Many readers sent us concerned notes after last Monday’s City Council meeting, where aldermen voted to seek a $4.3 million loan for the under-construction Aquatic and Multi-purpose Center.
“Why is the loan needed?” they asked.
There are indeed many questions that we have regarding the center’s funding. And we plan to find answers by going back to the beginning of the project. In 2011, voters passed a five-eighths cent sales tax to fund several city projects, including the Aquatic and Multi-purpose Center.
It’s been a confusing tangle of financial jargon ever since the project began. One thing we know for sure is that the 2011 tax never promised to pay the entire cost of the project.
Failed fundraising efforts and increasing construction costs also created a problem for the center in recent years. Now, the price tag is set at a little more than $11.5 million. A few years ago, the city proclaimed that funding had been secured, but that turned out to not be the case, mostly due to rising construction costs, we were told.
Then it was decided that a multi-purpose center would not be built; instead, the aquatics center would be slightly expanded to include meeting rooms, etc.
After the Go Forward Pine Bluff five-eighths cent sales tax passed in 2017, $4 million of those funds were pledged for the project.
As you can see, this menagerie of numbers isn’t easy to pour through. We just want to let our readers know that we are planning to sit down with all parties involved to ensure that you, Pine Bluff’s taxpayers, are getting something worthwhile for your money.
We aren’t necessarily placing blame on city officials — past or present — for this confusion. In fact, we feel we may not have dug as deeply as we should have to bring our readers a more complete story about the funding issues.
As many of you know, our staff is very limited at this time. But we know major issues such as this one deserve more newsprint, and that’s why we are currently working diligently to bring you a full and accurate report about the funding timeline for this construction project.
On the plus side, construction is well underway on 11th Avenue between the Civic Center and Convention Center. And here’s another certainty: Once this facility is completed, it will be a jewel for our community. It’s one of the many projects that will help Pine Bluff move into the future as a city on the brink of great things to come.
With that said, we know many of you are anxious to see our report/audit of the financials involved in the aquatics center.
It won’t be a long wait.