Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. presented his proposal for a permanent 5/8ths of a cent tax increase to the city’s Board of Directors on Tuesday.
The board will have to approve an ordinance to call an election on the tax proposal. The 5/8ths, or 0.625, cent increase — Scott rounds up to call it a penny tax — would make Little Rock’s tax rate 9.625%, with 6.5% going to the state, 1% to the county and 2.125% to the city. Scott said he would be bringing the board the ordinance “soon.”
In 2011, city voters approved a 10 year 3/8ths of a cent tax increase, which will end Dec. 31.
The plan largely mirrors one that Scott presented to the board a year ago, but then pulled back on as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Here’s the slideshow the mayor presented to the board.
The largest share of the tax revenue, 34 percent or $180.8 million over 10 years, would go toward parks improvement.
The biggest ticket item within the parks plan was an indoor multi-sports complex that could host basketball, volleyball, wrestling and indoor soccer youth events. It’s expected to cost $37 million and be completed by 2025. In his state of the city address last week and in his tax pitch last year, Scott suggested that the complex would fit within War Memorial Park or nearby, but he didn’t name a location for it Tuesday.
Among existing parks, War Memorial and Hindman would receive significant attention under the plan. Hindman would be reimagined as an adventure park and feature a championship disk golf course, improved fishing opportunities, multi-use trails, a downhill bike park and mountain bike trails. At War Memorial, which Scott said he wanted to be the “Central Park” of Little Rock, the city would add baseball fields, open-air “lawn entertainment,” multi-use trails, picnic and pavilion areas, a bicycle skills course and a pump track. Those capital improvements would cost an estimated $30 million and would be completed by 2023.
Other proposed parks developments:
*A $6 million senior center, added on to the Centre at University Park, with a fitness center, meeting rooms and a computer lab. The expected completion date is 2024.
*”Repurposing land” on Rebsamen Park Road into 12 competitive soccer fields, playgrounds and parking for an estimated $13.5 million. The expected completion date is 2025. It’s unclear whether this would mean taking existing green space from Murray Park.
*Adding an Olympic-sized indoor pool at the Jim Dailey Fitness Center by 2028 for $9.5 million.
*Building a pro-style clubhouse at Rebsamen Golf Course by 2024 for $3 million.
*Expanding 1st Tee Golf Course by nine holes by 2024 for $2.5 million.
The police and fire departments would get 12% of the tax increase or $62.8 million over 10 years. That would go to building a new fire station in West Little Rock, which is critical to reducing response times in that part of town, Scott said. The station is expected to cost $8.5 million and be completed by 2026. Money would also go toward replacing firetrucks and police cars and staffing and technology to aid in what Scott described as “21st century community policing.”
The Little Rock Zoo would get $50 million over 10 years, which would allow it to build giraffe and North America habitats and fund operations increases. That investment would allow the zoo to double its revenue in 10 years, Zoo Director Susan Altrui told the board.
Over a decade, $20 million would go to toward “underserved, overlooked, and strategic areas.” Scott mentioned addressing drainage in midtown and flooding in Southwest Little Rock as examples. Another $30 million over 10 years would be evenly divided among Little Rock’s wards for street resurfacing, not just of major thoroughfares, but neighborhood streets and sidewalks, Scott said.
Early childhood education
The city would devote $4.5 million to early childhood education. Studies have shown that the return on investment in early childhood ed is high not only for students, but for economic development, the city’s Chief Education Officer Jay Barth said. “The earlier you start, the better the payoff,” Barth said, noting that while Arkansas has a robust pre-K program for 4-year-olds, infant and toddler care is lacking. Much of this money would go to working with state agencies and local providers to expand the access to high-quality care for Little Rock residents.
The city would also create a 529 savings account program for every public school student with the city providing contributions and financial literacy.
Eight percent of the tax or $4.1 million per year would go toward economic development, which includes a $1 million small business and local growth fund. Scott said that the city needed to devote as much attention as it does in attracting new business to retaining the small businesses it already had. Another $3 million annually would go to what Scott calls “job creation” and would include port expansion.
Other items: $2 million annually would go toward an affordable housing fund; $3 million a year would go for information technology improvements; and $500,000 would go toward the creation of a neighborhood empowerment capacity fund to help neighborhood groups without resources get going.