The threat of litigation against the city of Conway by one or more of its employees has hung in the air for the past few months, especially when the mayor lobbied for a rededication of the sales tax in February. The lawsuit has happened, coming from Conway Police Officer Richard Shumate, Jr. and Conway Firefighter Damon Reed.
The two argue that the sales tax formed back in 2001 was originally meant for city employee salaries, but employees have not been able to receive raises for the past four years.
With the latest rededication, which was passed easily, the city gave bonuses of approximately $1,000 to city employees. Conway Mayor Tab Townsell admitted that the city did not have the ability to address employee raises this year, but he said he wants to do so when the city is able to increase its revenue through the rededication.
"We will have more flexibility next year," Townsell said in February. "Remember the numbers we have been getting have just started this past May."
When promoting the most recent rededication, Townsell admitted that the council had made mistakes with funds in the past years. Most who questioned the new tax rededication asked where the money would come from for promised salary increases. Most of the money this time has gone toward equipment and general fund.
Townsell said earlier this year that appropriating the proper funds in order to compete with the police and fire departments from Little Rock and neighboring cities was a priority. He said that could begin with one-time bonus to employees that would come out of the general fund.
"We have a plan in place for a pay scale for employees," Townsell said when promoting the most recent tax proposal. "We are going to be checking with Little Rock and adjust to them. We are definitely going to be focused on that this year."
Members of the fire department spoke to the turnover problem within the department, stating that fire fighters in Little Rock make about $20,000 more per year. Fire Chief Bart Castleberry said that 2011’s turnover rate is the highest that he has seen.
But this lawsuit focuses on the original sales tax in 2001, which resolved to give competitive salaries to city employees. Russellville attorney Russell Wood said that the resolution clearly states that "they cannot use it for other items such as equipment or to cover up financial debacles the city has made."
City officials were not served with the lawsuit Tuesday when it was filed, and the office shut down early for the Faulkner County Fair Parade. City Attorney Mike Murphy said he usually does not comment on ongoing litigation, and no one from the city has issued a response to the lawsuit.