LITTLE ROCK -- Mayor Frank Scott Jr. says he believes a majority of the city board will support a proposal to "invest in our city's potential" by increasing the sales-tax rate through a special election.
"I think it's just a matter of the details of it," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "So I think we will get there as we move forward."
The mayor and city staff have asked city directors to call a special election for July 13, when voters will have the chance to adopt or reject the tax increase. But Board of Directors members seemed ready to slow-walk Scott's proposal during a meeting Tuesday evening.
The formal meeting was their first opportunity to review and potentially adopt measures that would lay out the structure of the tax increase and call for the special election.
A motion from at-large City Director Antwan Phillips to move the proposal to a second reading, thereby speeding up the process to allow city directors to vote to send the tax increase to the ballot, failed by a wide margin. Phillips and City Director Ken Richardson were the only city directors to vote yes.
Scott has said the measures that together comprise the tax increase will be reviewed again at a special meeting Tuesday. A second reading at that meeting will bring the package one step closer to a third reading and a final vote that will determine whether the city holds a special election.
The so-called Rebuild the Rock proposal from the mayor would add 1 percentage point to the city's sales-tax rate in order to fund a long list of quality-of-life improvements.
They include major renovations to War Memorial and Hindman parks plus a slew of new city facilities, such as a west Little Rock fire station and an indoor sports complex.
In light of the decision by city officials to let an existing three-eighths-percent sales tax for capital improvements sunset at the end of December, the city's sales-tax rate would increase by five-eighths of a percentage point starting in January 2022, provided voters approve the increase.
Consumers in Little Rock would pay 9.625% on most purchases if the tax increase is approved, a rate that Scott has said puts the city on the level of other cities in the region.
The new tax will have no sunset date and is estimated to generate approximately $53 million in annual revenue.
The mayor renewed his call for increasing the sales-tax rate during his March 25 State of the City broadcast, and the proposal is similar to one Scott raised in 2020, before the covid-19 crisis struck the U.S.
Officials have been in communication with city board members on this type of tax proposal since last year, Scott said Wednesday, “so it’s really nothing new to them.” Scott said a meeting was held with each member of the board before the release of the plan.
Members have had an opportunity to provide feedback, Scott said.
“There’s always more feedback along this type of a journey. We’re always open to more suggestions and are willing to do that as we receive them,” Scott said. “I’m sure we’ll get some more feedback between now and next Tuesday.”
Scott described this week’s events as part of the city’s legislative process to get to a second reading.
He suggested there is a lot of positive sentiment behind passing a sales tax to invest in the city. Additionally, Scott emphasized that “this decision is not to pass a tax; it’s to allow our residents to decide if they want it.”
Asked if he planned to release any kind of revised proposal based on feedback from city directors that might encourage them to support it, Scott said, “Well, I haven’t received any suggestions from members of the board that would cause me to do that. But again, I’m always open for feedback and suggestions.”
When reached by phone Thursday, at-large City Director Joan Adcock said she opposed the tax increase at the moment, citing what she saw as a lack of emphasis on public safety, infrastructure and housing.
“Those would have been my top three issues,” Adcock said. “Yes, we need to do some things at the park, but I think that they should’ve been done in a longer period of time.”
She added that “looking at this, we’re taking on several big projects at a time.”
Asked if she thought a majority on the Board of Directors would be willing to approve a call for a special election even if they do not support the tax increase personally, Adcock said she did not.
“I think what you saw the other night is exactly how it’s going to turn out,” she said. “I would be very, very surprised if there’s anyone on the Board that’s going to have a change of heart.”