A proposed ordinance to repeal a resolution that would appropriate more than $2 million from the 2017 sales tax increase approved by city voters will be considered by the Pine Bluff City Council on Monday.
Up for a first reading is the proposal, sponsored by Mayor Shirley Washington, which was discussed during a meeting of the council’s Development and Planning Committee Tuesday afternoon.
The committee voted to send the proposal to the full council with no recommendation for approval or disapproval, saying that changes can be made to the ordinance after discussions take place.
The mayor’s proposal would replace the resolution sponsored by Council Member Ivan Whitfield which called for allocating $300,000 to the Police Department, $200,000 to the Fire Department, $1 million for drainage, $300,000 for youth/community and another $300,000 for the convention center.
It also outlines an administrative process for the evaluation of projects that want funding from what is commonly called the Go Forward Sales Tax.
As she did in a lengthy signing statement issued last Friday, Washington said money generated by the temporary tax are reserved for the purpose and use described in the Go Forward Pine Bluff plan which was explained to the voters in the special election. In addition, she said millions of private fund dollars were promised and have been raised to augment the tax funds and to accomplish the purposes in partnership with the city.
The ordinance says the Whitfield resolution does not consider the financial encumbrances of the GFPB sales tax, ignores the salary needs of first responders, and duplicates allocations currently earmarked from the tax. Also, the proposal says that $1 million is not sufficient to provide a comprehensive drainage solution and there is a study in progress to determine a strategy and financial process to address drainage issues.
While Whitfield’s proposal does not address salary increases for public safety officers, Washington’s proposed ordinance says she will propose an immediate salary increase, not only for first responders but for all city employees. Also, the ordinance says there is already $175,000 set aside from the 2017 sales tax budget as a $10,000 housing incentive for the recruitment and retention of first responders and anticipated revenue from new businesses (Casino) will be used to offer competitive pay to first responders, city employees and to finance the drainage study results.
The Whitfield resolution mentions youth and community resources and the ordinance says the aquatic center was financed in part with a $4 million allocation from the Go Forward sales tax. In addition to private funds, there is currently a $650,000 allocation of sales tax money to renovate the Merrill Center which classifies as youth/community resources. Also, the proposed ordinance says the Whitfield resolution ignores that the Convention Center has received about $800,000 in sales tax funds for renovations.
Work is currently underway on a master plan for the city with public meetings set to begin next week. The proposed ordinance says the Re-Live Downtown Plan and the new master plan will serve as guidelines along with the urban renewal plans approved by the council.
The ordinance anticipates that multiple proposals or projects will be seeking to use tax money and an evaluation committee consisting of three people appointed by the Mayor, including the Mayor, and three people appointed by Go Forward Pine Bluff. The group will be designated as the Public/Private Partnership will make an initial examination of projects/proposals that want money and make recommendations to the appropriate council committee on where the project fits in with the GFPB plan of revitalization through agencies like urban renewal, Economic and Community Development, the Pine Bluff Housing Authority and others.
The proposal also provides that the CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff or the Mayor will provide a written or oral report to the development and planning committee and/or the community development committee.