By Ray King

With no dissent, the Pine Bluff City Council on Monday approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Shirley Washington to apply for employees to participate in the Shared Work Unemployment Compensation Program conducted by the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services.

Under the program, the work hours for eligible employees will be reduced by 20 percent, meaning eight hours in a work week and 16 hours over a pay period. Employees will receive unemployment compensation for those lost hours and will also be eligible for the weekly $600 federal subsidy that was included in the CARES Act legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

“We were looking at furloughs and comparing them to this program and we decided this was the best option to go with,” the Mayor said.

At a Ways and Means Committee meeting last week, city officials indicated that Pine Bluff will suffer a significant loss of revenue because of declines in sales tax revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the resolution, Pine Bluff could potentially save approximately $750,000 per year while maintaining its current workforce.

The application process and getting final approval could take about 10 days, city Finance Director Steve Miller said.

Also approved Monday was an ordinance which will extend the exclusive contract with EASI (Emergency Ambulance Service Inc.) for 10 years. The extension will be tacked on to the current contract with the company which is in the second year of a five-year deal with the city which will expire on Sept. 23, 2023.

With the extension, the new contract with expire Sept. 20, 2033.

That ordinance was on the agenda for only a first reading Monday but the council voted to suspend the rules and read it three times before adopting it. Also adopted after the rules were suspended was an ordinance amending a section of the city code regarding the documentation for purchases. Under the amendment, the Mayor of Department heads may make purchases of between $1,000 and $5,000 by getting three price quotations from businesses by phone. Documentation on those price quotes is required. Purchases between $5,000 and $20,000 require written price quotes while purchases over $20,000 must be put out for bid.