Council stalemate continues over police facilities

A rush to resolve an ongoing series of stop-and-go disagreements on police department facilities stalled at Tuesday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting when senior Alderman Bill Brumett put the brakes on what he had hoped would serve as a compromise, or at least the start of one.

Meanwhile, the city’s deadline for complying with a bond issue that would finance possible renovations to police facilities is fast approaching.

Brumett’s proposal called for the council to direct Mayor Debe Hollingsworth to proceed with the rehabilitation and renovation of the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building and a former Army National Guard armory as sites for police department agencies and personnel. The measure also called for the police department to locate its patrol division at The Pines shopping mall, and maintain neighborhood offices and the recently revived bicycle patrol as departmental priorities.

After a round of banter and a rejection of a proposed amendment to the item, an obviously frustrated Brumett pulled the measure. Brumett issued a blanket apology, saying he was sorry that the resolution and an attached three-page, long-range plan on the department’s facility needs apparently wasn’t previously seen or read by all of his council colleagues.

The amendment, which would have allowed the fire department — also headquartered at the civic center’s Thomas Building — to possibly direct some or all of about a half-million dollars in bond reserve funds for building improvements toward its other facilities, failed in a 3-2 vote.

Brumett asked that his counterparts, meanwhile, digest the plan and make recommendations in time for the Sept. 16 council meeting so they can possibly act on it in light of an approaching project deadline, but Walker didn’t wait to express her opinion. The alderwoman said it doesn’t matter when the legislation might be introduced, because she won’t support the placement of the patrol division at the mall.

Walker also maintains that any police department plans or renovation at the armory, located on North Myrtle Street near Townsend Park, are unlawful because of Hollingsworth’s June veto of a split council decision to move the patrol division there from a warehouse-style building on Commerce Road. City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott supported Walker’s opinion that the armory must first be designated by the council as a public safety building, an action that is to follow a planning commission recommendation.

Larry Matthews, chief of the economic and community development department, cautioned the council about its delay in finalizing the facilities issue. Matthews said the city is “down to one year” on completing the police department building project as outlined in the bond agreement that resulted from voters’ approval of a sales-tax increase in 2011.

Matthews said he isn’t certain that “a bond extension” is possible, and said that if work isn’t completed on schedule, the city may have to reimburse its bond loan. He said the process needs to be enacted this month or “it’ll go away.”

“We’re at a point where we need to get this done,” Matthews said. “This is probably the last alarm.”

The council gave unanimous approval to a resolution authorizing the mayor to contract with the local Nelson and Reed architectural firms on a joint determination of needs in renovating the Thomas Building.