The soon-to-retire police chief has recommended pay increases for the Van Buren mayor and police and fire chiefs.
Kenneth Bell, who will step down June 30 after 16 years as police chief, urged members of the Van Buren City Council on Monday night to address the pay increases “to right a wrong.”
“Everyone wants a pay increase,” Bell said. “But, these three positions are the most under paid in the state compared to cities of similar sizes.”
Bell was quick to point out, “This has nothing to do about Chief Bell.”
And, Mayor Bob Freeman also said he is not expecting a pay increase but would gather data for the council to study. Freeman has said he will not seek re-election when his third term expires Dec. 31, 2018.
Bell presented a salary comparison to aldermen Monday which shows the Van Buren mayor is paid $63,490, which is $19,933 less the $83,423 paid statewide to cities in the mid-point range of 10,000 population and up. The police chief’s salary in Van Buren is $61,621 compared to $83,280 statewide, $21,659 less.
Van Buren Fire Chief Tim Arnold is paid $59,371, which is $13,610 less than the statewide average of $72,981.
“Everyone wants a pay raise,” Bell said, “but this is just not right. This needs to be corrected and then the city can look at other positions.”
Alderman Jim Petty said he agreed with what Bell was saying, but pointed out he would like to see more data to support the proposed pay increases. He suggested the council might need a study session to look at the Municipal League’s latest salary study.
Council member Darral Sparkman suggested the raises be made in increments.
Freeman noted the city offers its employees a very attractive health insurance package which somewhat closes the pay gap. He also pointed out the insurance premiums the city pays for its employees also has driven the problem with the pay discrepancies.
Alderman Alan Swaim said he would like to see City Attorney Candice Settle and Parks Director Paul Dunn put on the list for a pay increase.
Settle also said she is seeking a pay increase for the part-time position.
Swaim said he would like to see the police chief salary addressed quickly since the city is advertising for someone to fill the position upon Bell’s retirement.
Bell was quick to point out a captain with the Fort Smith Police Department would have to take a pay cut to accept the position of Van Buren police chief.