Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Pine Bluff Code Enforcement Department, not the Pine Bluff Police Department, is in need of new technology to help fight blight in the city.
Blight removal and new advanced metering technology by Entergy Arkansas were among the topics discussed Monday night at the mayor's town hall meeting at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Mayor Shirley Washington, along with Ward 4 aldermen Bruce Lockett and Steven Mays Sr., Ward 2 Alderman Glen Brown, presenters Chan Tucker and Tongia Gaston of Entergy, Go Forward Pine Bluff's CEO Ryan Watley, and Why Community Gardens' Lawrence “Larry” Oliver gathered in the Convention Center's ballroom to discuss the plans.
Washington opened the meeting by acknowledging some events that passed through the city in the past month, giving praise to the success of the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative, Forward Fest, that took place between Barraque Street and Fourth Avenue on June 9 in downtown Pine Bluff. The event drew an estimated 15,000 people, according to the city.
“It was something to remember,” Washington said.
Watley, who coordinated the festival, was present to add his remarks about future Go Forward Pine Bluff initiatives that are currently in motion.
The blight removal plan, an effort to empower the city and remove derelict structures, is next on the organization's list. After collaborating with the Pine Bluff Code Enforcement Department, Go Forward Pine Bluff learned that a lack of technology was a big concern for the department, Watley said.
One of the first steps in the process for blight removal is upgrading the department, particularly with Microsoft Surface Pros, so that sharing information from one officer to another while on duty is more efficient. At the moment, officers in the department must rely on old filing methods and paperwork, which can result in hours lost where they are needed.
Watley also discussed plans to clear homes that have been burned and are no longer in use on 28th Avenue, 27th Avenue and Harding.
Watley expressed the importance of having the in-house manpower to carry out these tasks, along with keeping demolition and contracting fees low for the city.
Aside from razing burned homes, the organization had created a plan to combat curbside trash throughout the city as well. They are looking to hire two individuals who will be responsible for driving through the city with a dump truck and a track-hoe collecting trash from the curb.
Training for code enforcement officers regarding asbestos was completed in the past two weeks through Go Forward Pine Bluff.
More good news for residents of Pine Bluff and Entergy customers came when Chan Tucker, senior manager of customer service in the Southeast Arkansas region, informed the audience of a new advanced meter system the company will be implementing between 2019 and 2021.
The system will allow the company to accurately and quickly pinpoint outages throughout the city, which is information they currently can only find out when a customer calls, explained Tucker.
Customers will also have increased control of their accounts with the ability to monitor electricity use in near real-time through the month. In doing so, customers are able to save more money and be aware of how much energy they are using before the end of the month rolls around.
According to Tucker, Entergy has been learning from the likes of Alabama Power, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, and Electric Power Board of Chattanooga who have all reported success stories within their respective companies.
Tucker went on to detail Entergy's relationship in the Pine Bluff community, such as monetary donations to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Go Forward Pine Bluff, and other city projects totaling some $65,000. The company plans to continue supporting the community and upgrading their systems to serve them.
In closing, Washington disclosed said there will be street closings the week following July 4 due to drain replacement on 38th and Ohio Street. She recommends motorists use Missouri Street instead.
The overpass on 28th Avenue will become a one-way road due to road improvements, as well as street entrances between Fluker and Martha Mitchell near UAPB.
In closing, Washington announced the community garden is underway with the help of Oliver of Why Community Gardens and other volunteers and is expected to be finished in September. A $35,000 grant has been approved in regards to the new project that will be located at Cherry and Linden.
Work will begin immediately, and an irrigation system is to be installed next week.
Washington mentioned that a second grant for $30,000 will go towards an activity structure for kids who come to visit the garden with parents or loved ones.
Although Washington is pushing for plans to be complete in September, she said that the project may require a lot of help from the community.