The Pine Bluff City Council voted Monday at its regular meeting to reduce fees for code enforcement violations and approved a resolution asking President Trump and Congress to preserve health insurance.
The city’s planning and development committee reviewed the fees recently after property owners complained they were too high. The resolution approved by the council reduces processing costs billed to a property owner for a code violation from $125 to $30. It also reduces costs paid by the city to contractors for correcting a “nuisance condition” from $137.50 to $33.
The council also approved a resolution calling on President Donald J. Trump and Congress to protect the health insurance of Pine Bluff residents. Trump and the Republican Congress have promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. As of December, the resolution states, 10,857 residents of Jefferson County were insured under the Medicaid expansion provision of the ACA, known in Arkansas as the Private Option.
The resolution asks the president and Congress not to repeal the act “without simultaneously enacting a replacement plan.”
Loss of benefits would “adversely impact the health of the people of Jefferson County, weaken the local economy, and increase the amount of uncompensated care at Jefferson Regional Medical Center,” the resolution states.
Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers, by request of Alderman Thelma Walker, also summarized a recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article about the city’s former demolition program using inmates that was shut down last year.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) issued a consent administrative order against the City of Pine Bluff, the Democrat-Gazette reported Thursday. The order requires the city to pay $12,000 if it breaks any rules on future demolition projects.
The program, which used inmate laborers to tear down dilapidated buildings and was paid for by grant money, was shuttered in July after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found it did not adequately protect workers from asbestos. The workers had not been properly trained nor given protective gear, according to the EPA.
Childers said The Mulligan Road Project, a non-profit program developed by the Arkansas Department of Correction and State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, did not train prisoners how to handle or dispose of asbestos.
In other business, downtown building owner Garland Trice agreed to meet with Mayor Shirley Washington after he spoke against legislation the council will consider at its next meeting to keep the city’s code enforcement division under the control of the Pine Bluff Police Department.
Trice, owner of the former Sahara Temple building at 620 Main Street, has been quarreling with the city since July 2014, when the condemned building partially collapsed.
Trice said he had been prevented over the last two-and-a half-years by the city administration under former mayor Debe Hollingsworth from acquiring the necessary permits to demolish the building. Hollingsworth misled the public with the aid of the Pine Bluff Commercial about the truth of the matter, he said. A recent structural engineer’s report found the first two floors of the building sound, he said, but he has been prevented by a recent court order from demolishing what he said are the unsound parts.
Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis in October sentenced Trice to 30 days in jail, which will be suspended if he demolishes the building in 90 days. She also fined him $1,000. The building suffered a second partial collapse in early January. Trice said Monday he is facing a deadline of 29 days to tear down the building.
Alderman Glen Brown Jr. told Trice nothing currently prevents him from demolishing the building. Trice said Brown had been misled, saying regulations from the ADEQ currently prevent him from doing so. Brown said the ADEQ is a state agency, not a city agency.
Washington said she would meet with Trice to discuss the building.