LITTLE ROCK A citizens advisory committee established to monitor how Little Rock's recently increased sales tax is spent is meeting for the first time, hearing reports from various city departments on their plans.
Voters approved the increase last September, raising the sales tax from a half percent to 1.5 percent.
Little Rock Police Department Chief Stuart Thomas told the 12-member LR CENT committee his department will use the sales tax money to overhaul its antiquated radio system, fill 55 officer vacancies, hire 12 additional officers and develop new police buildings on 12th Street and in west Little Rock.
The group is meeting at the Hinton Neighborhood Resource Center, 3805 12th St., which is across the street from where the new 12th Street Mid-Town Substation will be built.
In addition to housing the major case and downtown patrol units, the space will have courtyards for public use and spaces for commercial businesses.
"I'm still looking for Starbucks and those types of things," Thomas said, noting a credit union and a health clinic had already showed interest. "[The new station] is also really intended to be a community center-point."
The Little Rock Zoo said it will hire 17 positions including an education curator, a full-time veterinarian, a senior carnivore keeper and a diversity marketing coordinator.
Director Mike Blakely said the staff will help the zoo meet accreditation standards and improve the guest experience.
"Repeat business is critical for the zoo," he said on the importance of improving the guest experience. "So we utilize these people for that purpose too."
The zoo in 2012 will also update its bear and otter exhibit, make improvements to its primate building, renovate its tiger exhibit and develop a meerkat exhibit, Blakely said in the report.
Housing and neighborhood programs will hire 20 new code officers over two years, add three animal control officers and expand the city's Animal Village, including creating an intake area where incoming animals can be quarantined.
Wendell Jones, director of fleet services, said his department will divide about $1.6 million in 2012 among eight departments that need vehicles. He said it's tough to spread the money around, especially since a single fire vehicle can cost almost half of that total.
"We don't have a lot to work with," he said. "But we have a lot more than we've had the last four years."
Other city departments will present at future meetings.
"The goal is to make sure you understand from each department what we're doing on the operational side and the capital side," city manager Bruce Moore said as the meeting began.
Each of the 12 members of the LR CENT committee will serve four-year terms, the city said.