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City sales tax advances

Public safety, jail are priorities.

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MOORE: 'Premature' to project tax election.
  • MOORE: 'Premature' to project tax election.

Little Rock city leaders are continuing to move toward recommending one or more sales tax increases to fund a variety of public safety needs, and it is increasingly likely that the tax measures will be brought before voters this year.

City board members and Mayor Jim Dailey at their March 28 meeting directed City Manager Bruce Moore to set a series of public forums to hear from citizens on the subject. Moore said he will complete this process over the next six to eight weeks, and it will likely include at least one event in each city ward.

“What I would predict would happen is this,” Moore said. “Board members will participate in the forums, and after we complete that, we’ll have a workshop about the information gathered. We’ll find a way to make sure those who couldn’t come can send in their thoughts. Then we’ll take all of that information and make a decision on the next best steps.”

This process began with the formation of a revenue task force in 2005 to determine if current city revenues were sufficient to fund necessary operations. The task force, led by City Director Michael Keck, included among its final recommendations a permanent sales tax increase of up to 1/2-cent for “public safety and other board-adopted priority needs,” as well as a 1/8-cent sales tax increase that would sunset after five years to establish an economic development fund.

Moore acted on the task force proposal with a Jan. 6 memo recommending a series of public hearings. But at the Feb. 28 city board meeting, Dailey asked Moore to review the task force findings again. Moore responded with a March 24 memo that listed public safety priorities and again recommended developing “a process to gather community input.”

Looming on the horizon, however, and threatening the city’s hopes for additional tax revenue for strictly city use, is the possibility of a county sales tax increase for the county jail. Dailey is serving on a task force that is studying the jail problem, and it is expected to issue recommendations later this year.

Because of that possibility, Moore said, “It is premature to even project a tax election. There are a lot of factors to be considered. The main issue is the current status of the jail.”

Still, a county-wide sales tax increase wouldn’t necessarily preclude a new city levy, Moore said. He said Little Rock would receive an additional $22 million a year from a 1/2-cent increase in the city sales tax. If the county only enacted a 1/4-cent sales tax increase, it would raise $18 million a year, which is the current total budget of the county jail, according to Moore.

Little Rock’s public safety budget is more than $80 million, representing 67 percent of the city’s entire general fund expenditures. Included in that category are the police and fire departments, district courts, alert centers, animal services, housing code enforcement and prevention and treatment programs.

The tax increases were recommended to address “priority needs” in all of those areas, such as additional police, fire and code enforcement officers, new police vehicles and fire stations, expanding prevention programs, and more neighborhood support centers.

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