City committee recommends funding for incubator

The Pine Bluff City Council Community Development Committee voted Thursday to approve a $50,000 budget request for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Economic Research and Development Center, despite a 2014 budget from Mayor Debe Hollingsworth that provides for no such funding.

Henry Golatt, director of what is popularly known as the UAPB Business Incubator, made his case to the committee that without funding from the city, his organization would be in real danger of closing its doors.

“If the city doesn’t fund this $50,000 we would be in dire straits,” Golatt said. “We are already close to the precipice of not being able to do what we do. Funding at the federal level has not been as regular as in the past. We’ve lived up to everything we said we were going to do in relation to the city. We’ve got to continue to focus on small business in Pine Bluff to help the city continue to grow and to prosper.”

Second Ward Alderman Charles Boyd, a member of the committee, voiced his support for the budget request.

“It seems like this is a vital project,” Boyd said.

Third Ward Alderman Glen Brow, also a committee member, agreed.

“I think it’s a needed venture and according to Steve [Miller, the city’s finance director] the mayor is not going to make that recommendation, so I am going to make it,” Brown said. “I recommend that it be sent to Ways & Means so that they can try to find the funds.”

First Ward Alderwoman Thelma Walker, the committee chair, formally recommended the $50,000 request be forwarded to the Ways & Means Committee with the support of Boyd and Brown.

The committee recommended the rest of the budget items for the departments under its purview as presented in the mayor’s 2014 budget proposal, including $1,319,421 for Community Development Fund revenue.

Larry Matthews, director of the Economic Development Department, briefed committee members on the latest information regarding a series of findings by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that the city must repay $671,775 in funds that the federal agency said were either misused or not properly accounted for.

“We were informed that if we opt to pay the money back using non-federal funds the maximum amount of time we can have is three years,” Matthews said. “We also have the option of having the amount of HUD funds we receive cut over a several-year period by the amount that we are said to owe.”

Matthews said that of the two options it would be best for the city to pay the money back over three years using non-federal funds.

“That way the money can be recycled,” Matthews said. “If we have our funding cut by a certain amount we lose that money forever. We must reply to HUD. by Dec. 15.”

Matthews said the city is disputing a HUD finding that $183,666 is owed because of a lack of documentation.

“We still have to plan for repaying that amount even if HUD finds in our favor on this one,” Matthews said.