By a vote of 7-1 Monday, the Pine Bluff City Council approved a budget adjustment to cover the costs of the city’s Mistletoe Magic holiday event at Lake Saracen.
Included in the funding is just over $33,000 that will be used to rent a portable ice-skating rink for five days, Dec. 4 to Dec. 8 from a company called Artificial Ice Events, Inc.
The money will come from the five-eights cent sales tax approved by voters in 2017 and budgeted in the city’s 2019 budget for special events expenses in the Park’s Department budget.
“It’s a shame we have to use tax payer money to rent or lease something and we’re ready to spend $75,000 on a five-day event,” said Council Member Ivan Whitfield, who cast the only no vote.
During debate about the budget adjustment and later a resolution authorizing Mayor Shirley Washington and Parks Director Samuel Glover to sign a contract for the portable rink, Whitfield said the money could haves been used to buy a portable rink for the city and avoid paying a yearly rental.
He also questioned another item in the proposed budget which calls for $9,500 for rides and attractions, saying that “they’re still going to charge our children.”
Council member Win Trafford corrected Whitfield, saying that there will be no charge for the rides and attractions and Washington said that included in the proposed budget is $20,600 which will be used for increased and improved lighting at the lake front.
“This is not only for kids from Pine Bluff but neighboring communities as well,” Washington said.
Whitfield, who will be a candidate for Mayor in the March 2020 Democratic Party primary also failed to convince the other members of the council to approve a resolution asking the Mayor to ask the Urban Renewal Agency to transfer $100,000 from their funds to Code Enforcement to help cover the costs of tearing down condemned structures.
That resolution failed 5-3 with Council Members Steven Mays and Donald Hatchett joining Whitfield in voting yes while Trafford and Council Members Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Glen Brown Jr., Bruce Lockett and Joni Alexander voted no.
Before the vote on the resolution, the council had approved a $50,000 budget adjustment for Code Enforcement using funds from Urban Renewal. Code Enforcement Director Jeff Gaston had asked for that amount in a letter to city Finance Director Steve Miller on Oct. 30.
In debate about the resolution, Brown said that adding the money Whitfield was seeking would more funds than would be needed, particularly since the end of the year is coming up and city offices and departments will be closed for the holidays, thus reducing the amount of available time to demolish houses. He also said that Code Enforcement will be receiving their new budget effective Jan. 1.
Whitfield countered by saying that the additional money was very much needed now since there are 300 structures currently on the condemned list, and said that even though city offices will be closed for the holidays, private contractors who will do the demolition work will be open and trying to make extra money.
“One-hundred thousand dollars is just a drop in the bucket (for the Urban Renewal budget),” Whitfield said. “If they won’t go the whole $100,000 I would even settle for another $50,000 through December.”
Alexander said it was time to have a conversation about the equipment Code Enforcement bought to tear down houses before two legal opinions said they could not do that without buying the property first.
“We’ve got brand new equipment that is not being used,” Alexander said. “That would save the city money.”
Washington said she hoped there will be a resolution to that problem shortly and Maurice Taggart, the Executive Director of Urban Renewal said the attorney General has been asked for an opinion on the question of whether or not urban renewal can tear down property if it has been condemned by the city already.