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Early voting begins in referendum on Little Rock mayor's 'Rebuild the Rock' sales-tax increase

Sites to open Tuesday by Joseph Flaherty | September 5, 2021 at 2:33 a.m.
Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

Early voting begins Tuesday in Little Rock in the run-up to the Sept. 14 referendum on Mayor Frank Scott Jr.'s proposed sales-tax increase.

The citywide special election on the 1 percentage-point increase is the first of three tax issues set to go before voters in Little Rock this fall.

The Pulaski County Regional Building, at 501 W. Markham St., will serve as the main early-voting site.

Early voting at the regional building begins Tuesday and runs until Sept. 13, the day before the election. The hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Additional early voting sites are at the following six libraries around the city: Sidney S. McMath, Sue Cowan Williams, Dee Brown, Roosevelt Thompson, John Gould Fletcher and Adolphine Fletcher Terry.

Early voting at the libraries runs from Tuesday until Friday. The hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Early voting Saturday is not available.

[EARLY VOTING: Polling locations map not appearing above? Click here »]

If voters approve the tax increase, the net addition to the city's sales-tax rate will be five-eighths percent (0.625%) starting in January. A separate sales tax of three-eighths percent (0.375%) used for capital improvements is to expire at the end of the year.

The overall local rate when accounting for state and county sales taxes will be 9.625% in 2022 if voters approve it.

During his March 25 State of the City virtual broadcast, Scott unveiled the proposal to increase the sales-tax rate in order to pay for quality-of-life improvements after an earlier attempt to seek a tax increase last year was abandoned amid the covid-19 pandemic.

The mayor had asked board members to call a July election, but the initial response to his proposal among most members of the city board was unenthusiastic. After several revisions, including the addition of a Dec. 31, 2031 sunset date for the proposed tax, the board on June 15 voted 6-3-1 to call the election.

Officials believe the tax will generate $530 million over 10 years.

An accompanying spending resolution approved by the board this summer lays out a plan to use the money on parks, infrastructure, public safety, early childhood education, the Little Rock Zoo, housing and more.

A "Rebuild the Rock" campaign committee organized by Scott and several of his allies, including state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, has distributed mailers urging residents to vote yes on the tax increase.

[RELATED: Full coverage of elections in Arkansas »]

Other supporters of the tax include the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

The tax package faces opposition from a "Responsible Taxation for Little Rock" committee organized in part by Vice Mayor Lance Hines, the Ward 5 representative on the city board.

Hines criticized the substance of the proposal throughout discussions at the city board meetings, and voted against calling the election along with at-large City Director Joan Adcock and Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright. City Director Ken Richardson of Ward 2 voted "present."

Another opposition committee is affiliated with the group Arkansas Community Organizations, which primarily works on behalf of low-income residents.

Neil Sealy, an organizer with Arkansas Community Organizations, is serving as the treasurer of the "Vote No Sales Tax September 14 Committee," according to paperwork filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

In an August news release, committee co-chairperson Valencia White said, "We are still in the middle of a pandemic. Our families are struggling because they have lost jobs and work hours."

"Paying overdue rent and old debts are our first concern," she added. "We cannot afford paying more sales taxes per year on our groceries, clothes, water, electricity and gas."

Two additional tax questions will be on the ballot in the first two weeks of November: a millage extension for debt service for the Little Rock School District on Nov. 2, followed by a proposed 0.5-mill increase in the rate that determines property taxes in Little Rock to support the operations of the Central Arkansas Library System on Nov. 9.

Print Headline: Early voting on tax issue to start


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