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Sales tax proposal set for vote in North Little Rock

0.5% levy issue to be on Aug. 9 ballot by Neal Earley | May 10, 2022 at 7:04 a.m.
North Little Rock City Hall at 300 Main St. is shown in this 2020 file photo.

North Little Rock voters will get an opportunity to weigh in at the polls on whether to keep a one-half percent sales tax.

The North Little Rock City Council gave the go-ahead Monday night to a referendum Aug. 9 to effectively extend the sales tax. If passed, the tax would raise about $9 million a year in revenue over five years, according to North Little Rock Chief Financial Officer Ember Strange.

Mayor Terry Hartwick said keeping the city's expiring one-half percent sales tax would mean new fire stations, updated community centers and improvements for streets, sidewalks and drainage.

"I want to try to do everything in this half-penny for every ward in our city: community centers, fire stations, and again streets, drainage and sidewalks," Hartwick said.

If approved, the referendum would extend the city's current 2% sales tax structure that came into place thanks to a similar referendum in 2017. In the referendum, voters approved raising the city's sales tax by 1 percentage point, half of which was earmarked for public improvement projects and is scheduled to expire in 2022.

The 2017 sales tax referendum helped fund the city's newly opened Justice Center and provided revenue to help fund city services and salaries for employees.

The North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce will help lead the campaign in favor of keeping the sales tax, Hartwick said. The chamber of commerce also helped campaign for the sales tax referendum in 2017.

The one-half percent sales tax would roughly $45 million in revenue over five years, according to Strange. If approved, the tax would expire in 2028.

Here is how the city plans to spend the revenue from the tax:

• $15 million would go to the Fire Department for facility upgrades.

• $18 to the Park and Recreation Department for community centers.

• $10 million for streets, sidewalks and drainage infrastructure improvements in each ward.

• $2 million for new public safety vehicles.

Now with the one-half percent portion of the sales tax set to expire at the end of 2022, Hartwick has spent the past few weeks gauging the interest of voters while meeting with neighborhood associations.

Council member Nathan Hamilton, of Ward 1, said he supports the referendum even though he believes sales taxes are a "regressive tax" that will hit "the poor members of our community harder." Hamilton said he supports the sales tax referendum because it will be paid for in part by nonresidents who come to North Little Rock to shop.

"We can't pass an income tax and we have very limited opportunities as a municipality on how we can increase revenue," Hamilton said.

Stephen Hart, president of the Cypress Crossing East homeowners association, and Ira Blueford, president of the Ashley Downs neighborhood association, spoke in support of keeping the sales tax at Monday night's meeting.

"If we do not approve this -- the way politics works -- we're going to see it one way or another," Hart said. "It's either going to come on the water bill, electric bill or some other means."

Hartwick said he would use the funds to build a new central fire station on 13th Street and another fire station one on the east end of North Little Rock.

"We need infrastructure, we need a new fire department, so we need everything we can get," Blueford said.

Members of the City Council were unanimous in their support for both the ordinances that will put the sales tax question on the ballot and for passing it.

The sales tax question will be put to a vote during a special election in August, which will cost the city $15,000, Hartwick said.

Kenny Wallis, a North Little Rock resident who campaigned against the sales tax referendums in 2011 and 2017, said the proposed sales tax was a "scam," criticizing the city's most recent budget that raised salaries for North Little Rock employees, including elected officials.

"One of the most cowardly acts by a local government is to create a situation where funding for needed services can only be done by a special election tax increase that also funds pet projects," Wallis said in a statement.


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