In a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Little Rock Board of Directors unanimously approved Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s $276 million budget for 2020. The budget includes $500,000 allocated toward the creation of a “community schools” model for the Little Rock School District, which the mayor proposed in October and directors discussed last week.
A resolution that would allow the city to contract with Ace Glass Recycling for curbside glass recycling services was tabled until the board’s first meeting of the new year on Tuesday, Jan. 7. At-large director Gene Fortson proposed the resolution’s deferment, saying “questions” about the resolution had been brought up by constituents and “the entire recycling question, in the mind of some of the people who’ve expressed opposition, needs further study.” Fortson’s proposal was approved by the board with a voice vote, and a roll call of the vote was not taken, but Ward 1 director Erma Hendrix seemed to be the only vote against tabling the resolution. Ward 2 director Ken Richardson was absent.
The 2020 budget includes annualized cuts from the 2019 budget amendment that directors passed in June, which cut $2.1 million from the city budget for the remainder of 2019 for an annual impact of around $5 million in savings. Of those savings, about $642,000 came from the closure of War Memorial and Hindman golf courses. Scott emphasized that the 2020 budget is a balanced one, with equal general fund revenues and expenditures of $212,125,253 each.
The city anticipates city, county and internet sales tax revenue increases. According to City Finance Director Sara Lenehan, Little Rock sales tax revenues are expected to grow 2.5 percent from “anticipated year-end results” of $58.06 million in 2019 to $60.81 million in 2020. County sales tax revenues are also expected to increase two percent from $43.26 million in 2019 to $44.57 million in 2020. Both projections include additional growth anticipated from internet sales tax revenues, as Act 822 was passed earlier this year.
Next year’s budget also includes increased funding for several city departments and outside agencies. Little Rock will increase its contribution to the Pulaski County jail by 25 percent, totalling $494,952. The increase is part of a cost-sharing plan with North Little Rock, Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville, an effort that Scott described in August as helping to “relieve pressure” on the 2020 city budget.
The city will also increase its contribution to Rock Region Metro by $797,977 for a total annual allocation of about $10.2 million. $2 million of this funding increase to the transit agency will come from the city’s street fund, and $8 million will come from the general fund.
The city’s personnel costs, which make up the largest portion of city expenditures at about 75 percent, will increase by $6 million in 2020. This increase includes raises for several of the city’s “lowest level” employees. Code enforcement and animal services officers will receive a $2,500 salary increase, costing the city $162,944 in total. Waste disposal personnel will receive salary increases of $2 per hour for a total cost of $689,182, and street fund personnel will receive a salary increase of $1 per hour for a total cost of $364,169. Nonuniform and AFSCME employees — those part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union — who are not covered by the waste disposal or street fund salary increases will receive $500 lump sum salary increases, for a total cost of $107,650. Police, fire and emergency communications employees will continue to receive step and grade salary increases. Increased solid waste fees, which the board approved in September, will take effect in January and help hire 14 new waste disposal workers.
The 2020 budget also includes a $15 million city employee health care plan. The board approved the plan with United Healthcare in October, and it requires that city employees pay a premium for health care coverage for the first time in the city’s history.
The board of directors will not meet on Dec. 24 or 31, so the board’s last meeting of the year will be Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. Hendrix asked Scott when he plans for the board to take up further discussion of the recommendations from the Little Rock Governance Structure Study Group, which studied the city’s form of government for seven months before presenting its findings to the board in October. Scott told Hendrix the board would take up the issue no later than early January.
Scott concluded the meeting by thanking city directors for approving the 2020 budget, his first as mayor.
“I count it an honor to work with you each and every day, these last 337 days,” Scott said. “I know the heart and the temperament of each one of you. [You] all are stellar public servants that are willing to do and go above and beyond for the citizens of Little Rock. It is a true team effort, and I want to make certain each of you know how much I appreciate you as we pass this balanced budget together.”