Merrill Center funds appropriation is stalled


An already long-and-winding road on proposed renovations to the Merrill Center has now encountered a detour.

A resolution to authorize a $450,000 appropriation toward the enhancements was withdrawn Monday night by its sponsor, Alderman Steven Mays, after he was pressured by several of his counterparts. He was asked by several of his fellow aldermen to withdraw the item so that an option of utilizing Greenville Elementary School as a community center instead of repairing the Merrill Center could be explored.

Aldermen Glen Brown and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker said a discussion on usage of the Greenville facilities with the Pine Bluff School Board should be conducted before progressing with Merrill’s renovations. Stepps said he’s also interested in some other school properties that might be available for city use.

Greenville was recently partially closed. The school district has told the city it can utilize Greenville while repairs are underway at the nearby Merrill Center, with the city receiving free rent whenever classes are in session but having to pay $6,000 a month when the school is closed.

Walker said “clarity” is needed on the matter.

“I want them the school board to tell us, ‘Yes, we can,’ or ‘No, we can’t,’” Stepps said.

Walker assured Mays that his resolution wasn’t being opposed, just delayed. Alderman Wayne Easterly then joined the conversation and asked Mays to pull his legislation “until the next council meeting.”

Mays also pulled an ordinance calling for a “community friendly privilege fee” of 5 percent to be deducted from the salaries of city employees residing outside the city. Those workers employed before the fee’s recommended Sept. 1, 2013, initiation, would be exempt.

The ordinance was scheduled for a third and final reading and vote but Mays agreed to reintroduce the measure for an initial reading at the July 1 council session. He acknowledged that the bill had undergone some wording changes that “significantly” altered its original format.

In other business, the council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing parameters for ambulance service in the city.

Also in a unanimous decision, the panel rejected an ordinance calling for amending current codes to require a survey establishing the boundary line of properties before construction of a fence and/or wall along the division line. The city’s planning commission had recommended the council’s rejection, saying the process would drive up costs.

An ordinance calling for encouraging city government to consider selecting qualified local residents, minorities and women for employment and service contracts received a first reading.

A resolution calling for closing city offices and giving employees a paid holiday on Friday, July 5, was rejected by a 4-3 count.

Approved resolutions:

• Authorized the city attorney to seek legal redress against the recently closed Horizon Foods poultry plant for an unsatisfied $39,933.81 debt to Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility;

• Commended Jerre George, who recently retired, for her services to the city as a zoning and planning consultant;

• Commended Don Scott for his service to the city as a member of the planning commission; and

• Appointed Lula Dickson to the planning commission.