PEA RIDGE – As city officials prepare for the departure of a mayor who has served for 28 years, there are budget issues that need to be addressed.
The state’s retirement law requires the city to pay half of the current mayor’s salary for “the rest of his natural life,” said city attorney Shane Perry.
“This is the last term of the mayor, and he will finish his term at the end of the year,” Perry told council members, explaining that the question arose about health insurance.
“I don’t think there’s any discussion about 50% of the salary,” Perry said.
The plan also allows the city to pay half of his benefits to his widow upon his death, Perry said.
“The budget is coming. This is something we need to consider when preparing the budget,” he said.
The city budget is reviewed in November each year.
Mayor Jackie Crabtree said: “The way it’s set up right now, the city pays my insurance and my wife’s insurance is paid out of my share.”
He said there is a legal way the city can continue to pay its insurance.
“This can be done by decision. That’s my request – continue my insurance and then, I’ll take the rest of the family.”
Council member Merrill White questioned the provisions of the ordinance, saying he understood the current provision allows the mayor to purchase insurance.
The mayor said that was true, but there was an option he would like the council to consider.
“I think the city is smart,” Perry said. “What I’m hearing is that the mayor has made this request. You need to digest this and, at the next meeting, be ready to respond.”
Council member Cody Keene asked if the mayor could deny the insurance that comes from his salary. “Or are you asking for salary plus insurance?”
Keene said it would cost the city $31,000 a year to pay the retired mayor with his insurance premiums.
“It could go either way; what I’m asking for is more,” Crabtree said, explaining that the city currently pays for his insurance and his wife’s insurance is paid for out of his salary. “My request would be the same for this, for the city to continue my insurance and I will cover the rest of the family.”
“If you do this to pay my share outside the city on that insurance, anyone who has worked in the city for 20 years or more … he explained.
“This is the policy we are making now. It is being violated because of the mayor’s position,” said Perry, explaining that this will set an example for anyone who finds themselves.
Perry asked if any other city employees would be affected.
“Not that I know of,” said City Clerk Sandy Button.
Perry said the City Council needs to address this and implement policies.
Crabtree said there is a decision about annuities or pensions that must be considered.
“I don’t know if the annuity we’ve created for the workers would be considered a local pension,” Crabtree said, “so that needs to be investigated.”
“Kim [Thornhill] is over 20 years old; will retire,” Crabtree said, referring to the Water Department secretary who was hired in 1997. “It should be the same.”
“How many people in the city will qualify in the next three to five years?” Perry asked.
According to city records, there are two city employees with more than 20 years of service – Button, who in addition to being city clerk is the city office manager and works as a court clerk, and Thornhill. Button was hired in 1977, and Thornhill was hired in 1997.
City Street Department Superintendent Nathan See was hired in 2003.
Three employees – Mike Nida, water works manager; Ken Hayes, superintendent of the Water Department; and Charles Townsend, a construction worker – have 17 years of experience, each having been hired in 2005.
“The rule is 10 years of service for a 60-year-old, 20 years of service for every age,” Crabtree said. “I am 68 years old and 28 years old.”
In response to a council member’s question, Button said: “The fees are the same for everyone, and right now, it’s $500 a month and $1,000 for a family.” Button also explained that the family has $500 in addition to $1,000 in personal and family contributions.