Mayor Frank Scott Jr. plans to ask the Little Rock Board of Directors to approve an ordinance to schedule an election on a permanent sales tax increase April 20. If the board approves the ordinance, Little Rock voters would be asked to consider an additional 0.625 percent tax increase in a special July 13 election. (The mayor rounds up to describe the tax as a 1-cent or 1 percent increase.) The city projects that the tax would generate $53 million annually.
Ward 5 Director and Vice Mayor Lance Hines asked why the tax was necessary given that the city is slated to receive $37 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.
Scott noted that $37 million, half of which will come in the next months and the other half of which will come sometime within the next two years, is one-time funding and far less than $53 million annually. It also comes with restrictions. Final guidance isn’t expected until May, but Scott said that the early information from the federal government is that the money can only be spent on transportation, tourism, hospitality and infrastructure. He said the city was considering offering small grants to restaurants and other details would be forthcoming.
Ward 6 Director Doris Wright said she wanted money from the park allocation of the tax to go toward upgrading baseball and football fields at the West Central Community Center. She also said she wanted to see more programming in Little Rock parks aimed at youth. She said she appreciated the needs in the planned public safety spending, which include building a new West Little Rock fire station and making technology upgrades in the Little Rock Police Department. “But there is no specificity here to how I can address neighborhood streets,” she said. She also said she didn’t support the planned spending on early childhood education. “It’s a state and federal issue that they address,” she said. “They have much more money that we do. I would be much more comfortable if it was put into infrastructure and public safety.”
She said she wouldn’t support the tax plan “the way it’s structured now.”
In 2017, before he was elected to the board, At-large Director Antwan Phillips co-chaired Think Big Little Rock, a group of about 100 young professionals aged 25 to 40, who developed an action plan for making Little Rock a better place. The most popular items of the plan, Phillips told the board, were early childhood education and revitalizing War Memorial Park. “Those are things that are important to a huge segment of our population,” he said. “I think this tax allows us to change the tone, the tenor, the outlook of our city. … If you wanna see people in a neighborhood change, change the things around them.”