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The Pine Bluff City Council on Monday pulled two resolutions aimed at changing how the city handles urban renewal efforts.

Mayor Shirley Washington pulled the resolutions after she mentioned that they needed to be approved by numerous committees and that one of the resolutions needed to be edited.

The resolutions would have transferred heavy equipment purchased by the Urban Renewal Agency and two employees of the agency to the city's Code Enforcement Department, and would have created a new position within that department to supervise nuisance abatement activities.

"It will need to be seen by human resources for job description and salary," Washington said. "The resolution will need to be split into two parts to remove the job detail from the transfer of equipment."

The heads of the Ways and Means, Economic and Community Development, Public Works, Development and Planning, and Administration committees also expressed their desire to review the resolutions before they went before the council.

The resolutions came about after Maurice Taggart, director of the Urban Renewal Agency, requested a formal opinion from City Attorney Althea Scott regarding the agency's ability to raze and remove structures within the city. At the heart of the issue is whether the agency is required to acquire ownership of the properties before it razes them.

Scott issued her formal opinion May 20, saying that confusion had been created over the division of demolition duties between the Code Enforcement Department and the Urban Renewal Agency. The opinion also said the Urban Renewal Agency had failed to follow the law when it came to razing dilapidated structures.

Scott's opinion noted that state law grants cities the authority to raze and remove structures, place liens against real property and collect those liens from the county tax collector. The opinion also said the Code Enforcement Department, a department governed by the city, is legally allowed to perform those functions on behalf of the city.

The city attorney's opinion also said the Urban Renewal Agency is an autonomous body created by the city, with its own independent governing board, and therefore cannot act in the same capacity. Instead, the opinion said, the Urban Renewal Agency must legally acquire property through "purchase, contract, eminent domain, donation by school district, donation by City of city property, etc."

Upon receiving the opinion, Taggart ordered the Urban Renewal Agency to suspend nuisance abatement activities until the matter could be resolved.

Pine Bluff Alderman Ivan Whitfield had called for an investigation into the agency, saying it improperly spent funds it was given by the city to tear down condemned houses.

Whitfield also said work done by the Urban Renewal Agency is a duplication of work the city's own Code Enforcement Department is supposed to do.

Whitfield said transferring the capacity to perform nuisance abatement to the Code Enforcement Department is not the solution. Instead, he said, it should be done through a bidding process.

That process, Whitfield said, is what keeps area contractors in business and provides jobs to residents.

Former council member Irene Holcomb spoke at the City Council meeting on Monday and told the members to work together on the issue for the sake of the city.

"I was going to admonish you to work on the resolutions six, seven and eight, but apparently you are because it was pulled for discussion," Holcomb said. "I know you can get together and work these things out. I don't want to pick up the Democrat-Gazette and hear about how we are bickering."

State Desk on 07/02/2019

Print Headline: PB council withdraws urban renewal resolutions

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