City officials on Friday listened to a presentation from representatives of Stephens Inc. to restructure bonds related to a sales tax approved by voters in 2011 to fund construction of an aquatic center and downtown street improvements. Jack Truemper and Leigh Ann Biernat, both senior vice-presidents in Stephens’ public finance department, presented the information Friday morning to the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee.


Truemper and Biernat explained how they intend to sell new bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates and reduce the city’s annual debt service payment. Truemper said the move was similar to re-financing a mortgage for a home.


The city’s total debt service for the 2011 bonds is $9,248,988.87. If the bond issue sold Monday meets projections, the Stephens representatives expect to pay off the current bond issue and be left with a new debt service of $8,274,413.60 for the 2017 bonds. In that scenario, the city would save $974,575.27 through reduced annual payments. The debt service for both bond issues is scheduled to be retired on Oct. 1, 2036, Truemper said. He said he had been in discussions with Miller and former Mayor Debe Hollingsworth last year about the potential for restructuring the bond issue. The technical term for the restructuring is “re-funding” the bond issue, he said.


The Stephens representatives plan to sell the new bonds to buyers between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on Monday, June 19. If the Stephens representatives get the price they are seeking for the new bonds, the City Council is expected to authorize the sale in a resolution at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. that day. If the bonds do not fetch the desired price, the sale can be voided at no cost to the city, Truemper said.


In other city business, city officials at meetings earlier this week discussed a train quiet zone and the potential for annexing areas into the city, as well as a potential medical marijuana cultivation facility on University Drive and issues related to the 71602 ZIP code.


Lori Walker, assistant director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, said engineers are about halfway finished with plans on the downtown Pine Bluff “streetscape” project, which is expected to beautify the sidewalks and streets downtown. There are currently no plans for bike lanes or a bike route on Main Street, Walker said, but she said that possibility should be taken into account in the planning process.


Walker made her comments on Tuesday at a meeting of the City Council’s Traffic and Aviation Committee. Aldermen Glen Brown, Jr., Win Trafford and Donald Hatchett attended, along with Pine Bluff Regional Airport Director Doug Hale and Street Department Director Rick Rhoden.


Trafford said bike lines might need to stop before the railroad crossing on Main Street, because they could have “a huge impact” on a potential train quiet zone. The Main Street, Walnut Street and Cherry Street railroad crossings could be candidates for expensive four-quadrant gates, also known as “quad” gates, Trafford said.


The gates prevent automobiles from passing through a crossing, but cost about $250,000 each and $25,000 a year in maintenance, Trafford said. Union Pacific, the train company, has a point system before instituting quiet zones in cities, which Trafford said he is working on. Such gates are often a precondition for quiet zones due to safety concerns.


Later in the day Tuesday, the City Council’s Development and Planning Commission met. Alderman Bill Brumett asked Larry Reynolds, director of the Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, to review census data to determine whether any growing areas outside the City of Pine Bluff are good candidates for annexation into the city. The city could use extra population ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census, Brumett said.


Reynolds said he would pull data on the area between Sulphur Springs Road and U.S. Highway 63 to see if there has been enough growth to consider annexing it into the city. At Brumett’s request, Reynolds also spoke about controversy over Pine Bluff’s shared 71602 ZIP code with White Hall, as well as a potential medical marijuana growing facility on University Road.


Earlier this month, the Pine Bluff Planning and Development Commission approved a request by two Little Rock businessmen to operate a medical marijuana cultivation site just north of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff baseball stadium.


Zoning Administrator Lakishia said the planning commission was the first of several governing bodies that the applicants would have to receive clearance from in order to build the facility. There is also “a misconception that they will be selling” marijuana, Hill said. “It’s a distribution center.”


“It’s not going to be smokeable [marijuana],” Reynolds said. “It’s going to oils and pills. It’s a lab.”


Reynolds said Pine Bluff was being considered for a site is because Jefferson County voted at one of the highest rates in the state in favor of a November 2016 amendment to the state’s constitution to legalize medical marijuana. Regarding the ZIP code issue, Reynolds said he had begun a process in 2014 of certifying the city’s boundaries after concerns were raised by Alderman Steven Mays that taxes by residents and businesses in Pine Bluff’s 71602 ZIP code area were improperly going to White Hall. Where taxes are paid is not determined by ZIP code, Reynolds said, but rather by geographic information system (GIS), a computer tool that uses technology analogous to latitude and longitude. Businesses pay their taxes not to the cities of Pine Bluff or White Hall, he added, but to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration using GIS, he said.


He said he had previously brought the matter to former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Washington, who suggested that Pine Bluff residents in the 71602 ZIP code could be added to the Pine Bluff 71601 ZIP code to avoid confusion. Mays is leading a commission of residents to study issues related to the 71602 ZIP code. The commission met last week for the second time.