A divided North Little Rock City Council approved on Monday the issuance of revenue bonds totaling $15.8 million for capital improvements at the city's airport and to cover a higher construction cost for the new police and courts building.
The ordinance, which combined two separate series of bonds, authorizes issuance of Series 2019A bonds of $10.875 million for the police and courts building and Series 2019B bonds of $4.925 million for airport improvements.
Mayor Joe Smith voted to break a tie and approve the ordinance, 5-4. Smith also voted to break a tie on an amendment that failed but that would have allowed the two bond issues to be voted on separately. The mayor's vote against the move to separate the two issues was only symbolic, as a vote by the mayor is only necessary to reach a fifth vote for approval. The amendment had already failed with the 4-4 tie.
The bonds won't be issued until after a 30-day referendum period that allows any challenge to their approval. The bonds are to be secured by city franchise fee revenue.
The two votes split the council the same way each time. Council members Maurice Taylor, Steve Baxter, Ron Harris and Charlie Hight voted for the ordinance and also voted against the amendment to separate the bond issues. Debi Ross, who offered the amendment, Beth White, Linda Robinson and Jane Ginn all voted against the ordinance and for the amendment.
The same 5-4 voting breakdown occurred July 22 when the council approved legislation to seek an airport bond issue.
Ross said she was "disappointed" to be put into a position of having to vote on the bond issues as one, as each member had spoken in favor of the bonds for the $30 million police and courts building, or Justice Building, as Smith has referred to it.
Others also spoke against having only one vote.
"I do not oppose the Justice Building," Robinson said. "I do oppose the airport. This maneuver -- and that's what I call it, a maneuver -- was put together so we have to vote for it."
Smith told council members that separating the two bond issues could delay the airport bonds and mean an extra $30,000 cost to the city, plus the risk of the bond market changing, causing the bond cost to rise.
"I don't think it's worth $30,000 to give some of us the opportunity to say they voted against it," Smith said. "Read into the record that you're against it and let's get the bond issue out and start the 30-day referendum period."
White replied that her vote represented constituents who had spoken to her in opposition to the airport project.
"It's not just so I can vote 'No,'" she said.
The airport bonds are to help pay for a new general aviation center, a corporate aircraft hangar and expanded parking at North Little Rock Municipal Airport, 8200 Remount Road. The project also includes space for a $1.125 million restaurant that the airport would lease to the locally owned Homer's restaurants, which would own and manage the establishment.
"I will agree to the airport renovation, but not to the restaurant," Ginn said. "What if they sign a lease and it then goes under? If it's connected to the bond with police and courts, how would that affect us?"
The police and courts building was part of a city sales-tax issue approved by voters in August 2017 when it was estimated that construction would cost $20 million. The bond issue is to cover a $10 million construction cost overrun.
The Justice Building will be constructed on the former site of the National Guard Fisher Armory in the same 2600-2700 block of Poplar Street as the North Little Rock School Administration Building. The school administration building will also be razed for part of the police and courts complex after the Justice Building is completed late next year.
Metro on 08/27/2019