On Thursday evening, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. gave his second state of the city address at Heifer International and shared his administration’s plans to “lift Little Rock” in the next year, including through a penny sales tax initiative that the mayor said would raise approximately $50 million annually for “specific quality of life initiatives.”
Scott said the sales tax increase would serve as a dedicated source of funding for the Parks Department and the Little Rock Zoo, allowing the city to implement “many of the recommendations of the R3 Parks task force.” Those recommendations include the repurposing of War Memorial and Hindman Parks to feature “open lawn entertainment,” an indoor sports complex and a senior center. The zoo expansion would include new exhibits for giraffes, bears, red wolves and razorback hogs. Scott said the penny sales tax would also help fund improvements to the Jim Dailey Fitness Center, the Rebsamen Park tennis courts, expand the city’s trail system and install a pool at the West Central Community Center.
The penny sales tax would also allow the city to create an “economic development fund” that Scott said would help “generate equitable economic development” while working with the Chamber of Commerce to recruit jobs to Little Rock. Scott said the initiative would also help fund “evidence-based early childhood education for all Little Rock residents.”
Scott shared many other goals for Little Rock’s next year. The city plans to revitalize the Mayor’s Youth Council program, and the participants’ first initiative will be to “leverage their school networks to ensure an adequate count of their peers for the 2020 census,” in addition to registering a thousand new voters this year. On the seat of each chair in the Jo Luck Global Impact Room at Heifer, Scott’s administration had placed a “pledge card” detailing instructions for participating in the 2020 census, and Scott said it’s imperative that Little Rock do “everything in our power to ensure a complete count of every resident” for the census.
“The census is the baseline for determining millions of dollars in federal funding,” Scott said. “It influences political representation and guides decisions related to public safety, schools and infrastructure.”
The mayor said that in accordance with the recommendations of the Little Rock Governance Structure Study Group, his administration will present two ordinances to the Board of Directors on Friday that incorporate the suggestions made by the group, one of which would allow the city to hire its first Chief Equity Officer. Scott said the Chief Equity Officer will lead the city’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and “oversee diversity and multicultural initiatives.”
Scott also shared a new mission and vision statement for the city of Little Rock, which he said were created by city staff through focus groups.
The city’s new mission statement reads: “The city of Little Rock is dedicated to improving our residents’ quality of life by providing exceptional service in an efficient and ethical manner.”
The city’s new vision statement reads: “The city of Little Rock is a leading southern city — vibrant, safe and innovative — that provides an excellent and sustainable quality of life where all families, individuals and businesses can thrive.”
In reflecting upon the past year, Scott highlighted achievements in public safety, including the acquisition of grant funding for body worn cameras for the Little Rock Police Department, the creation and appointment of a citizens review board for the department, and a revised no-knock search warrant policy. He emphasized the success of the city’s Bridge to Work program, which provides people who are homeless and housing insecure to earn hourly wages for city beautification efforts and provides them with access to social services. Scott also said he’s hopeful about the future of education in the city and the efforts of Chief Education Officer Jay Barth in enacting Little Rock’s community schools model.
Scott said that though his administration envisions “many great things” for Little Rock in 2020, “we are not doing our job as leaders if we’re not planning ahead.” The mayor will share the city of Little Rock’s 2030 plan by March 31, 2020, “to cast a bold vision for our city and its long term future.”
The mayor ended his comments by reminding attendees that the sales tax initiative will help “lift” many aspects of life in Little Rock, saying that without it, Little Rock can’t reach its “full potential.”
“We can’t be afraid or apologetic about our bold future,” Scott said. “I’m unafraid, and I’m unapologetic about shooting for the moon. I hope you will join me on this moon shot. We should be proud of our city, that we’ve accomplished all this in such a short amount of time. But we still have hard work to do, and loads to lift. And although I’m a son of this great city, I cannot do it alone.”