The Little Rock City Board, in a specially called Wednesday meeting that many attended over video-chat, approved Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s recommendation to shave 2 percent, or $4.9 million, off the city’s $212 million 2020 budget to prepare for declining revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic. The vote was 8-1 with Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson voting against; Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix was not present. An emergency clause was also approved, so the change goes into effect immediately.
Richardson said he was concerned that the city was cutting the budget for Prevention Intervention and Treatment programs at a disproportionate rate. He mentioned specifically the city’s city’s summer employment program as an example. City Manager Bruce Moore explained that the $1.3 million cut to that program was largely about timing. Preparations for the program typically begin now. Moore said there was no way the city would be able to pull off the summer program while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Ward 3 Director Kathy Webb asked Scott and Moore if they had discussed cutting the city’s highest salaries.
“I know this is touching every family in the city,” she said. “We talk about shared sacrifice and often it seems like the folks at the top are sometimes asked to sacrifice the least.”
Scott said these cuts were merely a “first step.” He said a salary reduction for all employees had been discussed, but there could be legal ramifications. Furloughing other nonessential employees had also been considered, he said.
“What we don’t want to do, until we have more clarity from a sales tax perspective, is overreact and harm families,” Scott said.
Moore said that majority of the cuts were to parks and zoo positions that weren’t staffed.
Ward 6 Director Doris Wright said she’d talked to some part-time staff who would be affected and asked Scott to consider them for jobs handling the increased call volume to the city’s 3-1-1 phone line. He said he would.