The Hot Springs Police Department said it's ready to hire four applicants from the special testing session held in September.
Assistant Police Chief Billy Hrvatin told the Civil Service Commission last week the new hires are scheduled to start Nov. 28. They are among the 12 who took written and physical tests in September. Five failed the physical exam, two failed the written portion and one took a job with another law enforcement agency.
Hrvatin said the four rookies will go to the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in January and begin 14 weeks of field training in March.
"They have a long road to hoe before they even get to the academy and then go to (field training)," he told the commission.
The new hires leave five vacancies in the 115 uniformed positions budgeted for 2022 and included in the $16.81 million 2023 police fund budget the Hot Springs Board of Directors authorized last week. The starting salary for the current year is $43,196. The board approved a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for all full-time city employees next year.
Hrvatin told the commission the city is competing against the Arkansas State Police for new officers. Earlier this year the Legislature increased state troopers' starting salary from $42,537 to $54,000.
"We compete a lot with Troop K here locally," Hrvatin said. "We have a young man we're about to hire, and he's also on the State Police hiring list. We're hoping he doesn't change his mind. He's guaranteed a position with us. We've already offered him, and he's in the pipeline."
The commission approved a Jan. 14 special testing session for next month's recruiting period. Hrvatin told commissioners the January session would allow new hires to go to the academy at the end of April.
The commission adopted a local rule in March that allows it to conduct tests and interviews when its list of eligible applicants expires. The state code allows the commission to conduct tests on the first Monday in April and October or according to rules prescribed by the commission.
Written and physical tests account for 40% of an applicant's ranking on the eligibility list. A score of one to 25 the commission assigns after interviews accounts for 60%. The top three are eligible for hire. If there are four on the eligibility list and one opening, the department can choose from the top three.
Hrvatin and Fire Chief Ed Davis included the following items in their reports to the commission:
• Hrvatin said Capt. Mark Davis began his new role on Nov. 14. The former lieutenant was promoted from the commission's September eligibility list and is overseeing a new division focused on administration and technology. The department's other two captains are over the operations and support divisions.
In July the commission approved the creation of a third captain's position and a seventh lieutenant's position that will report to the new captain.
• Davis said the fire department improved its average response time to fewer than five minutes last month. Averages exceeded five and six minutes in previous months.
Davis has said a new station south of the King Expressway would shorten responses in Lake Hamilton-adjacent areas the city board annexed in 2016 and 2018. He presented a plan for the new station earlier this month to the committee City Manager Bill Burrough appointed to prioritize the city's unfunded capital projects. The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the board next year.
• Davis said the department will begin work on a 10-year strategic plan next year. The plan developed in 2013 included the creation of the Thermal Basin Fire District and firefighter respiratory protection plan.
"Those goals will be pretty lofty," Davis said. "I won't be here to see them all. Whoever comes after me will be the one who needs to complete it."
Davis celebrated his 33rd year with the department last month. He told the commission he plans to work another five years and hopes it will consider Fire Marshal Tom Braughton as his successor.
"I'm going to stay as long as it's enjoyable, and I feel like I'm effective," he said. "I hope you will consider my fire marshal when the time comes to choose a fire chief. He's excellent at what he does. He's my right hand."
The $12.64 million fire fund budget the board authorized for 2023 accounts for the department's succession plan, adding two lieutenant positions and eliminating a training officer position. Eighty positions are budgeted for next year.