The Pine Bluff City Council on Monday approved a last-minute ordinance to waive a competitive bidding process to purchase 19 new police vehicles and 45 patrol vehicle video camera systems at a cost of nearly $800,000.


It also accepted Alderman Bill Brumett’s suggestion to waive the usual custom of reading the ordinance at three council meetings so that the council could approve the financing that night. The ordinance was sponsored by Alderman Glen Brown Jr. and Alderwoman Thelma Walker. The vote gives Mayor Shirley Washington the power to take out leases for the purchase of the cars and equipment.


U.S. Bancorp Government Leasing and Finance, Inc. won the bid to finance the purchase of the vehicles, and local auto dealers Trotter Ford, Inc. and Smart Chevrolet, Inc. submitted bids of $366,143.96 and $56,062.56, respectively, to supply the vehicles on three-year leases. The camera equipment will be funded separately by five-year leases.


“The Police Department has determined that acquisition of the vehicles via competitive proposals or bidding is inefficient, impractical, and unlikely to provide with more favorable price and terms,” the ordinance states.


“I’m gonna try and push it through if they’ll let us,” Brumett told Interim Police Chief Ivan Whitfield in the ordinances and resolutions meeting prior to the council meeting. Brumett said he was told “you need the new cameras more than anything else.”


Whitfield said that was the case.


During the council meeting, Alderman Bruce Lockett asked whether the ordinance would make the city vulnerable to lawsuits from other bidders.


“I don’t believe so,” City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott replied.


The council also approved a resolution to place the maintenance costs incurred by the city on delinquent properties on the tax books as delinquent taxes.


Walker objected to the resolution because she said she had been told that some of the delinquent properties were owned by seniors who may have been away on trips and had not received their mail. She also said it was difficult to read legal notices in the newspaper that are supposed to alert owners of delinquent properties.


Brown Jr. said the fees had already been reduced and that if they were reduced further, the city would lose money from payments it had made to contractors to clean up the properties. He added that each of the property owners was sent multiple notices and given ample time to clean their property.


Washington said property owners had an obligation to take care of their properties.


“We can’t maintain citizens’ property for them,” Washington said. “I think we’re holding them accountable.”


Walker said she would vote for the resolution, but asked how a citizen could appeal the fines. Hadden-Scott said the property owner could contact the Quality of Life Department.


Alderman Steven Mays pulled his proposal to declare a six-month moratorium on the establishment of bars and liquor stores in Pine Bluff. Hadden-Scott said that alcohol licenses are governed by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board. Mays repeated an allegation he made at a previous meeting that White Hall Mayor Noel Foster intentionally gave his signature to an application from a Pine Bluff liquor store. Whitfield told the Commercial at that meeting that Foster’s signature was a paperwork error. Mays said he would no longer give interviews to the Pine Bluff Commercial because it had ignored the issue.


The council approved Pine Bluff Transit’s request “roll over” $424,100.39 that was allocated in the 2016 fiscal year to the 2017 fiscal year. The allocations will fund purchases of video cameras on “cutaway” buses, fare boxes, a new trolley and a heavy-duty pickup truck. The new trolley should arrive in Pine Bluff within a month to a month-and-a-half, Pine Bluff Transit Director Charlina Lacy.


Three speakers spoke during public comment about the proposed 5/8-cent Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax initiative.


One speaker, Rita Conley, said she thought the Go Forward plan was not ambitious enough. She proposed a 3/8-cent economic development sales tax for the City of Pine Bluff in addition to the 5/8-cent sales tax proposed under the Go Forward initiative. She said the new taxes should not begin until after current sales taxes expire. Conley also criticized the proposed timing of June for residents to vote on the Go Forward tax. She said there are few people in town at that time, which would mean lower turnout.


A speaker who said her name was Shawna Howard criticized the plan. Pine Bluff already has high sales taxes, Howard said, and the new tax would particularly affect low-income residents.


“The new tax will put a burden on our citizens,” Howard said.


Howard declined to confirm the spelling of her name to the Commercial, saying the newspaper’s coverage is biased in favor of the Go Forward campaign.


Jefferson County Alliance Economic Director Caleb McMahon read resolutions on behalf of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce in support of the 5/8-cent Go Forward sales tax initiative and for renewing the 3/8-cent economic development sales tax in Jefferson County. The 3/8-cent economic development sales tax will expire in 2018 unless voters vote to renew it, McMahon said. McMahon said a poll was conducted of the chamber’s membership and both resolutions were supported “by very large margins.”