By Ray King

A budget adjustment to pay property taxes on a building in downtown owned by the City of Pine Bluff drew opposition from two members of the City Council Tuesday night.

Council members Ivan Whitfield and Donald Hatchett opposed using $11,773 to pay taxes on the former Bank of America building at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. The building was given to the City last year after the bank moved out and relocated all their operations to a branch on West 28th Avenue.

“I voted against this,” Whitfield said. “I thought the city was exempt from paying (property) taxes.”

Hatchett said he also opposed the idea of accepting the bank property because it put the City in the real estate business and not only are there taxes but also monthly operation and maintenance costs.

Regarding an exemption for the taxes, City Finance Director Steve Miller said city owned property is exempt if it is being used for municipal purposes which the building is not since it is currently vacant.

Mayor Shirley Washington said city officials had been contacted by a prospect who expressed interest in buying the building but after COVID-19 hit, the prospect backed away, but she said she believed the prospect was still interested.

Since the building has drive-up windows, Council member Bruce Lockett suggested possibly using it for municipal purposes such as collecting fees for city permits and the like without requiring purchasers to come to city hall or inside a building.

Washington also said she and City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott would do more research on the property tax exemption and report back to the council.

The budget adjustment was approved 6-2 with Whitfield and Hatchett voting no. Council members Lloyd Holcomb Jr., Glen Brown Jr., Bruce Lockett, Win Trafford, Steven Mays and Joni Alexander voting yes.

On another subject, the council adopted a resolution prepared by the Arkansas Municipal League which said the City and all others in the nation are essential to economic recovery. The resolution said that the City could see a revenue shortfall of 26.5 percent though the end of the year and possibly extending into next year.

It called on Congress to “allocate fair and direct federal support to all America’s communities, regardless of population size, to rebuild and reopen the national economy.