T he Pine Bluff Commercial recently concluded a three-part series on Go Forward Pine Bluff that identified several misconceptions about the nonprofit organization.
Not that everyone will be supportive of Go Forward, but some people were confused about the purpose of the organization.
A tax to support Go Forward was passed in 2017 and was expected to raise more than $30 million over a seven-year term, with millions more raised separately by the group.
So what is Go Forward supposed to do with all of that money? Well, not fix potholes in the street, as some people mistakenly believe.
Go Forward did its research and homework, unlike Little Rock's mayor, Frank Scott Jr., who asked for a sales tax increase for this and that and was soundly defeated last week in his attempt.
A year or more before the Go Forward sales tax was sought, dozens of Pine Bluff residents met monthly to decide what Pine Bluff needed most. Pillars were created for such broad sectors as education and quality of life, with experts brought in to discuss the situation and possible options. Simmons Bank kicked in $300,000 to facilitate the lengthy thought process.
This group got the sales tax put on the ballot, and voters approved it. Then it almost got derailed two years later when the Pine Bluff City Council voted to claw back some of the Go Forward tax money for its own purposes. It was a dark moment. But that vote was rescinded with the promise of finding other money for council projects, and Go Forward has not looked back since.
One of the reasons for producing the three-part series was that there is always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Go Forward. And from our perspective, it's all about the money. As the council struggles with making ends meet -- even now, when Saracen Casino has backed up a Brink's truck to unload hundreds of thousands of dollars a year into city coffers -- watching all of the Go Forward tax go to its own projects is more than some council members can abide.
The way that handful of council members see it, they are on the ground, listening to their constituents, and they know best how tax dollars should be allocated.
"The ballot states a general use tax," said Council Member Ivan Whitfield. "Because of that, everything that Go Forward is doing now, none of that was on the ballot itself. It's imperative that we remember this: that when we are elected, even when the people say, 'Let's do A,' they sent us to vote on their behalf. When we, as a council member, see something wrong, we are their voice. We are their vote."
But that, of course, was not what was sold to the public, and to do otherwise with that tax would be to forever lose the trust of the public that words mean something and that a tax for "A," as Whitfield put it, will actually be spent on "A."
So cleaning ditches and fixing potholes, no, those aren't the jobs of Go Forward. Those are the city's jobs. But getting rid of blight; revitalizing the downtown area; creating events to enhance the quality of life here; creating The Generator, a center for the entrepreneurial spirit -- yes, that's where your Go Forward tax dollars have been put to work, and it's easy to see the results.
Take a drive around town, and in many places where there was an eyesore, the land has been cleared. Thank you, Go Forward. Drive down Main Street, and as you do, recall when you couldn't. Recall when fallen bricks lined the street and the street itself was actually closed because it was unsafe to travel it. Again, that's Go Forward in action.
In short, Go Forward Pine Bluff is working. It had a long to-do list, and it's now well on its way to checking off all of its promised plans. Indeed, Pine Bluff is moving forward, in many ways, because this organization had the pluck to come into existence and start making things happen. We are excited about what it's done so far and are eager to see what's ahead. Go Forward won't be around forever. Let's take full advantage of it while it is.