Stepps repeats suggestion of penny sales tax for youth programs

Alderman George Stepps said in Friday’s called Pine Bluff City Council meeting that he is considering proposing a one-cent sales tax earmarked to support youth programs and facilities.

Stepps offered the suggestion during a debate on a resolution calling for a transfer of $650,000 in reserves collected from the 2011 voter-approved five-eighths cent sales tax and bond issue.

Stepps had made similar remarks in a Thursday administration committee meeting in which the transfer resolution received a recommendation for rejection by the full council. The recommendation came on a split vote with Stepps and Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. agreeing while Alderman Wayne Easterly pushed for an approval.

The division over the resolution, sponsored by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, is based on concerns focusing on how the $650,000 expenditure to the parks and recreation department might impact the proposed multipurpose center, which Hollingsworth said “will happen.” Meanwhile, she maintains, some monies from tax revenues must be spent toward upkeep of current facilities.

The amount sought by the mayor would go to renovations of baseball fields at Townsend Park and improvements to the Merrill Center. Proponents of the transfer say that while the city is several years away from attaining the multipurpose center, its youth are in critical need of quality facilities.

Stepps said he’s tired of seeing the city’s facilities simply “patched,” and believes the city needs to follow Jefferson County’s lead in building more new structures.

Bonds for the multipurpose center have not yet been issued.

Voting for the appropriation Friday were Easterly and Alderman Bill Brumett. Opposing the measure were Holcomb, Stepps, Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Aldermen Glen Brown and Steven Mays. Alderman Charles Boyd was absent.

Hollingsworth said after the meeting that she “can’t understand why some of the aldermen don’t want to take advantage of this opportunity to do something for our youth while we have a chance. We can’t wait long on the Merrill Center and Townsend Park is in terrible shape.”

Several of the council members who spoke out against the transfer stated their support of youth, saying they believed needed enhancements could be obtained in different manners and that the proposed center could be designed for all age groups instead of primarily for older citizens.