In a packed meeting Tuesday evening, the Little Rock Board of Directors approved Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s revised budget amendment, adjusting the city’s budget by about $2.1 million for the rest of 2019. The vote was not unanimous, and it was not immediately clear which directors voted against the amendment, as a roll call vote was not taken.
The budget amendment was amended twice by city directors before it was passed. In a slight revision of the motion made at last week’s meeting by At-large Director Gene Fortson, City Director Lance Hines moved to change the budget revision to reduce a proposed cut to the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce from $50,000 for the remainder of 2019, or $100,000 annually, to $25,000 for the remainder of 2019, or $50,000 annually. This amendment passed 6-4, with city directors Capi Peck, Hines, Doris Wright, Dean Kumpuris, Fortson and Joan Adcock voting for it, and Erma Hendrix, Ken Richardson, Kathy Webb and Vice Mayor BJ Wyrick voting against it.
Hendrix shared her disapproval of the amendment and longstanding opposition to city funding given to the Chamber.
“I’ve been fighting that $300,000 that the Chamber has been getting ever since I’ve been sitting on this board,” Hendrix said. “We need to deal with business rather than friendship.”
The board also amended the budget in a motion by Webb to have any surplus funds the city accumulates moved into the city’s reserve fund. The amendment passed 8-2, and Hendrix and Adcock were the only directors who voted against it.
Many community members spoke at the meeting, including a few individuals from Think Big Little Rock, a task force created by the Chamber of Commerce that asked young professionals to assess ways to improve the Little Rock community for their peers. Members of the task force asked city leaders to consider changing War Memorial Golf course — which is under consideration to be repurposed as part of the city’s budget cuts, along with three other courses — into a “central park” for Little Rock. Kara Wilkins, one of the co-chairs of the task force, said that she grew up in the 12th Street corridor, and she wants War Memorial Park to be “usable by all people.”
“I encourage the board to think about how our budget can impact families and the next generation of people in our city,” Wilkins said. “War Memorial is our park. … I would like to see us reallocate funding to support more programs and usable space for all families, particularly those who live on the other side of 12th Street who don’t always have access to facilities. Again, I am a taxpayer who lives off of 12th Street. I don’t come to play golf and leave. I’m there. That’s my community, that’s my home. And I want us to use our dollars for something that individuals both young and old can use.”
City Finance Director Sara Lenehan also spoke before directors, answering a few final questions about the budget amendment. Community Programs Director Dana Dossett also answered questions about funding to specific city programs, including an inquiry from Hines about the mayor’s new Frankly Reading summer reading program, which caused confusion earlier this spring about the source of its funding.
“When we’re talking about the funding for the mayor’s summer reading program… was that funds that came out of [Parks Department] allocations to [the] Children Youth and Families [Commission] and that [Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs] gave to Parks, or did it come out of the Parks and [Recreation] direct budget?” Hines asked. “Did that money come out of the allocation that PIT gives to Parks, or did it come out of [the] parks budget?”
“It did come out of the part that community programs provides to Parks and Rec, but it wasn’t any new dollars,” Dossett said. “Those were dollars that we’ve been giving to Parks and Rec for more than five years in support of the summer playground program. It wasn’t additional; it was the same allocation that we’ve been doing the past five years.”
Before proposing her amendment, Webb also commented that she’d wished for more clarification on the sources of funding for the mayor’s summer reading program.
“It was not easy to get the information about some of the CYF summer programs, and we’ve had some misinformation that we’ve then tried to work on clarifying, and I guess my comment is this: We have a wonderful program with the library [system], a wonderful summer program that serves about 11,000 people, and I think about 8,000 of those are kids,” Webb said. “I wish we could have looked at the money we’re spending in this extra reading program and put that money into the Museum of Discovery, because so many of the entities are not affordable for low-income families, and that is one museum that does such a great job with that, in supporting families that are on SNAP. Because we now are duplicating a program, I wish we could have done that.”
Scott then told Webb this was not the case.
“There has been no dollars that’s been duplicated with the summer reading series,” Scott said. “It’s using existing dollars that are already doing in conjunction with the summer playground series, and that’s the reason why it was able to go into action.”
The budget amendment’s changes will go into effect immediately, and in the fall, Scott will have his first opportunity to author the city’s 2020 budget, which he told directors and community members will be a “collaborative” process.