The Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Commission hired Trudy Redus as director of the department by a unanimous vote Monday night. This development comes one month after the commission appointed Redus, the former assistant director, as interim director after then-director April Layher resigned. Redus is now earning $51,799.82 annually, parks commissioner Omar Allen said.

About 60 people applied for the position, Allen said. Commissioners Reginald Johnson, Rodney Holcomb, Tina Owens, Harold Clark, Krandon Henry, Alexandra Kosmitis, Quincy Pridgeon and Allen voted to hire Redus after meeting in executive session for more than an hour.

This decision comes less than one week after the Pine Bluff City Council considered abolishing the Parks and Recreation Commission. The council considered voting on the issue at its regular meeting Wednesday, July 5, but lack of unanimous support for an immediate vote scuttled the proposal. The council’s Public Works Committee has been tasked to review the matter.

Redus said she was surprised to be made the permanent director and that she is prioritizing the planned building of an all-inclusive playground at the Lake Saracen Splash Park. It will feature a surface that is compatible with wheelchairs. The department has received a $150,000 check from the Blue and You Foundation and a $25,000 grant from the Simmons First Foundation to buy equipment for the playground. Redus said the department received a notice to proceed recently and that the Saracen Landing Project Association Committee will meet to determine a time frame on building the playground.

Redus said she is also focusing on the resurfacing of tennis courts at the Bloom Tennis Center at 2101 S. Hickory St. and the updating of the building through City of Pine Bluff Economic Development Department money. Redus said this project should start within a few weeks.

Allen said commissioners chose Redus because “it is time to start preparing the budget that is due for the city in the next couple of months. She has the knowledge of what’s going on in our budget and knows the direction of the department in which the commission desires.”

Johnson concurred.

“Trudy has the experience with the parks and recreation department — period,” Johnson said. “She has the knowledge to steer us forward. And we are going to give her a chance to do that, to correct issues, sores from the past. And we can’t do that without a director and she was doing it from the interim in the first place.”

Johnson said the department is dealing with structuring the maintenance department and prioritizing the cutting of grass among 21 parks. The department has four maintenance employees.

“We are evaluating the budget,” Johnson said. “We need to lean on our City Council.”

In other news, the commissioners voted unanimously to seek $400,000 from the five-eighths cent reserve tax to repair the city of Pine Bluff-owned Merrill Community Center. In 2013 the commission had a chance to use this money but did not spend it. City of Pine Bluff Finance Director Steve Miller has said the $400,000 that had been earmarked for the parks department in 2013 is still in the city’s five-eighths cent reserve fund. The current balance of that fund is $631,008 as of June 30, 2017, he said.

The city’s contribution to the parks budget was increased to $808,120 in 2015 from $789,192 in 2014. In addition, $42,800 was added for operating expenses of the Saracen Landing Splash Park and $19,400 for operating expenses at Townsend Park in the 2015 budget. Krandon Henry said the commission in 2013 split on whether to demolish the Merrill Community Center and rebuild it versus renovate the existing building.

“Recently with the matter coming to light that those funds are potentially still there, I would like for us to revisit using those funds to make some things happen,” Henry said. “The Merrill Center is still horrible. And I still have a concern for the safety of the children in our community.”

Allen said he wants improvements in the parks and the department’s facilities.

“We understand from what I’ve gathered from city officials is the city is pretty much strapped for cash,” Allen said. “But we’ve got to prioritize a little better. There are going to be new challenges for us and we understand those challenges. Also we have limited resources.”

Pine Bluff taxpayers spent about $1.4 million at Townsend Park to construct three new baseball fields. Two of the fields have lights. Allen said the third baseball field needs lights and estimates the cost would be $150,000 to $200,000 to install lights.

Alderman Donald Hatchett said he thinks Pine Bluff children do not have enough recreational opportunities. Hatchett told parks and recreation commissioners that their department is not the sole provider of recreational needs in Pine Bluff, because schools, churches and nonprofit organizations provide recreational needs.

“We do get to a point where we duplicate services,” Hatchett said. “The city of Pine Bluff has little room to duplicate services.”

In reference to the parks and recreation commissioners not spending the $400,000 in 2013, Hatchett said professionals determined that amount of money would not bring the Merrill Community Center up to standards of health and safety. Therefore, Hatchett said a decision was made not to move forward. Commissioner Robert Jackson was absent.