for 2014 of $184 million — considered somewhat optimistic by some of the City’s Board members — is evidence of slow growth in city revenues. The budget, presented last night at an agenda meeting of the City Board, predicts a rise in revenues of under 2 percent, for an increase of about $3.2 million over the $180.8 million budget in 2013. Even that rise was questioned by skeptical board members, especially Director Gene Fortson, who cited city and county sales tax increases in 2013 of only five digits.
Mayor Mark Stodola struck a more optimistic note, saying last night that the city would see additional sales tax revenues from the Bass Pro Shop that recently opened in Otter Creek. He calculated that amount today at around $600,000, dollars he said would come from new sources rather than money that would have been spent anyway elsewhere.
Public hearings are set on the budget in the next two weeks, at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, at the Southwest Community Center at 6401 Baseline Road; 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Highland Valley United Methodist Church, 15524 Chenal Parkway; 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Dunbar Community Center, 1001 W. 16th St.; and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Northwest Police Substation at 10001 Kanis Road.
The budget includes salary increases for non-uniformed, non-union employees of 1.5 percent, and 2.5 percent raises for police and fire. The 2.5 percent raises were negotiated previously.
Some directors complained that the budget presentation was late, giving them little time for policy discussion on spending. Stodola, however, said the budget does not have to be approved until January, leaving “ample time” for discussions.
Director Ken Richardson raised one of those issues, asking why $500,000 had been budgeted for demolition, and whether there were a more constructive way to spend the dollars. Stodola said demolition is necessary to remove blight and the same amount could not build enough homes to make a difference.
Another area of concern was the Little Rock Zoo’s plan to raise admission from $8 to $9, a move defended by Director Brad Cazort, who is liaison to the zoo.
The sales tax has added about $50 million to the city’s budget, dollars obligated to increase staffing at the police and fire department, pay for uniformed employees hired under grants and certain capital obligations, like the new fire station, cell tower for public safety, new fire trucks and so forth. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, thanks to budget “staples,” the mayor said.
The mayor noted today that the city is losing $1.8 million a year thanks to Internet sales. Those sales are supposed to be taxed, but there is no mechanism to collect such taxes. Stodola noted that Congressman Steve Womack of Fayetteville has sponsored legislation in the House that would require Internet merchants to collect taxes and remit to the state, but that it has gone nowhere.