Council panel recommends taking bond monies for parks and rec updates

The Pine Bluff City Council’s Public Works Committee voted unanimously Friday to recommend that the full council approve a resolution authorizing a $650,000 funds transfer to finance renovation and improvement to the Merrill Community Center and Townsend Park’s baseball fields.

The monies would be derived from bond issue revenue generated by a five-eighths cent city sales tax approved by voters in 2011. The specific account from which the funds would be transferred is currently earmarked for construction of a multipurpose community center and stands at roughly $1 million.

Originally, the price tag for the center was figured at $11 million and called for as much as $7 million in public contributions. The committee’s members — Aldermen Bill Brumett, Steven Mays and George Stepps — joined Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and Planning and Development Department Interim Director Larry Matthews in estimating public contributions wouldn’t reach $7 million.

But the five agreed along with Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Parker that a “scaled-down” center costing several million dollars less could provide “adequate and quality service” to the city.

Brumett and Stepps originally opposed the transfer, but Hollingsworth explained that the bond attorney had advised her that the language of the bond issue referendum — while obligating the city to build a community center — also mandates that funds be allocated for upkeep of current facilities.

Matthews pointed out that while the city waits for the funding necessary for the new multipurpose center to accumulate, “Our kids are suffering” with worsening conditions at Merrill and Townsend Park.

Brumett said that while he’s “all for” the enhancements at Merrill and Townsend Park, he’s concerned about having to change plans on the new center.

Stepps echoed Brumett.

“Some won’t be as excited about this (the renovation funding) as we are. The public needs to understand the situation and why this is happening,” Stepps said.

Matthews emphasized that while the Merrill and Townsend Park funding “may cause a delay in replenishing” the multipurpose center monies, the latter project will be completed.

In other business, the committee unanimously agreed to recommend a reimbursement of $13,697.72 to parks and recreation in expenditures for automobile repairs and renovations to the Chester Hynes Community Center. The full council will have to determine from what source the reimbursement would be financed, however.