Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has set a meeting with the Little Rock City Board at 4 p.m Tuesday, in advance of the weekly board meeting, “to provide an update on the City’s financial status – past, present, and future.” Should be interesting.
The city has budget pressures. See Rebekah Hall’s recent article on conflicting reports on a city budget cut that included reductions in some summer youth programs. At the time, Scott said:
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“Any time, in an era in which we’re focused on prioritizing public safety, with the issuance of Requests For Proposals for body cameras and other such priorities for the public safety of our city, some can prematurely think where budget cuts may come, so that’s maybe where the confusion came from,” Scott said. “But until I offer any budget amendments, no final decisions have been made.”
In addition to police body cameras, Scott has talked of increasing the size of the police force by 100 officers over time, a multi-million-dollar expenditure. Some personnel additions at City Hall in the new era — an additional public relations staffer and an FOI liaison, for example — also mean either some additional expenditures or reductions elsewhere.
On top of that, Little Rock has not been experiencing robust revenue growth.
This memo distributed to the City Board recently shows sales and use tax collections, the city’s major source of revenue, flat for the last year. Through February 2019, collections of $102.4 million fell $174,000 short of the budgeted revenue and only $1 million, or less than 1 percent, more than the same period a year earlier.
However, March collections were more than 6 percent higher than the same month a year earlier. This followed a sharp drop the previous month so whether the city is on a growth pattern is yet to be determined. Note there’s a lag in collecting and reporting sales taxes. March revenues are based on January sales, the biggest month of the year.
Some help may be on the way. The legislature’s recent action to collect a sales tax on Internet sales beginning in the 2020 tax year, which begins July 1, will increase revenue to cities, too, by a projected $10 million annually to all cities and counties. Little Rock’s share will be a fraction of that.