The Pine Bluff City Council will consider at its Tuesday meeting a lawsuit against Jefferson County and several measures regarding the proposed 5/8-cent sales tax proposed by Go Forward Pine Bluff.
The council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at Pine Bluff City Hall.
Up for a first reading are an ordinance that would levy a new 5/8-cent sales tax in Pine Bluff for a period of seven years and another that would authorize a special election for residents to vote on the proposed tax. The sales tax is a key component of the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative unveiled in January after a year-long study funded by the Simmons First Foundation.
It is projected to raise $32 million over seven years to pay for things such as blight removal, affordable housing and economic development downtown. Another $20 million is planned to be raised from grants and donations.
The council has to authorize the special election for the proposed sales tax to be placed on the ballot. The council is expected to vote on the measures at its March 20 regular meeting.
Several council members expressed concern at a meeting regarding the tax Feb. 9 about who would oversee spending of the public funds raised. As presented by Simmons First Foundation Chairman Tommy May, the not-for-profit corporation Go Forward Pine Bluff would hire experts to implement the recommendations from the year-long initiative. It would submit requests for allocations of the tax money to the city, which May said the council could approve or deny.
Alderman Glen Brown, Jr. said at the meeting that he was concerned about the possibility of turning over decision-making power of public funds to a private group. Alderman Bruce Lockett also objected, saying he was elected by constituents to represent their interests. Alderman Steven Mays said he thought Pine Bluff residents were already overtaxed.
May responded that the non-profit partnership was modeled on a public-private partnership in El Dorado that helped revitalize that city. The private element of public-private partnerships enables groups to tackle wide-ranging problems that are often subject to different governmental agencies, he said. He also told Lockett he had met with him before, and said there needed to be trust if the city was to move forward.
Lockett has sponsored a resolution to be considered by the council Tuesday “requiring specific and detailed analysis and input from city departments regarding Go Forward Pine Bluff.”
The resolution would require the heads of each city department to report back within 30 days on existing projects and plans the city is working on and how they might be affected by the Go Forward Pine Bluff plans. It would also direct the mayor and city council to hold three community meetings with citizens to gather input about the proposed taxes. Finally, it would direct the mayor and council to meet with Go Forward Pine Bluff Representatives to ensure that any “final implementation plan” put forward for consideration by the council is “inclusive in scope” and “does not supplant” the elected authority of the mayor and council.
The council will also consider a resolution authorizing Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott to sue to stop unnamed Jefferson County officials from collecting property taxes from the Harbor Oaks Golf Course and Restaurant.
In 1994, the city entered into a lease for the property, located in Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park, with D.A. Thomas Enterprises. Thomas Enterprises reached an agreement in June 2016 to transfer the lease to M & J Enterprises, and in July Mike and Jamie Wilson took over operation of the course from Phyllis Thomas.
According to the council agenda, “Jefferson County officials have assessed real property taxes against the Harbor Oaks Golf Course and facilities for the tax years 2014 and 2015, and intends to do so for future tax years.” The city maintains the county’s assessment is “contrary to [a] court order entered by the County Court in 2001, finding that the property is exempt from real property taxes.”
County officials “are threatening to refer the property to the Arkansas Land commissioner for collection of the alleged due and unpaid taxes,” while the city does not believe the county’s tax assessment is valid. The city’s prospective lawsuit would seek to have the assessment declared invalid in circuit court and enjoin the county from attempting future assessments of the property. Moreover, “if any assessment is valid, the lessee of the property should pay the tax.”
Also on the agenda is a second reading for a proposed ordinance to cap city employee raises. It will also consider a resolution requiring certain downtown areas currently cluttered by demolition work to be cleared by Mr. Brick Antique and Brick Buy within 30 days.
Additionally, the council will hear a first reading for an ordinance to rezone property at the southwest corner of 46th and Olive St. It will also consider a resolution to sell two vacant parcels owned by the city at 11th and Dearborn for $800.