WM Councilman concerned about keeping local PDs staffed
By John Rech firstname.lastname@example.org
The old adage “a rising tide raises all ships” has one West Memphis City Councilman worried about a tidal wave impact of a proposed Arkansas Community Corrections (ACC) facility in West Memphis may shipwreck local police forces and government administrations. Generally a new employer coming to town giving locals an opportunity to earn more money is considered good. But, Councilman Tracy Catt expressed concerns in a West Memphis City Council work session March 3. Catt sees moving 350 women to West Memphis along with 135 higher paying state jobs will empty the cupboards at small town police departments in the area. The ACC want to rehabilitate nonviolent female drug offenders in the county hospital building and bring a $6.8 million operating budget along with $3.78 million in paychecks. Catt obtained the position by position payroll sheet from the Arkansas Community Corrections Department facility in Pine Bluff. There are 135 positions listed with 14 that are currently vacant. At a public meeting last week the ACC said 10 or 11 percent of the Pine Bluff staff would take a transfer to West Memphis. That leaves about 120 jobs for locals residents to apply for. A correctional Sergeant makes up to $13.76 per hour, 42 corporals are listed on the roster ranging from $12.15 to one at $17.75 per hour. Lieutenants currently top out at $18.21 hourly or $37,700 per year. The roster shows one captain earning $44,761 per year. Mental health workers, food service personnel and administrators make up half of the roster. Catt reacted to harsh criticism of the City of West Memphis during a public information meeting at the Schoettle Center February 29 before expressing his concerns about the proposed ACC facility depleting local law enforcement ranks. “We have emerged through the harshest economic recession in American History with many multiple millions of dollars of new investments in our city just last year,” said Catt. “We are a strong and growing economy,” said Catt. Turning to the specter of the ACC moving its Pine Bluff treatment center to the Wonder City, Catt wondered if the qualified employment pool would run dry. “When I got to looking at their pay scale there are roughly 70 people for security posts,” said Catt. “The pay scales for Corporal, sergeant and Lieutenant are on the state website. To hire 70 people for security, it became a concern for me. They need to hire experienced people. It doesn’t effect West Memphis Police Department as much because of what our officers are making, but I am concerned about how it will effect the smaller communities in our county. How many people will leave the jail to work for the state? Are we hurting ourselves on one end by helping ourselves on the other?” Catt wondered if the county who holds the fate of the hospital building had done an analysis. “Has the county actually done an analysis to see where all the people would come from?” asked Catt. “How will it affect policing in the smaller communities? I hope that will be reviewed before making all the final decisions.” The ACC hopes to occupy both the hospital and the professional building. ACC offices currently located on Shopping Way in West Memphis would move to the professional building. Guaranty Real Estate leases those buildings to the ACC and Catt is a mortgage specialist for the firm. County Judge Woody Wheeless said Catt had presented the payroll sheet and concerns at both his office and at with the Sheriff. “We don’t see any issues and aren’t concerned about the pay scale,” said Wheeless.