Mayor Mark Stodola and speakers from The Committee for Little Rock's Future — including the fire and police chiefs, businessman Gary Smith, black community activist Annie Abrams and others — presented their case for the city's 3/8ths and 5/8ths cent sales tax increases to a packed (with city employees) room at the Willie Hinton Resource Center at noon today.
Their arguments: the city will lose business to other communities that have economic development funds if we fail to create one, that we need to provide "incubator space" to encourage researchers from UAMS and UALR in their development of new technologies, that we haven't had a new fire station since 1992, that we use a 1976 ladder truck whose ladder is so decrepit Fire Chief Gregory Summers won't allow men on it. That, as Abrams said, "this is a penny," a small sum to ask for the city's future (and, she added to those who won't vote for it, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"). Jim Metzger cited the detrimental effect of losing Alltel on his neighborhood (Hillcrest) and said to stay vibrant need to have job development. He said Police Chief Stuart Thomas lacks officers and vehicles that run to put them in, declaring, "We know the city can do better than that."
Mayor Stodola said the 103,000 people who come to Little Rock every day and drive on its roads and use its parks need to help pay for its upkeep, and that when the tax passes, there will still be 20 cities in Arkansas with a higher sales tax than Little Rock's. Suggesting he discerns opposition to the 3/8ths cent proposal for capital needs, the mayor noted that only 7 percent of the tax to be collected will go to economic development and 93 percent to the city's immediate needs.
Stodola said he and the committee plan to take their case to "every nook and cranny" of the city in the next six weeks to press their case for a yes vote on both taxes. One of those nooks, I've learned, is the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which has invited both him and the $500 Million Tax — Too Much! ballot committee to address the association on Aug. 11.