Today's Paper Latest After 9/11 Coronavirus iPad Core Values Weather The Article Story ideas Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

Little Rock mayor delays vote on higher-tax election

Package being tweaked, Scott says by Joseph Flaherty | May 5, 2021 at 4:56 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock City Hall is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. opted to delay a final vote on his proposed 1 percentage-point sales tax increase at a city board meeting Tuesday evening, deferring action on the "Rebuild the Rock" package until a meeting next week while announcing adjustments to the plan.

City directors were scheduled to make a final decision Tuesday night about whether to send the package to voters for a July 13 special election.

Deferred were two ordinances -- to call the summer election and levy the increase -- and a resolution stating the intended uses for the tax revenue.

Scott said Tuesday that officials had made changes to the proposal in response to feedback from city directors last week, while noting that an effort was made to "maintain the philosophy" of the package.

According to an outline of planned spending under the revised plan, the categories of public safety and infrastructure will see a significant boost. Increased funding to the two categories totals roughly $38 million combined when compared with the previous iteration of the plan.

Ten-year funding for public safety was increased from nearly $63 million to nearly $74 million under the revised plan.

Infrastructure funding was boosted by close to $27 million compared with the original plan for a 10-year total of nearly $77 million. That funding includes a new $5 million line-item for targeted community development -- a priority for City Director Doris Wright -- as well as more money allocated for street resurfacing.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

The categories of public safety and infrastructure will both increase from 12% to encompass 14% of overall spending during the next 10 years under the plan.

Funding for parks and recreation, golf and fitness remains the largest category under the plan, accounting for 34% of planned 10-year spending. Spending in the category remained largely unchanged under the mayor's revised plan, though 10-year investment did increase by $500,000 for a total of more than $181 million.

Under the revised plan, the funding category for the Little Rock Zoo would see a decrease in its share of the total funding from 9% to 8%. The new plan would lower proposed zoo funding by $10 million over the first 10 years of the tax for a total investment of $40 million.

Officials have touted an interactive giraffe exhibit and a North American wildlife habitat as planned zoo additions using the "Rebuild the Rock" money.

Scott explained the cut as a change to the expected increase in operating expenses for the zoo as opposed to a change to the $30 million capital investment.

Funding for early-childhood education initiatives was reduced by $5 million for a 10-year total of $40 million, according to the new plan.

Ten-year funding for information technology dropped from $30 million to $24.5 million, representing a reduction from 6% to 5% of total spending.

Scott unveiled the spending package during his March 25 State of the City speech. During a meeting last week, city directors shared criticism and questions related to the package that suggested many on the board were not yet sold on the plan.

In the event of a close decision, Scott will need at least five "yes" votes to exercise his authority to break a tie among city directors and send the package to voters.

To date, concerns over the proposal's structure have been raised by at-large City Director Dean Kumpuris, Ward 4 City Director Capi Peck, Ward 3 City Director Kathy Webb and Ward 7 City Director B.J. Wyrick.

Vice Mayor Lance Hines, at-large City Director Joan Adcock and Wright had said they planned to vote no on the mayor's proposal before Tuesday's meeting.

In contrast, at-large City Director Antwan Phillips and Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson have seemed to be largely on board with the mayor's plan based on their past support for motions to speed the package through the city's legislative process. The motions, however, failed by wide margins each time.

Ward 1 City Director Erma Hendrix has not made her position clear, though she seemed to side with Scott at one point during the city board's lengthy discussion of the tax increase last week.

In his 2021 State of the City broadcast on March 25, the mayor renewed his call for a sales-tax increase after an attempt last year was abandoned amid the covid-19 outbreak.

Officials have estimated that the permanent increase to the city's sales-tax rate would generate $53 million in new revenue annually.

Combined with the decision to let an existing three-eighths-percent (0.375%) sales tax for capital improvements expire in December after a decade, the overall rate of sales tax paid in the city would rise by five-eighths of a percentage point (0.625%) to 9.625%.

Major capital investments to the city's parks, golf and fitness offerings, as well as the Little Rock Zoo -- $138.5 million and $30 million over the next decade, respectively -- were laid out in the mayor's original "Rebuild the Rock" plan. But opponents on the city board have questioned elements of the package, often citing residents' concerns about public safety.

Hines made it clear last week that he would vote against the package if it did not include dedicated funding for the community-oriented policing program and suggested spending at least $25 million to fund officers dedicated to that program on top of the existing police force.

The chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce also sent a long list of questions to Scott last week probing elements of the sales-tax package, including the decision to forgo a temporary capital-improvement sales tax to cover the proposed initiatives in favor of a permanent increase.


Sponsor Content