Mayor envisions business permits for residential landlords

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth was met with some resistance at the last town hall meeting of 2013 Monday night when she floated the idea of requiring all residential landlords with property in the city to apply for a business permit.

“We want the landlords to purchase one and list all of the properties that they own in the city,” Hollingsworth said. “This way we have a point of contact if there is a problem at one of the residences such as receiving more than 10 calls for service [police calls] in a month.”

Hollingsworth proposed a $25 application fee that would be waived for all applicants who are members of the Jefferson County Landlord Association.

“Landlords are a vital component of our city,” Hollingsworth said. “So the fee waiver is simply an incentive for landlords to join the association. It is estimated that 40 percent of all single-family homes in Pine Bluff are classified as rental properties. The city needs to partner with these landlords and see what needs to be done to stabilize and revitalize our neighborhoods.”

One of the landlords in attendance Monday asked if it was legal to enforce a fee requirement on some landlords and not on others.

“I’m not a landlord so I need to find out what the law says about that,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth said city residents need to find out which homes in their neighborhood are rental properties and need to find out who the landlords are.

“You need to know who they are because you are in effect their eyes and ears for that property,” Hollingsworth said.

Around 20 members of the county landlord association were present at the meeting and several took the opportunity to voice their concerns with the mayor’s plan.

“I already pay over $3,000 in personal property taxes to the city,” one landlord said. “I worry that even though we will be able to waive the cost of the business permit that a door has been opened that may not be closed. I can’t compete with the city on rental property. I had a tenant tell me they were moving to the new development at 38th and Ohio. I can’t compete against that.”

Hollingsworth said the Southern Crossing development at 38th Avenue and Ohio Street is a Department of Housing and Urban Development property that is not affiliated with the city.

Another landlord in the audience asked Hollingsworth what she planned to do to make sure that she enforced any business permit requirement against absentee landlords as well as those who live in the area.

“We are working on that,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth said that she along with White Hall Mayor Noel Foster and Jefferson County Judge Dutch King met with representatives of Waste Management several times.

“We got them to bring our call center back here from Texas where they took it,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m pretty certain you will get responsive service at this point. We should be, for what we are paying them.”

Hollingsworth said the telephone number for the new Waste Management call center is (870) 247-3747.

Ritchie Smith, a landscape architect with Ritchie Smith Associates in Memphis, Tenn., gave a 30-minute slide presentation on plans to revitalize Main Street from its intersection with 8th Avenue north to the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Hollingsworth said the project will be paid for by $2 million in bonds generated by the five-eighths-of -a-cent sales tax approved by Pine Bluff voters in 2011.

“This is a bond project that the city approved so we have to do this,” Hollingsworth said. “I am excited that 23 properties in downtown Pine Bluff have been purchased in the past year. We must move forward as a unified body. I would not be standing here today if this town had not voted in a unified manner.”

Hollingsworth and Pine Bluff Police Department Neighborhood Watch Coordinator Regina Vontungeln thanked the city’s Neighborhood Watch captains for their work.

“You are the information centers for your neighborhood and you help to stabilize the areas that you patrol,” Hollingsworth said. “We thank you for what you do.”

Vontungeln handed out certificates of appreciation to all NW captains and singled out the members of the Westside Loop Neighborhood Watch group for special praise with certificates for each member.

“While all of our Neighborhood Watch groups have worked incredibly hard we wanted to especially thank the members of the Westside Loop group for all that they have done,” Hollingsworth said.