The people of Pine Bluff have spoken and the answer was "Yes!" Go Forward Pine Bluff passed by a margin of more than 2,000 votes. Though results must be certified by the Jefferson County Election Commission, unofficial returns showed a margin of about 3.831 to 1,708. Congratulations— especially to all of those who made it happen.
Plans such as Go Forward Pine Bluff don't just happen. Last year, city residents began meeting monthly to discuss and develop a plan focused on resolving the deteriorating downtown, lack of jobs, declining population, poor reputation, and an inadequate city budget. The series of meetings ended with 27 recommendations aimed at attracting, retaining, and spurring business development, as well as improving the sense of place for its current and future residents. The 27 recommendations fall into four major areas: Government and Infrastructure, education, economic development, and quality of life.
And once the plan was in place, the real work began. Community residents gave speeches, pounded the pavement and rallied for support. They combated misinformation and attempted to change the minds of opponents. If you've never worked behind the scenes on an election I can tell you, it is hard work. But Pine Bluff got it done.
The Pine Bluff Commercial estimated in an editorial, published earlier in the year, that the completion of the Go Forward Pine Bluff plan will cost approximately $50 million over the next seven years. Those dollars will be sought through a Partners in Progress Program with Business enterprises in the community to generate approximately $7 million over seven years; and, another $12 million through donations and grants; and the just passed 5/8 cents sales tax that will mature in 7 years.
So, now it is time to celebrate the victory, regroup and get back to work. More hard work is ahead. When the pots of money start building and the implementation phase begins, the community spirit of togetherness and commitment must be front and center.
The most important thing Pine Bluff can do right now is stay the course and not lose momentum. Follow the plan the voters passed. It is your blueprint. If you stay on task with the plan the voters passed, no room will be left for complaints about how those dollars were spent. You can point to the plan, the budget and the finished product and they will match.
These are exciting times. Enjoy them. Embrace the new city that emerges. Make personal investments here. Do what you can to improve your personal space, as the city does its work. Bid farewell to the blight — and be proud you recognized that the best days for Pine Bluff are in the future, not the past, by supporting Go Forward Pine Bluff.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheawilson7.