Little Rock sales tax proposal — UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Little Rock sales tax proposal — UPDATE

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Mayor Mark Stodola and City Manager Bruce Moore unveiled a sales tax proposal Tuesday night. I had a conflict, but here's what I eventually put together:

They sat on the report until 8:43 p.m., hours after it was available in releasable form.

Here's a document of priority needs
, as outlined tonight.

There's a nice round $40 million priority desire for a lump sum of "economic development needs," including job recruitment (meaning a corporate welfare slush fund), and I'm going to need to hear a lot more on that — and what kind of promises Mayor Stodola makes about increasing the unaccountable subsidies already sent by taxpayers to the Chamber of Commerce — before swallowing that. 20 percent of bonded debt for an economic development effort to duplicate others already underway and escalate mutually assured destruction in bidding wars? Stupid. The mayor just can't quit the Good Suit Club.

UPDATE: City Director Joan Adcock called the mayor out on this hazy slush fund during the meeting Tuesday night. Good for her. Apart from this, most everything else was specifically delineated, concrete needs in understandable amounts. $40 million to lay around for the chamber to diddle with? No thanks.

There's $12 million for a zoo expansion and $3 million for the State Fair. Millions for police and fire facilities. And so on. Government gadfly Kathy Wells, who leads the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods and whose report is on the jump, notes the laundry list of capital needs required for West Little Rock (and they are required) that might not cost so much now if city leaders hadn't fought impact fees so long while intoning the mantra "growth pays for itself." This short-sighted growth policy came as we annexed farther and farther west, mostly relocating, rather than adding, population.

The proposal is for a half-cent, sunsetted after eight years, to pay for $200 million in capital projects (how job recruitment is a capital project I don't understand) and a 3/4-cent ongoing sales tax to raise about $37 million a year. The existing city sales tax is a half-cent, but we also get a big share of the county penny.

The board will take three weeks to decide whether to put the idea on the ballot as is. More meetings will be held.

To CGLRN from Pres. Kathy Wells:

City Mgr. Bruce Moore on Tuesday detailed his proposed package of staffing and construction needs voters will be asked to support in a special sales-tax election Sep. 13, concluding City Hall needs ¾-cent increase in sales tax for operations plus ½-cent increase for capital needs, to expire after eight years.

He estimated those taxes would generate $37,925,000 annually for operations, by the fourth year, and capital funds totaling $204,700,000 for the eight years the tax was imposed. The tax was assumed to grow by 2 percent each year.

Below are highlights from the presentation, and responses from the mayor and city directors.

· Public-safety needs among fire, police and code-enforcement inspectors, plus doubling community initiatives (PIT, a skills ctr., and youth employment), totaled $44 million in capital needs, and $15 million in operating expenses. Community Initiatives was to get $3 million, which is not actually double the current PIT budget, since directors cut that back to $2.5 million this year.

· Some directors debated spending city money on a Skills Ctr., since this already gets state and federal aid in existing programs. Clearly, this was a political winner, however, as Robert Webb, an unsuccessful candidate for Ward 1 last fall, appeared heading the Men for Equity, which urged the center be established to keep those in low-income areas away from crime. He also urged a rule that city workers live in the city. Nobody embraced that policy idea, despite a comment that 60 percent of the police and firefighting force live outside LR.

· Another $40 million in capital funds would be given to Economic Development — with no details. Pressed for specifics, Mayor Mark Stodola said the Port of LR needed land to expand, and some had been targeted that would cost $25 million. No further information was forthcoming despite requests. He conceded corridor redevelopment, such as the 12th St. Plan, could be eligible for some spending in this category. Dir. Joan Adcock said voters would scorn this part of the proposal as “fluff.”

· Public Works projects would get $70 million in construction money, plus $5 million annually in operating costs. Since the Board comment last week listed needs as totaling $500 million, a major gap will remain between needs and funding.

· Parks, the Zoo and Tourism spending totaled $40 million for construction, and $4 million in operating money, including a State Fair expansion for $3 million (Tourism), with no information on how the money was to be spent. The community center for John Barrow Rd. would cost $6 million, and Dir. Doris Wright asked for more. Nobody raised the question of whether it would be better to get that long-heralded city-school agreement going, and use Parkview High School nights and weekends, instead, for less money.

· A miscellaneous category lumped together $10 million for information technology, $2.5 million for fleet replacements, a set-aside of $4.6 million to catch up pension funds lagging behind standards, $4.5 million for “ongoing salary increases,” support staff additions for $750,000, and a John Barrow and a Pulaski Tech bus route addition for $660,000.

· Another $300,000 was allocated for more jail beds, as the county judge recently asked. Stodola dismissed a question about holding off to watch whether the governor’s new package of measures for improved probation and parole would be effective. This could be “a disaster to the city,” Stodola continue. He said that “as an old prosecutor,” he feared ex-convicts would be attracted to the city, and he wanted a place to lock up repeat offenders. Today, recidivism runs 40 percent, he noted.

· Asked about what would be done then with current funding for beds in the Faulkner Co. jail, he fobbed the questioner off and referred him to the police chief — who was not present.

· A new radio system for police and emergency services priced at $9 million was in the proposal. Moore said it could be ordered immediately, and be put into operation in a year. He agreed the new revenue would build gradually, so spending would have to be paced to match that flow.

· There was talk of educating voters on the importance of approving both taxes together. However, directors said, passing the operating funding and losing the capital funding could work, while getting capital funding and losing operating money would not.

· Those following west LR spending that might not have been needed if Impact Fees had been in place noted a fire state and police substation were proposed in the west end.

· A new headquarters for police, plus a courts building, was estimated to cost $10 million.

· A new station for two units of firefighters in SW LR was estimated at $5 million.

· Twenty code-enforcement jobs were to be added, for $585,000 annually.

· The Land Bank was allocated $100,000 annually.

· The mayor suggested directors take this presentation back to voters and return to vote a final ballot proposal Jun. 28 — in three weeks. Directors objected, and recalled their pledge to conduct seven ward hearings on this package. Stodola grudgingly agreed, but urged speed.

· Voters are also to be provided this presentation posted on the city website, in hard copies at ALERT Centers, and with a Twitter link.

· An optimistic mayor said that in the eighth year, in 2019, as the capital tax ended, voters might be willing to vote the tax again, to meet more city needs. That did not take into account the timing of the cycle on property-tax bonds, which voters extended in 2003. Those bonds mature in 15 years, or 2018, and leaders likely will ask for these to be cycled again.

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