Questions raised over Go Forward Pine Bluff spending $560,000 on empty lots

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PINE BLUFF, Ark. — A tax hike bringing in more than $4 million dollars a year to revitalize Pine Bluff, is raising a lot of questions about if that money is being wasted.

The Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative went into effect in 2017.

Last week, Alderman Ivan Whitfield proposed an ordinance to divest nearly half the Go Forward tax funds, to the city’s budget. He argues the initiative is taking taxpayer dollars, but not investing those funds in what the city really needs.

One of Whitfield’s concerns is a real estate deal, where Go Forward spent more than half a million dollars on a building and several empty lots.

“None of this is putting the community’s best interest at heart,” said Whitfield. “We’re spending too much taxpayer money freely.”

KARK 4 searched Jefferson County property records and found in the past year Go Forward bought 7 buildings and lots, but what they paid and the assessed value is a steep difference.

The property was sold in a bundle for $560,000, but the total assessed value is just under $200,000.

“We one hundred percent stand by that,” said Go Forward CEO Ryan Watley.

When KARK 4 asked if the buildings could have been bought for less, Watley said, “yes absolutely, if the seller would have to agreed to sell it for less.”

Watley says Go Forward just needs time to prove why this investment will pay off. He says the plan is to develop the land and bring businesses to downtown, but they’re still in the initial planning stage.

“It’ll bring in millions of dollars compared to the initial investment of $560,000,” Watley said. “It’s worth more to us to the city in a redeveloped state than it is now. Right now it’s bringing in zero or very little tax dollars.”

Whitfield’s ordinance got city council’s vote and was signed off by Mayor Shirley Washington.

That support changed Tuesday when the Mayor proposed her own ordinance to repeal divesting the funds, and instead require Go Forward to be more transparent in spending.

Both issues are expected to be discussed at city council’s meeting next week.

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