challenges.

Alderman Bill Brumett has argued that instead of trying to force persons to reside here, leaders should be devising avenues in attracting persons to the city. “We are hurting ourselves with a residency requirement,” said Brumett. “We need to be looking at ways to improve the quality of life here to make people want to move to Pine Bluff.”