Brian Chilson

The Little Rock Board of Directors has voted to table consideration of a proposal to refer a permanent 1% sales tax to voters. Ward 3 Director Kathy Webb made the motion to delay consideration of the plan until July 13; all of her board colleagues voted with her save Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix and At-large Director Antwan Phillips. The board had been set to vote to call a special election July 13.

Webb, in explaining her call for delay, said the city should wait to hear more about how it can spend the $37.5 million it will receive as part of the federal American Rescue Plan (half of the money will come soon; the other half will come in 2022; it has to be spent by 2024). She said many of her constituents told her that consideration of an extension of the 3/8ths of a cent sales tax, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2021, deserves discussion by the board. She also said she needs more specifics on the proposal to share with her constituents, and said she’d heard a lot of concerns that the mayor’s tax plan didn’t sunset.

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“I applaud the desire to be bold,” Webb said. “I think we all agree that we want Little Rock to be a greater city, a world class city. We all ran on that in our campaign. … We want to show our residents that we do the basics well, but we also want to be great.” She said a 60-day delay would give the board time to come together.

Scott defended the plan and the process. The city has been talking about a one-cent sales tax increase since January 2020, he said, and only delayed consideration of it last year because of the pandemic. He said there had been countless neighborhood meetings and task forces that had weighed in on the proposal. Despite what the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods and others have said, this proposal closely resembles, in form, the 3/8ths tax increase that voters approved in 2011, Scott said. The city has provided detail about every line item in the proposal and answered every board member’s question, he said.

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“We can take another 60 days, but the plan is the plan,” Scott said. “We want to continue to have more board input. At the end of the day, we have to allow the people to vote.”

Ward 4 Director Capi Peck said she didn’t believe the board opposed putting the proposal on the ballot. But she said she had gotten a lot of questions from citizens who wanted more detail. She called for the board to collaborate.

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Phillips said some of the questions from constituents had been fueled by misinformation spread by board members. He specifically called out Vice-Mayor and Ward 5 Director Lance Hines, who told KATV that Phillips and Scott were working to defund the police and that the proposal would only support people east of I-430 and south of I-630.

The special called meeting began on a sour, chaotic note. Webb first tried to make her motion ahead of public comment on the proposal. Scott said he wasn’t entertaining the motion and would let public comment proceed. Hines then made a motion to overrule Scott, acting as chairman. Then Phillips called for a point of order, asking City Attorney Tom Carpenter to rule on whether Webb made a proper motion because — possibly because she was cut off by Scott — she didn’t initially name a delayed date. It spiraled from there with everyone talking at once and hard-to-follow debates about “Robert’s Rules of Order” until City Manager Bruce Moore suggested a recess. Even that took a roll call vote.