The Little Rock City Board voted 5-4 against Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s revised budget amendment at an agenda meeting Tuesday afternoon. The proposed ordinance would have cut the city’s budget by about $2.1 million for the remainder of 2019, with significant cuts to Parks and Recreation and outside agencies, including the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Museum of Discovery. Scott told directors their vote was “disappointing” and reminded them that cuts will still need to be made.
“We have people’s lives that are being held up at the balance,” Scott said. “I want to make sure everyone understands that your vote for ‘no’ just put people’s lives [out of] balance again for two weeks. We have to cut this budget that you passed in 2018. … I understand you may not want a mayor that has executive power, but the people of Little Rock elected a mayor to have executive power, and this is what it means.”
City directors Erma Hendrix, Doris Wright, Dean Kumpuris and Gene Fortson voted for the amendment, and Kathy Webb, Lance Hines, Capi Peck, Joan Adcock and Vice Mayor BJ Wyrick voted against it. City Director Ken Richardson voted “Present,” but later attempted to change his vote, which would have required the unanimous consent of the board to allow him to do so. He did not receive it, so his vote remained the same.
On May 14, directors voted to table budget discussions until Tuesday afternoon’s agenda meeting. The resumed meeting Tuesday afternoon ran for almost three hours before directors adjourned for a break prior to the regularly scheduled agenda meeting. Many citizens shared their concern about the budget amendment, particularly about which of the two city golf courses would be closed and repurposed as proposed in the amendment. Citizens were especially concerned about the status of War Memorial Golf Course and Hindman Golf Course, both of which were recommended for closure by 5 Pars, a Little Rock-based consulting firm, earlier in May.
In response to their concern, Hines said he would “lay bare the facts” of the status of golf in the city.
“The biggest issue we have in Central Arkansas is oversupply,” Hines said. “And when you have oversupply, either your prices drop or your rounds of play drop and you go out of business. … When you’ve got oversupply and declining rounds played, to get technical, you’ve got a supply curve that’s retracting. It’s not sustainable. My conundrum is, do we focus on two facilities where we have the best chance to provide quality golf at a fair price for everybody?”
Hines added that the city is faced with either making “tough decisions” or having no golf in the city at all. He also expressed his concern about the city’s financials, saying he was “amazed” at the “financial gymnastics” used by Finance Director Sara Lenehan to explain how the city began the year with a “balanced budget” but still had a carryover loss.
In response to Hines’ comments, Scott reminded the director that when the mayor writes his first city budget for 2020, it will address many of his concerns.
“I want to make certain that you understand you’re asking a lot of questions about things that you made the decision to do in December 2018,” Scott said. “And out of respect, I will at least ask if there’s going to be any type of admonishing, please do not do that to our staff. You can do that to me, you can do it to Mr. Manager or [the] City Attorney. But I have utmost respect for our staff and the amount of effort they’ve been doing. It has not been financial gymnastics for [Lenehan], our CFO. She’s been working her butt off to get us in a good position, and I want to make certain if you have issues, have issues with management. Not with our directors.”
At-large director Fortson also shared his concern over how the proposed cuts would impact quality of life in Little Rock, reminding directors and audience members that “there’s a lot to be proud of” in the city, and later saying that cutting funding to the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce would exacerbate problems made by these cuts.
“I would hate to see us stop the economic development activity when they could contribute so much to solving some of these other problems,” Fortson said.
He then moved that the board amend the general services portion of the city budget in order to restore the proposed $50,000 “economic development” cut to the Chamber, in turn restoring funding for the Chamber to $150,000 for the rest of 2019 and $300,000 annually.
After some confusion among city leaders as to whether Fortson’s motion was “germane,” or legally allowed, directors tied in a vote on the motion. Hendrix, Richardson, Webb, Wright and Wyrick voted against it, and Peck, Hines, Kumpuris, Fortson and Adcock voted for it. For the first time in his term as mayor, Scott voted against the motion to break the tie among directors, so it failed.
The budget ordinance will be presented to directors again at next week’s meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 4.