- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 9, 2019

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) - Officials in an economically struggling Arkansas city are redirecting tax money meant for a revitalization plan to instead bolster city budgets.

Pine Bluff residents passed a sales tax in 2017 that was projected to generate almost $32 million in seven years.

The City Council voted Monday to divert $2.1 million of its projected $4.5 million in extra annual revenue, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. It includes allocating $300,000 each to the Police Department, youth and community resources, the convention center, in addition to $200,000 to the Fire Department. Another $1 million will be allotted to drainage needs.

Nonprofit organization Go Forward Pine Bluff, established in 2015 and governed by an independent committee, is working with city government to improve the town and economy. Unless Washington vetoes the resolution, the group could lose around $10.5 million in subsidies.

Mayor Shirley Washington, who serves on the organization’s board and has been a steadfast supporter of the public-private partnership, said she was disappointed by the vote and will consider vetoing the measure.

“At this point I’m trying to make that decision,” Washington said. “I’m not 100% sure just yet.”

Ryan Whatley, director of Go Forward Pine Bluff, noted that nearly $51 million in economic development projects and initiatives are also in jeopardy with the funding change, some of which are already in progress.

“While it may appear to be a small piece of the pie, it’s actually a large piece,” Whatley said. “Out of that money, we’ve already invested $4 million in getting the aquatic center completed. We’ve taken on renovation of the Merrill Center, which is close to $1 million. These are things that have been on the city’s agenda for a long time, and otherwise, there would have been no funds to complete these things. We’re already at close to $5 million, and that’s before the revitalization efforts that are the reason we’re here. Now, pull another $2.1 million away from that and this thing’s getting away from us.”

Council Member Steven Mays, who voted for moving the funds, said the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative has been faulty from the start.

“You have too many controlling special interest factors controlling the money,” Mays said. “I wish the city of Pine Bluff would have went on and got that five-eighths-cent tax then and let the mayor and council run that. We have vision. We know what we’re doing.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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