From January to December 2016, 100 citizens from Pine Bluff, Arkansas convened monthly to discuss and develop a plan aimed at resolving our deteriorating downtown, lack of jobs, declining population, poor reputation, and inadequate city budget. Acting under the Go Forward Pine Bluff (GFPB) initiative, the meetings concluded with 27 recommendations that represent an unbiased approach to attract, retain, and spur business development along with resident interest.
The ever-present opportunities to improve our community are indeed operations of city government and non-profit organizations. However, our city’s budget continues to shrink and many non-profits are significantly underfunded. Our ultimate goal is to assist in areas that will result in making our city financially self-sufficient.
The obtainment of this goal demands a cease in population decline with subsequent growth, city revenue generation through increased activities within the City of Pine Bluff, and a commercial environment that is conducive for attracting new business. Therefore the 27 recommendations support 1) Government and Infrastructure, 2) Education, 3) Economic Development, and 4) Quality of Life. These areas are also consistent with the Pine Bluff Commercial’s independent survey of our citizens. There is no magic in the Plan, it is simply an effort to “Plan our work, and work our Plan”.
We estimate the completion of the recommendations will cost approximately $50 million over the next seven years. We will seek to raise those dollars through 1) creation of a Partners in Progress Program with Business enterprises in our community to generate approximately $7 million over seven years; and, another $12 million through donations and grants and 2) a 5/8 cents sales tax that will mature in 7 years (estimated cost is $15.67 per household per month).
A GFPB survey offered by the Pine Bluff Commercial revealed our citizen’s top issues are Downtown Blight (abandonment of properties), Education, Jobs, Quality of Life issues, and the previous City Council, thus we attempted to make these our priorities. The money will be spent as it is collected, which will require a working partnership with our city leaders to prioritize projects.
The proposed comprehensive plan is our city’s best opportunity to compete for tourism, attract new business, and provide a promising future for our youth. We stress that the proposed recommendations are a product of diverse citizen input and therefore should not be mistaken as an attempt to undermine city leadership nor contemplated as the immediate cure. There have been many proactive measures to revitalize our city.
However, previous proactive measures were not fully implemented because of a lack of financial resources to tackle major issues. The Go Forward Pine Bluff plan seeks to build on past initiatives and gather financial resources to complete the recommendations.
The following are some very important FACTS.
1. Our city population was 56,636 in 1980; 57,140 in 1990; 49,083 in 2010; 44,772 in 2015; and the ESRI Business Forecast for 2021 is 44,082.
2. Our First Responders have not had an increase in their salary in five years, and they are paid at about 75% of those in Little Rock.
3. Until recently, all three school districts had at least one school on academic probation, and they had low proficiency level on standardized tests.
4. The City Council will control the approval and disbursement of all revenues from the proposed tax.
5. GFPB will control the approval and disbursement of all revenues from private sources and grants.
6. The private money and grant funds will be used to pay for activities in the Plan that we cannot use tax money to complete. For example, private monies and grants would be used to support efforts for our public schools, various incentives, etc.
7. We will establish a search group to identify, interview, (and hire) the CEO of GFPB who will be responsible for coordinating AND facilitating the execution of the plan by working with city officials and other appropriate organizations.
8. The purpose of the focus on downtown is to make Pine Bluff a “Point of Destination” for our residents and individuals that live in other parts of our state. By attracting visitors to Pine Bluff, we attract their money which results in increased tax revenues for Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.
9. There will be a consultant, who specializes in community design who will work with residents to develop a Master Vision for our downtown. This piece of the project will begin by having numerous citizen meetings in which residents will be able to ask questions, offer up ideas and suggestions, and simply be a part of that final design.
10. There will be dollars allocated to City Economic Development for matching funds for small business, and funds to Community Development for matching funds for affordable housing.
11. There will be dollars available for elimination of residential blight to remove the approximately 310 houses that remain condemned throughout our city.
12. There will be loan programs from the local banks that will enable existing owner occupied properties and non-owner occupied properties to borrow money at discounted interest rates in order to improve their properties to the new Codes that will be developed.
13. There will be initiatives for beautification efforts throughout our community, neighborhood association programs, and other programs that will complement the efforts of Pine Bluff Rising.
In closing, although the Plan is not perfect, we believe that the 27 initiatives will truly allow Pine Bluff to become a community in which we all can be proud. It will be an ongoing process of making improvements for years to come, but the Plan will give us a solid base to build on for the future.
There is flexibility in the plan. There will be some projects that may need to be modified and some that the city may choose not to support. The citizens will have the opportunity to vote in a special election on June 13, 2017. If the tax is passed, we would expect to begin receiving tax dollars in October 2017, which means much of the work, will not actually begin until 2018. We plan immediate efforts in blight removal.
Remember, this is a “Pay as you Go” plan, meaning each project is dependent on actually having dollars available to pay for the particular project. We will not have the capacity to borrow short term on a project then repay when tax dollars are received.
We hope this provides some clarity on any confusion you might have about the Plan, how the funds are spent and who controls the spending on those dollars. A vote for the tax is important, but it is equally important to know that you understand and embrace the Plan as it is “The Citizens Plan.” Any questions can be sent to www.goforwardpinebluff.com or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/goforwardpinebluff.
Go Forward Pine Bluff