See The Big Picture
As a longtime resident of Pine Bluff, this community is dear to me. Like many of the people reading this column, I have seen our city go through highs and lows. I’ve seen great industry locate here and companies leave for more fertile grounds. As a banker I’ve seen small businesses fail to make it — not always because their product was bad, but because the market wasn’t strong enough here.
For years we hoped that things would turn around, that the next idea would be better than previous ones, and that the free market would help right the ship. However, about 10 years ago it became clear we needed something big, something that would show we are all-in for our hometown. That decision was the beginning of the Go Forward initiative, a movement that brought together people from all corners of our community with a common goal: a resurgence of Pine Bluff.
In 2017, Go Forward was overwhelmingly passed by Pine Bluff residents for many of the reasons mentioned above. There had been many plans come and go over the years, but they all lacked a critical component, adequate funding.
While no plan is perfect, Go Forward has inarguably moved the needle for the first time in a long time. Working alongside Mayor Shirley Washington, dedicated city employees and the City Council, Go Forward has helped clean up our neighborhoods, invested in revitalization of our downtown, attracted and retained quality teachers and first responders, and built long-awaited projects like the aquatics center, generator, and a great community center.
In my banking career, I’ve heard more than my share of cliches, but one that consistently holds true is that outside investors put a lot of stock in “skin in the game.” Go Forward serves as a note of confidence that our city is committed to improving, that we will be a supportive and worthwhile place to invest. Pine Bluff is now seeing new industry locate here. While there is no way to know if they would have made that same decision if this initiative didn’t exist — it is telling that so many had passed us by prior to 2017.
Now that Pine Bluff is making advancements, we must also protect our shared investments. Crime is on a rise nationwide, and for years Pine Bluff has faced many public safety stereotypes, some sadly true and some exaggerated. However, to say we don’t have problems that need to be addressed is simply wrong.
Phase two of the Go Forward plan includes an additional ballot question that increases funding to our police and fire departments by roughly $3 million dollars annually. While the needs are large and many, this additional funding will allow for significant investments in our personnel and their equipment, and it would modernize our technology to be on par with similar-sized communities in the state.
For many, this opinion piece is “preaching to the choir,” but a choir needs to sing together. For this initiative to continue being successful, we must remain focused on working together.
For those who are undecided, unfamiliar or find themselves concerned about negative misinformation — I ask you to consider a few critical questions: Has Pine Bluff improved its quality-of-life offerings? Have our neighborhoods benefited from blight removal? Are we seeing new financial investments in our city?
And do you think continuing to invest in safety, our youth, job training and revitalization projects is critical to a better future?
Quality-of-Place isn’t one dimensional. You can’t have a vibrant local economy if people don’t feel safe. You can’t have a quality school system without good teachers. You can’t have strong police and fire departments without good officers, and you can’t attract and retain a talented workforce without providing a pleasant and safe place to live.
Ultimately, on May 9th, Pine Bluff residents will decide if they are for continued investments and public private partnerships in critical areas of our city. They will decide if they are for increased funding for our first responders and investing in technology to make our neighborhoods safer. And they will have to decide if they support continuing the momentum of the Go Forward initiative and invest in public safety. The One Forward Pine Bluff initiative is the only plan that funds the above efforts. Renewal of the 5/8% tax, and passage of the 3/8% tax is critical in continuing the momentum of accomplishing a cleaner, safer and stronger Pine Bluff.
I close by thanking our citizens for trusting and supporting the initial 2017 tax initiative. I encourage you to vote for both ballot initiatives. Regardless of your voting preference, I do encourage you to take advantage of the freedoms we have as Americans to go vote.
Tommy May is chairman of Go Forward Pine Bluff.
Ultimately, on May 9th, Pine Bluff residents will decide if they are for continued investments and public private partnerships in critical areas of our city. They will decide if they are for increased funding for our first responders and investing in technology to make our neighborhoods safer. And they will have to decide if they support continuing the momentum of the Go Forward initiative and invest in public safety.