Ongoing tension between the Little Rock Board of Directors and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. surfaced again Tuesday as several board members expressed skepticism for how the city administration has proposed to spend $18.8 million in federal relief funds.
The city will ultimately receive a total of around $38 million, divided in two parts. Little Rock got the first half in May 2021, but has been waiting on federal guidance on how the money can be spent before proceeding. This first tranche of federal money has to be obligated for projects by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
Scott said the city’s proposal came from input from board members. Ideas that weren’t included didn’t meet federal requirements, he said.
Here’s the breakdown:
Making up for lost revenue on government services
*$3.4 million on critical IT upgrades to improve cybersecurity and infrastructure
*$2.2 million on fire apparatus
*$821,000 for software and tech upgrades for purchasing and planning and development
*$337,000 for installing broadband at the East Little Rock Community Center and hot spots at various city parks
$1.5 million for community violence intervention
$700,000 for COVID-19 mitigation and prevention through vaccine incentives and public communication efforts
$50,000 toward combating public health disparities
$100,000 for equipment for public meetings during pandemic
Water, sewer and broadband Infrastructure
Up to $500,000 to replace galvanized pipes
Up to $3 million for drainage projects
$240,000 infrastructure needs around affordable housing sites
Negative economic impacts
$1.5 million in affordable housing and decrease homelessness
$250,000 for job training for workers impacted by COVID
$60,000 for after-school programming
Premium pay for city employees
Up to $3.2 million for bonuses for city employees who were on the job before July 1: $2,500 for full-time employees and $750 for part-time employees
Indirect cost of administering these funds, including money for the finance and IT departments
City Manager Bruce Moore told the board that members would be asked to approve a resolution outlining the proposed budget for these American Rescue Plan dollars, but specific expenditures would later come before the board for a vote.
But At-large Director Dean Kumpuris asked the administration to bring more options back to the board, so board members could develop a plan together and “come to a common understanding.”
Director Kathy Webb said she completely agreed with Kumpuris. She said she couldn’t vote on a broad plan without knowing more specifics.
Board members were perhaps most skeptical of the idea of allocating money to Central Arkansas Water, an autonomous agency. Initially, the proposal said the money would go toward repairing lead pipes. Webb said the water utility didn’t have lead pipes, which lead to a correction from Scott. The mayor told the board that the proposed $500,000 to Central Arkansas Water was far less than was requested, and that the city was trying to adhere to the intent of the American Rescue Plan, which specified water and sewer infrastructure as targets.
Vice-mayor Lance Hines said he was a hard “no” on the proposal unless the water utility money was stripped or the $500,000 was divided between it and the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority.
At-large Director Antwan Phillips suggested that the city separate the spending on the fire apparatus from the rest of the proposal because of the urgent need, which several board members seconded.
Asked about the city’s plans for violence intervention, Moore said discussions were ongoing, but the thinking was to do something different, using street interveners specialized in conflict resolution.
Barring changes between now and then, the board will be asked to approve this spending at its next regular meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 3.