PINE BLUFF, AR — The Pine Bluff City Council on Monday will consider a resolution to benefit public safety officers by offering them loans to buy houses in the city. The council meets at 5:30 p.m.
The resolution is the result of work by the city and Go Forward Pine Bluff; it is the first of several incentive programs to be offered in an effort to retain police officers and firefighters instead of losing them to other higher paying departments after they have been trained.
In the 2018 city budget, a total of $50,000 has been allocated from the five-eighths cent GFPB sales tax to fund the program, which will allow uniformed police and firefighters to receive a no interest/no payment second loan in the amount of either $5,000 or $10,000 that can be used for any combination of down payments, along with some of the other costs associated with buying a home.
Homes that are located in the Urban Renewal Area, made up of the city center, will be eligible for a $10,000 loan.
The idea was rolled out during a meeting of the council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, and Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said: “It’s important to do this to get officers to buy homes instead of renting. If they buy, they’re less likely to leave and invest in the community. Some of them don’t have the upfront expenses necessary and this will make it possible.”
Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said he had also been briefed on the program and was on board.
“We all agreed it’s a good program,” Howell said.
The homes must be single-family residences and must be used as the primary residence of the officer or firefighter. Standard credit regulations will apply, but assistance will be available for non-automatic qualifiers through secondary market lenders and credit repair assistance. The money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and if the money currently in the budget runs out, a waiting list will be established.
Interested officers may submit an application to their chief, and each department will set their own criteria for approving the applications.
Down payments and closing costs will be structured as a zero interest five-year forgivable loan, and those receiving loans will be required to serve as an officer for five years for the loans to be forgiven. If an officer who has received a loan is fired or quits, they will be responsible for paying it back.
The proposal came out of the Public-Private Review Committee established by Mayor Shirley Washington and is a part of one of the 27 recommendations that made up the Go Forward Pine Bluff program. One of those was to retain the quality and professionalism of first responders through effective recruiting, continuing education and competitive salaries.
For next year, the recommendation is that $100,000 of the sales tax money be allocated for the program, with 90 percent of that going to the program itself and the remaining 10 percent to pay for the administration of the program, which will be facilitated through the City of Pine Bluff Department of Economic and Community Development.