by Max Brantley
Here's the promised analysis by Arkansas Community Organizations of the city of Little Rock's plans to spend a new sales tax and a potential property tax equally among city wards.
ACO contends that the plan discriminates against older parts of town because the needs are much greater than in the newer western areas with newer infrastructure.
For example, according to Little Rock Public Works figures, Ward 1 in the eastern end of the city needs $153 million worth of street and drainage work, but will get only about 5 percent of the needs met from an $8.4 million infusion of sales tax money. Ward 5, Chenal Valley, Pleasant Valley and other affluent areas, has only $31 million in identified needs, about 27 percent of which will be met by the $8.4 million.
It gets worse when you add the proposed 3-mill property tax. The new property tax would raise to $21 million the amount spent in each ward. That's enough to meet only 14 percent of Ward 1's needs, but 70 percent of the needs out around Chenal Valley.
As I've mentioned before, this sort of analysis could be important in the older wards in determining votes in September on the property tax millage. Those neighborhoods opposed the sales tax. They've historically been friendly to infrastructure programs. But the spending of the sales tax money — and the threat the technology park poses to residential neighborhoods — are causes for concern, particularly given what many see as an unfair distribution of resources. It may be difficult for many community members to support the property tax, I'm told.
UPDATE: I notice that paperwork was filed early this week for a committee, Keep Building Little Rock's Future, to promote passage of the property tax in the election Sept. 11. Its headed by Mayor Mark Stodola and other members of the city board are listed as members and co-chairs, along with local businessman Gary Smith as treasurer. At the moment, it lacks the fingerprints of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which ramrodded the sales tax initiative and got $22 million for its tech park building in return.
But wait, somebody has been scratched off the list of committee members. The one city board member not listed is Ken Richardson, who's been in the thick of the fight for neighborhood protection in the tech park debate. I've left a phone message with him to inquire about that.
UPDATE: Richardson confirms that he didn't want to be listed as a co-chairman. He voted "present" on the vote to call the election. "I don't think the funds should be divided equally when the needs aren't equal," he said. He said he'd favored an idea Director Dean Kumpuris had once floated of essentially giving the poorest wards 10 percent additional. "I wanted to send a strong message to the underserved part of the community that we're trying to address their needs." He added, "The mayor always says he wants this to be the next great Southern city. We don't want to say we want parts of Little Rock to be the next great Southern city."