PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Pine Bluff voters decided against two sales tax initiatives on Tuesday. One focused on improving public safety, while the other spotlighted education and economic development.
In 2017, voters passed the five-eighth cent sales tax for the incentive focusing on education and economic development. Go Forward Pine Bluff, a group that aims to increase the revenues of the city government, said the tax allowed them to complete big projects over the past six years.
“We raised significant funding over $13 million that has been invested into the community,” Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley said. “Our partnership with the city has been very beneficial to the citizens of Pine Bluff."
Watley said the sales tax had played a massive role in helping the city grow. However, Tuesday's vote against the tax puts things into perspective.
“It's not the results that we wanted,” Watley said. “The jury's still out on what that really means. We're having some preliminary conversations today.”
Although the sales tax didn't pass, Watley said the current projects in development will continue.
“In terms of our go-kart track, amusement family foreign park, the six main retail and restaurant district, and all the administrative work on the hotel," Watley said. "That will also come to fruition."
While Watley is optimistic that current projects can be completed, he's unsure how many more projects they can achieve without additional help.
“Our citizens are clamoring for a movie theater in Pine Bluff... new houses... for cleanup of the neighborhoods,” Watley said. “That has to be figured out some kind of way. That impact is significant without those funds.”
After the vote, Watley said Go Forward Pine Bluff won't alter its mission.
“We feel good about the work that we've done, and the work that is currently in place," Watley said. "A little disappointed that we can't plan for the future today."
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington shared a statement with us.
"Yesterday, voters decided not to renew Go Forward Pine Bluff or the public safety initiative. These were not the results that many had hoped to see. Nevertheless, the decision of the voters must be respected. We are grateful for all the residents who participated in this process by exercising their right to vote. Even though these ballot items were not approved, we are not giving up on our city. There are first responders, educators, entrepreneurs, community organizations, civic leaders, and residents who remain passionate about revitalizing Pine Bluff. Their commitment to positive change will not waiver.
Looking ahead, Pine Bluff is positioned for a better future. More than ever before, we must believe in ourselves. We must continue the hard work of cleaning up our neighborhoods, transforming our schools, shoring up our infrastructure, strengthening our public safety agencies, and making this a place where businesses can flourish.
This will take time and it will not be easy, but based on the great things we have seen over the past few years, we know it can be done. We must all stay engaged in this process as we enter this new chapter together."