Funding resolution is tabled after council discussion


A resolution calling for the appropriation of $650,000 for renovation of Townsend Park’s baseball fields and improvements to the Merrill Center was tabled after a lengthy discussion at Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

Alderman Steven Mays seconded a motion of adoption by Alderman Bill Brumett, but after a discussion on the matter and a repeated suggestion by Alderwoman Thelma Walker that the measure be pulled, Mays withdrew his second, cancelling a vote. Walker had stated the same before the discussion began, saying she felt the issue needed a council review before being put to a vote “because it might not pass tonight.”

Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, the measure’s sponsor, said she put the proposal on the agenda primarily for a discussion, but was also hopeful that it would be approved.

The transfer was unanimously endorsed and recommended for full council adoption by the panel’s public works committee in a Friday meeting. Committee members include Brumett, Mays and Alderman George Stepps. Apparently, some confusion developed over the source of funding, which was initially identified as bond issue revenue generated by a five-eighths-cent city sales tax approved by voters in 2011. It was stated and reported that the specific account from which the funds would be transferred is currently earmarked for construction of a multipurpose community center. The account balance is roughly $1 million.

Stepps said Monday night that he had received a number of telephone calls from constituents opposed to the transfer because they felt it would handicap funding for the multipurpose center. But Planning and Development Department Interim Director Larry Matthews clarified matters when he told the council that the $650,000 would be pulled from reserves in tax monies collected thus far and that a bond for the center hasn’t yet been issued.

Hollingsworth noted that the city’s bond attorney had stated in a letter that while a center is indeed required by law since it was promised in the bond issue campaign, the language of the referendum also contained wording that mandates that funds be allocated for upkeep of current facilities. Hollingsworth and Matthews said that the center is “years” away from becoming a reality, and in the meanwhile “our youth” are “suffering” because of improper conditions at the Merrill Center and Townsend Park.

After Matthews’ comments on the reserve funds, Hollingsworth pointed out that the resolution was designed to finance “a scope” on needed enhancements at Merrill and the park, not to actually proceed with the work. Matthews noted that the actual dollar amount for necessary improvements might be “much less” than $650,000. He said that total would actually serve as an indication to architects as to how much could be available, and the council would have final say-so on an actual expenditure based on the architects’ findings.

During Monday’s discussion, Alderman Glen Brown asked how the various information on the matter was derived, stating that he had not been aware of the details. Hollingsworth advised him that minutes from several meetings of a task force overseeing bond issue particulars had been distributed to council members. Brown said he hasn’t and doesn’t read minutes and would prefer that he be updated in meetings.

In other business, the council approved one ordinance and two resolutions.

The ordinance adopted updated state, national and international energy standards for use in city construction guidance.

The resolutions:

• Designated Friday, March 29, as a paid holiday for city employees; and

• Declared certain houses, buildings and/or structures as nuisances and ordered their abatement as such.

An ordinance calling for amending current city guidance to provide for review by the city council of decisions of the planning commission granting applications for uses permitted on review was scheduled for its third and final reading, but instead was tabled for additional review.

Ordinances receiving second readings call for:

• Increasing the membership of the parks and recreation commission from five to 11, prescribing certain obligations of the commission concerning its employees, budgetary safeguards, financial reporting obligations, and other purposes; and

• Amending current guidance concerning transient merchants.

Ordinances receiving first readings call for:

• Providing guidance for the offense of unlawful dumping (referred to the public health and welfare committee);

• Amending current guidance to require a survey establishing the boundary line of properties before construction of a fence or wall along a division line (referred to the development and planning committee);

• Repealing residency requirements for department heads (referred to the administration committee); and

• Amending provisions of the non-uniform employees handbook (three separate items. each referred to the administration committee).