A series of festivals in Pine Bluff this year will tentatively partner the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department with the Smoke on the Water barbecue festival in June, according to Ryan Watley, the CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff.
At a meeting of the City Council’s Public Works Committee Tuesday, Watley said a $154,000 budget, using funds from the five-eighths cent sales tax approved by city voters in 2017, has been set aside for the event. Ronnie Cates, who has conducted events before in Pine Bluff and elsewhere, will be given a contract to conduct this one as well.
Watley said Cates will be paid $50,000 and will submit invoices to parks and rec. in order to be paid. Watley said he has discussed the plan with Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and briefly with Trudy Redus, who is the interim director of the parks department, but added that everything is currently in the planning stage.
Redus said she had not had time to discuss the matter with Washington, who just returned from a trip to Israel.
“I want this to succeed, but you’re talking about a lot of money,” said Alderman Steven Mays, who is chairman of the Public Works Committee.
According to Watley, the 2018 city budget includes $300,000 for the series of festivals to be partially funded by Go Forward dollars; those figures were included in the budget book given to each member of the council and to the media.
Watley said billboards promoting a recent event at the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center costing $13,000 were also paid for out of the sales tax receipts.
Alderman Bruce Lockett, who arrived late, said he did not know that the budget for the Go Forward sales tax receipts had been set.
“It ain’t right,” Lockett said. “This councilman didn’t know about it. It needed to be talked about, but there have been a lot of things that didn’t go before the full council.”
The third member of the committee, Alderman Win Trafford, told Lockett that “it was in the book and it was your responsibility to read it.”
“I hope that Smoke on the Water can be what it was before,” Trafford said. “There were so many people that came and filled up Regional Park and stayed at the hotels.”
Washington, who arrived late because of another meeting, confirmed that the 2018 budget book did contain the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax spending.
At a meeting of the Economic and Development Committee, which followed the Public Works Committee and dealt with another Go Forward Pine Bluff program, the Urban Renewal Agency, Lockett continued complaining, saying that there is an assumption that “nothing the city has done in the past was right.”
“I hope to bridge the gap and work with Go Forward,” he said. “You are an independent agency, and we support you guys, but I think all voices need to be heard. Go Forward can’t have people on the fifth floor of Simmons (bank) dictating what we can do. I’m an elected official but can do nothing but bend to the will of my constituents.”