Bond issuance unanimously approved, Obamacare measure nets split decision


The Pine Bluff City Council gave a unanimous green light Monday to the issuance of $5 million in bonds that will finance various projects as endorsed by voters when they approved a five-eights cent sales tax increase last year.

However, the second of three bond issues using funds from the tax increase didn’t gain the council’s nod without some controversy.

Alderman Thelma Walker voted against giving the measure a third and final reading. The legislation was slated to receive only a first reading, according to a meeting agenda released last week. But before Monday’s session, the Ordinance and Resolutions Committee met and – without discussion – accepted Chairwoman Irene Holcomb’s recommendation that the proposal be advanced to completion.

Walker, who is not a member of Holcomb’s committee, opposed the third reading, saying she was not anticipating the measure would be immediately decided. Walker also expressed some concerns with possible appropriation of tax money by the fire and police departments on land purchases. After a brief verbal exchange with Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. on wording in the legislation, however, she was assured that the council would maintain spending authority.

Attorney J. Shepherd “Shep” Russell III, managing partner in the Little Rock law firm of Friday, Eldredge and Clark, which is overseeing the bond issue, outlined the process. Walker proceeded to agree with her counterparts in granting the issue a full go-ahead.

Projects to be funded by the bond issue include $2.1 millions for curb and gutter improvements, a $1 million-plus expansion of the animal shelter, $858,000 for sewer enhancements, and development of the Lake Saracen Walking Trail. Shepherd said the net interest cost to the city would be 3.8 percent through 2036.

There was also a difference of opinions in regard to a resolution encouraging state officials to promptly implement the provisions of the President Barrack Obama-engineered Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.

Redus praised the package, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently declared constitutional after a Republican Party challenge. The mayor said the local resolution was urged by the National League of Cities, which hailed what has been deemed as “Obamacare” to be beneficial to city governments nationwide as well as to individuals in “allowing affordable health care” and “creating new options.”

Alderman Bill Brumett, a long-time insurance professional, told Redus, “I can’t support this.”

Brumett charged that the federal legislation “has put us out of the health care industry” and will drastically increase healthcare expenditures. Brumett said he understands that federal Medicare costs “will be going up two-and-a-half times” by 2014.

“Healthcare reform is already making significant differences to the people of Arkansas,” Redus said.

“Who’s going to pay for it?” Brumett asked, before pausing to offer, “Taxpayers will pay for it.”

“They already are,” Redus said.

Brumett said he didn’t “want to argue about it.”

“We’re not arguing,” Redus said. “We’re debating.”

Brumett and Alderman Wayne Easterly voted against the resolution.

In other business, the council unanimously approved ordinances that adopted the 2012 international building, 2012 international residential, 2012 international property, 2011 national electrical and 2010 state mechanical codes as the city’s planning and development standards.

Unanimously-approved resolutions:

• Authorized the mayor to convey to Marshall Frazier, for his offer of $200, Lot 16 of Block 20 of the Jefferson Heights Addition. The lot is in the center of a block bordered by Fifth and Sixth Avenues and Bryant and Franklin Streets.

• Authorized the mayor to execute an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to utilize an airport improvement grant for enhancements to Grider Field’s taxiway.

• Authorized the mayor to provide a 20-percent local match of no more than $15,000 for an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s application to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s Trail Grants Program for construction of the Caney Bayou section of the Lake Saracen Walking Trail.

• Commended Clarence Rittelmeyer and Robert Thompson for their services as members of the Pine Bluff Aviation Commission and Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library Board of Trustees, respectively.

• Appointed Kenneth R. Collins and Edward J. Fontenette to the aviation commission and library board, respectively.

• Declared a total of 30 houses, buildings and/or other structures as nuisances and ordered their abatement.

• Authorized the mayor to contract with P.I. Roofing Company of Little Rock and Studdard Construction of Pine Bluff for respective roofing replacements of city-owned buildings at 1101 Main St. and 1419 Pine St., for amounts of no more than $30,000 and $16,820. The Main Street building is to be employed for police department storage. The Pine Street property is the site of the Neighbor-to-Neighbor assistance agency.