No surprises here Tuesday night: the Little Rock city board passed, without a nay but 2 voting present, an ordinance to call a special election on extending the city’s capital improvements millage at the reduced rate of 3 mills from 3.3 mills. The election will take place Sept. 11; city officials will hold public hearings in each ward to publicize the millage and discuss priorities for the street and drainage projects to be paid for by the bond proceeds.
While passage was foregone, board members engaged in philosophical debate about the millage for nearly an hour and a half. Directors Ken Richardson and Erma Hendrix questioned the need to call a special election rather than put it on the general election ballot, their concern the unstated but nevertheless obvious truth that fewer voters make the effort to turn out for special elections. Richardson also noted that while wards have varying needs — the newer parts of the city in Wards 4 and 5 need far less than the rest of the city — the allocation from the bonds will be equal.
Director Brad Cazort (one of the “present” votes, with Richardson) prefaced his vote by saying that while he supports the millage, he would have liked to see the $105 million it’s projected to raise divvied up slightly differently. Cazort would have liked to see parks $15 million from the bond proceeds, but had no support for that position on the board. Director Lance Hines expressed support for the tax but was moved to say he wished the federal government was required, as is the city, to put taxes to a public vote. He also said it was his belief that the role of government should be limited to public works and public safety, and the millage would be so drawn. In response to Hines, Richardson said he, too, was all for public safety, though his definition is somewhat more expansive than Hines: “Community building is public safety,” he said, and he said he hoped that many of the jobs the new street and drainage projects will produce will go to the underemployed and unemployed, including felons who have a hard time getting hired.
Directors Dean Kumpuris and Gene Fortson wrapped up debate by emphasizing that the millage is a progressive tax, determined by property value, rather than the sales tax, a regressive tax that all shoulder equally. Kumpuris paid tribute to the “eloquence” of Robert Webb, who in the public comment period described the city as a family, with the residents living north of I-630 as “big brothers” and those south as “little brothers.” The little brothers get the hand-me-downs, Webb said; he asked that this time around the board be “inclusive” and remember that so far this year, the city has raised sales taxes, recycling fees, killed a city residency requirement for jobs and then passed a “watered-down” resolution to protect residents south of I-630 who face having their homes taken away for the construction of the technology park. The millage, Kumpuris reminded Webb and those attending the meeting, “is a different ball of wax,” to be paid by “people most able to pay” and benefiting all.
A city chart says the median household in Little Rock has an assessed value of $154,200, is assessed at $30,840 (20 percent), and pays $101.77 at 3.3 mills. At 3 mills, that amount is reduced to $92.52.
PS FROM MAX: 1) Robert Webb later sent an email saying he would oppose the millage. 2) Re Lance Hines: Is $22 million for a spec office building with the built-in subsidy for private businesses your idea of “public works”? Hines, you’ll recall, led the charge for ouster of the Occupy Little Rock camp, in the process calling them anarchists as well as unsightly. BTW: If Hines is so enamored of plebiscites, how about he call a referendum on the city’s $200,000 subsidy to the private Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commmerce, that notorious public works project.