PINE BLUFF, Ark. (KTHV) - A group in Pine Bluff has a plan to bring the city back to life, and after a vote from the City Council, it is ready to ask for the money to make it happen.
The Pine Bluff City Council voted 5-3 to allow residents to vote on a sales tax increase to fund the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative. It is a citizen-led plan to improve the economy and quality of life in the city.
“If you don’t want nothing, don’t do nothing,” Harold Terry said during Monday night’s council meeting. “You won’t be disappointed.”
Nothing is what a lot of people see downtown. Empty storefronts and the rubble of buildings lost since destroyed line Main Street. Go Forward Pine Bluff, which started with a push from Simmons Bank, aims to improve conditions so local businesses can open and flourish.
“Negativity is like a cancer,” Will Jenkins explained. “And I can see how this cancer has consumed our downtown. And as I drive through some of the neighborhoods, I can see the effects of this cancer called negativity.”
Jenkins and Terry were among the dozens of people who packed the Pine Bluff City Council chambers for Monday’s meeting. The council had to decide whether to approve a proposed sales tax to fund the program, and then to call a special election in June to let voters approve or reject it. Some council members said they objected to the idea of a private group controlling tax dollars.
“If we want to lead the orchestra,” one man stated in defense of the program, “there comes a time when you have to turn your back to the crowd. Doing the right thing is not always the easy thing, but it’s always worth it.”
None of the twenty-some citizens who spoke during the meeting argued against the need for a revitalization program. The implementation and cost were what concerned most of those who opposed it.
“Each of you were elected,” Sam Whitfield shouted at the council members. “And when you are turning over your responsibility as elected officials to the bank, I’m saying to you, you are losing control. If you don’t want so serve on this council, then you need to get off this council!”
The tax, which would increase the sales tax rate in Pine Bluff from 11.5 percent to 12.375 percent, would cost the average family roughly $15 a month, and is projected to generate more than $30 million over seven years. That may be pocket change for some people, but it could place a significant strain on Pine Bluff’s seniors.
“Senior citizens are even out looking for jobs,” one woman stated. “They can’t find them. You don’t have them here. Then you’re gonna put more taxes on them.”
Mayor Shirley Washington said the first thing that will make Pine Bluff go forward is having so many people talk about their city.
“I think that when that happens, it brings everybody to the table,” she said at the end of the debate. “And hopefully we can unite and work together at the end of the day.”