PINE BLUFF -- In addition to presenting her vision for Pine Bluff in her third "state of the city" address, Mayor Shirley Washington took the opportunity to make an announcement that was not on the agenda.
"In a short two years we have come a long way but we have far to travel together," Washington said. "I believe Pine Bluff's best days are ahead of us and I believe we can reach them together. That is why, tonight, I am humbled to announce that I will seek another term as mayor."
At that, the 200 or so in attendance broke out into applause, drowning out the rest of her comments.
In her state of the city remarks, Washington laid out an ambitious slate of proposals along with challenges to the community to make those proposals a reality.
Washington addressed the need to rebuild Pine Bluff, and said that 2019 "will be the year Pine Bluff will deliver projects on time, on budget, and on track to move our city forward."
Among the projects she cited are the new aquatic center, new library, a community park at 601 Main St., an innovation hub, a downtown streetscape makeover, and expansion of industry, to name a few currently underway.
Beyond infrastructure, Washington stressed the need for education, to which she issued a challenge to the school districts, higher-education institutions and businesses to work together to make a reality.
"Tonight, I am setting a goal that by the end of 2019, the Pine Bluff Promise will be incorporated with a goal of funding tuition for every qualifying student in Pine Bluff to attend an Arkansas college of their choice," she said.
The mayor also touted the city's summer youth employment program, which seeks to find jobs for young people during their summer break from school, but she acknowledged that funding has been, and continues to be a problem.
"In 2018," she said, "more than 500 young people were qualified and ready to work hard for our city, but were turned away from our Summer Youth Employment Program, due to lack of funding."
Washington said that this year, the City Council had found funding to allow an additional 50 young people to participate and she called upon the business community to provide funding for at least 200 more.
"As we move forward," she said, "we will strive to find a place for every young person who applies and qualifies for a summer job."
During her remarks, the mayor acknowledged criticism of the GoForward Pine Bluff organization, and defended its place in the effort to revitalize the city.
"Some say this partnership represents a takeover of our city, and that these projects will only benefit a wealthy few," said Washington. "Progress in Pine Bluff is not for the benefit of any one organization or group. It is for all of us advancing together, and Go Forward Pine Bluff has helped us in this effort."
After the mayor's remarks, Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, applauded Washington's vision and said she is working at the legislative level to help Pine Bluff make the most of its history and potential.
Flowers said the mayor's mention of a Pine Bluff Promise academic program is an idea that she believes is taking hold in the community and could provide a badly needed boost for the community.
"A lot of people say, 'oh, we don't have a Murphy Oil,'" Flowers said, "but what is so beautiful about Pine Bluff is that we don't need a Murphy Oil. We're not a tiny city or a small city with one huge business interest that everyone depends on for their livelihood. We have several business interests, two major banks, two industrial parks filled with businesses who have a stake in seeing Pine Bluff grow and in growing our workforce, growing more customers."
Council Member Bruce Lockett gave the mayor high marks for her speech and said the council is committed to finding a way to fund the mayor's vision, but he stopped short of saying any kind of tax increase would play a part in funding.
"I don't know," Lockett said. "That's going to be a hard one because we just passed a tax in 2017. We're very concerned on the council with over burdening our citizens with taxes. But if we do try to pass a tax in the next three to five years, it will be dedicated for a specific purpose and we'll make sure the people know exactly what it is for."
State Desk on 03/15/2019
Print Headline: Pine Bluff mayor outlines state of city after announcing re-election bid