POISED TO VOTE: City leaders will vote next week on an ordinance proposed by Ward 2 city director Ken Richardson that would make misdemeanor marijuana offenses the "lowest law enforcement priority" for the Little Rock Police Department. BRIAN CHILSON

At next week’s voting meeting for the Little Rock Board of Directors, city leaders will vote on an ordinance proposed by Ward 2 city Director Ken Richardson that would make misdemeanor marijuana offenses committed by adults the “lowest law enforcement priority” for the Little Rock Police Department. Directors discussed the ordinance briefly on Tuesday afternoon at the board’s agenda meeting. 

The ordinance lists several reasons for making misdemeanor marijuana offenses a lower priority, including the state’s legalization of medical marijuana, and it states that reducing the priority would also reduce spending by the city on “law enforcement and punishment” for offenders. 

Richardson tried to get a similar ordinance passed last year, but it was defeated by a 6-2 vote because then-Chief Kenton Buckner opposed it. 

LRPD Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley spoke at the meeting, saying he was filling in for Police Chief Keith Humphrey, who was out of town. Bewley said he would be “very uncomfortable” to speak at length on the ordinance on behalf of Chief Humphrey, but after discussions with Richardson, Bewley, Assistant Chief Hayward Finks and Humphrey, the department is “hung up on some wording to make it known, make it public, that [the] Little Rock Police Department considers the misdemeanor use of marijuana as a lower priority offense for us.”

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At-large Director Joan Adcock then requested that Humphrey be present next week when the ordinance goes before the board for a vote, and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said he would discuss it with the chief.

Richardson said the ordinance is the same one the board voted on last year and added that since it was defeated then by directors, other cities, including Jacksonville, have adopted similar policies that make marijuana offenses a low-level priority through an “administrative directive” from the police department. The director also said that he’s been told by the LRPD that the department already practices this, but he’s seeking to get a policy — “ideally,” as an “administrative directive” — officially outlined.

“What I’ve heard consistently from our previous chief and our current chief is, ‘That’s our approach,'” Richardson said. “I don’t know if that’s codified, [if] it’s written in policy, I don’t know if an approach is a policy. I don’t know if we have a deadly use of force ‘approach,’ or a deadly use of force ‘policy.’ So I think, to my desire and wishes, I would like for us to have something beyond ‘that’s our approach.'”

Richardson said he would speak more about the ordinance when the board votes on it next week.

The board also approved the addition of a resolution to the consent agenda that will allow the city manager to apply for a $250,000 grant from the state’s Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism that will help renovate three city parks.  

Parks Director John Eckart said the grant will be used to fund playground replacements at Wakefield Park in Southwest Little Rock and Birchwood Park in West Little Rock, as well as work at the Junior Deputy baseball complex.

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Eckart said the Junior Deputy organization has committed matching funds for its portion of the project, which will be about $150,000. The remaining $100,000 will be allocated to each of the playground replacements.

None of the money will be used to begin “repurposing” the Hindman and War Memorial golf courses, which were closed in July, into new and improved city parks. The board will vote to accept the resolution as part of its vote on the consent agenda next week.

Tuesday also marked the first agenda meeting with additional time designated for “policy discussion,” a change proposed by at-large Director Dean Kumpuris earlier in July and approved last week by directors. Kumpuris and at-large Director Gene Fortson were absent from Tuesday’s meeting. 

As part of the new policy discussion segment of the agenda meeting, the city’s Public Works Department presented the results of a study on the cost of solid waste services in Little Rock and presented recommendations for increasing the rates residents pay for trash pickup services.

Burns & McDonnell, a construction engineering firm based in Kansas City, Mo., was contracted by the city to perform the study. Seth Cunningham, a representative from the firm, gave the presentation after an introduction by Public Works Director Jon Honeywell.

Cunningham said the firm took into consideration a few changes that the Public Works department will experience in the coming year and foreseeable future: the salaries of new collection crews and drivers starting in 2020; an increase of $250,000 per year for improvements and maintenance to the city’s 311 System, which acts as an information line for residents and is used extensively by people reporting trash or making inquiries to Public Works; and annual funding contributions to the cost of future cell construction at the city’s landfill. Cells are individual areas within a landfill that have to be specifically designed and engineered for trash disposal so as to not contaminate groundwater and, depending on the type of waste contained within a cell, they can be difficult and costly to construct.

The study also considered the goal of Little Rock maintaining an “operating reserve” fund that’s equal to 15 percent of all the Public Works department’s expenses.

Cunningham explained that the city provides waste collection for about 60,000 houses. Of those houses, Cunningham said there were 41,000 “bulk” collections, or collections of waste that doesn’t fit in a garbage can and isn’t considered yard waste, in the time span of a year. During that same time, about 40,000 residents didn’t call in for bulk pickups at all and received no service.

“What it boils down to is about 12 percent of the households in the city represent 68 percent of the bulk collections,” Cunningham said. “Because there’s about 12 or 13 thousand households that just requested one collection, and then the remaining 7,200 or so requests had anywhere from two to 28 collections over the 12 month period. So it’s not equally distributed among households.”

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The city of Little Rock has not increased its solid waste rates since 2004, and the study recommends increasing the rate for “once a week, single cart” residences from $22.02 per month to $28.90 per month. The study also recommends limiting households to one free bulk collection per year, with additional bulk collecting services available for $25 per collection — up to two cubic yards and with $10 added for each additional cubic yard.

The study compared Little Rock’s base monthly solid waste rates to several other cities, including Denton, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; and Austin, Texas. Compared to those cities, Little Rock provides more waste collection services, including separate yard waste pickups and bulk pickups. If Little Rock increases its monthly single cart rate to $28.90, it would be sitting higher than some of the other cities, but with more services provided, and its rate would still be significantly less than that of Austin, which charges $51.80 a month for “residential refuse.”

Most of the city directors asked about the possibility of adding the cost of curbside residential glass recycling — which the city stopped providing in March — to the residential refuse monthly rate. Honeywell said the city is “currently working” on a request for proposals to issue to companies in order to receive bids on what those costs could be, but added that “whether or not we can afford or choose to do that will remain to be seen.”

Scott said the next step in the solid waste process will be the drafting of an ordinance to go before the board, which will ask directors to vote on increasing the rates. Scott said he will meet with Honeywell, Assistant City Manager Bruce Moore and City Finance Director Sara Lenehan to discuss the possible costs of contracting with a private company for curbside glass recycling. Moore added that because such a service would be for Little Rock residents only, costs would likely be in the “double figures.”

Scott also emphasized that even if the board does approve the rate changes, they won’t go into effect until January 2020, which gives city leaders time to receive bids from the RFP for private glass recycling companies and potentially add those costs to the rate changes before they go into place.

The mayor also gave a brief update on the city’s “preliminary” agreement with County Judge Barry Hyde to increase its funding of the Pulaski County jail by 25 percent in 2020, or by about $500,000. This increase is part of a cost-sharing plan with North Little Rock, Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville. Scott said that after discussions between the county and the city leaders for “months,” a one-year agreement was reached “verbally” over the weekend, and the cities are waiting to receive the agreement in writing from Hyde.

“This relieves pressure on our city for the 2020 budget,” Scott said. “I can tell you that Sara [Lenehan, city finance director] is very relieved from that standpoint … of the unneeded pressure of [potentially] jumping from $1.9 million to close to $4 million in our city’s budget that we would have to identify for 2020.”

Scott said the cities and the county will identify an “independent auditor” to “determine, verify and set” an “accurate” daily rate of the cost per prisoner for the year 2020 and beyond. Once that rate is set, it will be part of a separate agreement.