As Lindsey Millar reported earlier this week, a compromise appears in the works on a Little Rock sales tax proposal.
With backing from Director Kathy Webb, who’d earlier led a move to delay a vote on calling a special election until July, the Board will take up the issue sooner, this Tuesday.
The agenda now includes an ordinance to call a special election Sept. 14 on a one-cent sales tax increase effective Jan. 1 (which will mean 5/8ths of a cent increase in the current rate because of the expiration of a 3/8ths of a cent 10-year tax.) But it would expire in 10 years, on Dec. 31, 2031. Previously, it would have been permanent.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. had resisted calls for a sunset on the tax, a key element in resistance in the business community, traditionally the provider of campaign money to push a sales tax increase.
Also on the agenda is a resolution expressing the board’s intentions on spending the money. This will not be part of the measure on which voters will cast ballots, so it has no binding legal effect. The intentions on spending will have to appropriated individually over the years by the City Board, whose membership could change.
One notable change in the resolution before the Board Tuesday and the one released last month is that it now states an intention to spend the money in general categories — parks, public safety and so forth — but without specific percentages in each category, as had been done previously.
Also, there are some changes in numbers — a reduction in park maintenance operating increases by $1 million, for example. Also, where the mayor in May listed $17 million for capital projects at the West Central community complex, the resolution now lists $14 million for a “community center capital projects fund.” (All these figures are 10-year totals in each category.)
There’s no change in the $30 million allotted for two new Zoo exhibits — for giraffes and a North American habitat.
Major spending amounts on Hindman and War Memorial Parks and a new indoor sports complex (location still not clear) are unchanged
There’s also no change in the $40 million proposed for an early childhood education initiative, an idea for a new city enterprise that drew questions from many directors. The new resolution spells out more specifics about how that money would be spent:
1) Partnerships with higher education institutions to coordinate Technical Assistance and Job Training Skills in the early learning space to enhance the quality of the Early Childhood Education sector across the City.
2) Investments in expanding exemplar Public and Private Early Childhood Learning Centers targeting the areas of greatest need in the City of Little Rock.
3) Beginning January 1, 2026, only by majority vote of the Committee, vouchers/slots for infants and toddlers (0 – three (3) year olds) from low-income families in partnership with the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education at the Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Better Chance Program with priority provided to these exemplar early childhood learning centers. In no case shall vouchers/slots be for use at what are currently termed “1-star” facilities.
4) Activation of a Small Home Visiting Program in partnership with an institution(s) specializing in pediatric nursing to bring nurses into the homes of newborns to connect parents with services to get children off to a healthy start. A focus shall be on training of new nurses to effectively engage in this work.
5) A Public Education Campaign to raise awareness about the importance of Early Childhood Education and to create usable tools for parents seeking out such services.
6) Longitudinal assessments to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of the program. A City of Little Rock Committee on Early Childhood Education (“the Committee”) shall be established to guide early learning activities and annual expenditures in the City of Little Rock for Early Childhood Education across the 10 year period and ensure completion of an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the program with an assessment report at least at the four-year and eight-year mark of the program’s creation. The Committee shall be composed of the following eleven (11) members:
Three (3) Little Rock Community Members with deep interest and expertise in Early Childhood Learning appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Board of Directors, one of whom shall serve as Chair.
One (1) City Board of Directors Member appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Board of Directors.
The City’s Chief Education Officer.
The Little Rock School District’s Director of Early Childhood Education.
The Chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (or her 2 designee).
The President of the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College (or 4 her designee).
The President of Philander Smith College (or his designee).
The Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (or his 7 designee.
The Director of the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (or her designee).
The proposal this week retains $20 million for a 10-year housing program, another new city endeavor that had drawn some questions.
Some other changes:
An allotment for downtown parking decks has been increased from $10 million to $12 million, and the amount provided for the Museum of Discovery operating expenses was increased from $2.25 million to $4.325 million over 10 years.
Fingerprints of various directors and important mayoral projects are evident in the alternations. Does it mean the deal is done? It takes six votes from the 10-member board and mayor.
If approved by voters, the tax is expected to produce $53 million a year.