LR city board rejects police residency requirement, approves city worker living incentive

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Job-seekers have a new reason to consider working for the City of Little Rock.

The city’s Board of Directors approved an incentive program Tuesday night for new employees who move inside city limits when they take the job.  Renters will be eligible to receive a $2,500 bonus, while homebuyers will be eligible for up to $5,000.  Any employee hired after August 1, 2016 qualifies.

“I think we’re taking a lot of very positive steps to fill the vacancies with high-quality applicants, and I hope this is going to get more folks to come and live in this great city,” said Director Kathy Webb.

While the incentive program applies to all city departments, there is a particular need to incentivize police officers.  The Little Rock Police Department is roughly 60 officers shy of being fully-staffed, and only 11 recruits are in the current training class.  Recruiting is tough, as the image of the police officer is poor because of national tension and the potential of shootings like in Dallas and Baton Rouge.  The new incentive program could help.

“Employees that have just started working with the city, they asked me if we could make it retroactive even further than August the first,” mentioned City Manager Bruce T. Moore.

Any new city employee, whether a part of the police, fire, public works, or any other department, can utilize the one-time bonus to move inside city limits.  The employee has to remain inside city limits for at least two years or pay back the money.  But if the employee stays longer than that, supporters of the incentive think their tax payments will offset the cost.

“Vacant houses, vacant lots, those represent a loss of revenue for this city,” Annie Abrams said.  She also told the board members that any positive impact on Little Rock’s population in the 2020 US Census will increase the percentage of federal funding allocated to the city.

Moore estimated that the incentives will likely cost no more than $50,000 per year, since he expects less than five percent of possible beneficiaries will take the money to move into the city.

The opposition based its case around fairness. Director Joan Adcock asked her colleagues why a new hire who already lives in Little Rock should not be rewarded in the same way as someone who moves into the city.

“And we’re going to hire somebody from Benton, or Bryant, or Conway to come in and take a job right beside, and in lots of cases they could be making the same amount as our tenured employee,” she stated.

Abrams, like most of the people who supported the incentive, was more concerned about the cost of not approving it.

“When we reduce the risk of violence,” she said, referring to police officers potentially moving into the city, “we reduce the cost of crime.”

The board of directors considered another proposal regarding the residency of new police officers.  Members voted against a requirement that newly-hired officers live inside city limits.  Supporters claimed it would improve the relationship between the police department and the community.  Opponents argued that the department is too short-staffed to implement the proper kind of community policing program, and that restricting the applicant pool would make hiring new officers even more challenging.


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