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'21 Little Rock budget set at $272.7M in board vote

Spending plan cut by $4M from 2020 as new year nears by Joseph Flaherty | December 30, 2020 at 8:02 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Little Rock city directors gave final approval Tuesday to a $272.7 million municipal budget for 2021, a reduction of about $4 million from the previous year.

The city's 2021 general-fund budget, as approved by the board, was balanced at $210 million, down $2 million from the original 2020 budget.

The budget was approved in a special meeting of the city board just days ahead of the new year. During a Dec. 15 meeting, the board had adjourned without granting approval to the 2021 budget after extensive discussion of a no-confidence resolution regarding Police Chief Keith Humphrey.

On Tuesday, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and City Manager Bruce Moore fielded only a few questions from city directors before the board delivered a unanimous vote in favor of adopting the budget.

Earlier this year, officials had to adjust the 2020 budget because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on revenue.

In early November, city directors approved an amended 2020 budget because of the reduction in revenue during the pandemic and $7.6 million received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Net income for the funds for vehicle storage and the parking garage helped push the forecast net income for the budget to slightly more than $807,000, city finance director Sara Lenehan said during a meeting in November.

Twenty-seven additional full-time positions brought the city's full-time authorized employees included in the budget to 2,191, city directors were told during the budget presentation.

New positions added this year that will be written into the 2021 budget include three jobs in the Finance Department, two new Freedom of Information Act positions and a development manager in the Planning and Development Department.

More than half of the full-time employees, or 54%, work for the police and fire departments.

In the Police Department, no new uniformed positions were added between 2020 and 2021, but seven new officers in the latest class of recruits were partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Additionally, six grant-funded victim-services positions that were added in 2020 as well as a new grant-funded social worker position are allocated for the department in the 2021 budget.

Outside agencies that will experience a change in funding include the regional transit agency Rock Region Metro, which will have a decrease from the 2020 budget of $341,616, and the Pulaski County jail, which will have an increase of $74,393, bringing total funding for the jail from the city to $2.5 million.

The general-fund revenue forecast for 2021 of approximately $210 million is up from the 2020 amended budget by about $6 million, or 3%, but the revenue forecast represents a 3% decrease from the actual 2019 revenue of $218 million.

In 2021, the city expects to spend $4.2 million on debt service and bond agent fees, although nearly $955,000 will be reimbursed by the three-eighths percent sales tax fund, a sum representing the principal of a 2016 note used to purchase a new firetruck and complete construction of Little Rock Fire Station 24.

Sales and use taxes as well as property taxes make up about 66% of the city's expected 2021 revenue, with an additional 14% from franchise fees.

No additional salary adjustments were included in the 2021 budget beyond increases for union and union-eligible employees. Members of the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Fire Fighters, 911 operators and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are expected to receive step and grade salary increases.

The 2021 budgeted expenses for executive administration will gain a net increase of more than $345,000.

The Parks and Recreation Department's budget will get a net increase of $184,000, which the Finance Department attributed to Comcast maintenance at community centers for remote learning during the pandemic, plus Wi-Fi at park pavilions.

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