Arkansas Democrat Gazette
LITTLE ROCK — Little Rock city directors will examine capital projects to be paid for with revenue from the September sales tax increase during a work session Tuesday.
“The goal is to begin to lay out the framework for the recommended plan of action regarding the expenditures of the capital portion of the sales-tax initiative,” City Manager Bruce Moore said Friday.
Voters approved increasing the city’s tax rate from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent. Three-eighths percent of the tax goes toward capital improvements and five-eighths to operations.People now pay 8.5 percent in sales taxes in Little Rock, which includes a 1 percent county tax and a 6 percent state tax.
The capital-improvements portion of the tax will expire in 10 years after generating about $196 million. About $72 million of the money would go toward street and drainage improvements.
“It’s a 10-year plan, but obviously there are some critical things that we feel like we’ll need to move forward with in the next five years or so,” Moore said.
City directors are already moving forward with one project: an $8.7 million emergency communications system to replace a nearly 30-year-old radio system.
In December, Little Rock city directors passed a $158.6 million operating budget that included 57 new jobs ranging from a full-time veterinarian for the zoo to 15 maintenance workers for the Parks Department. Along with the new hires, the budget includes filling 102 positions, including 32 vacant police officer jobs and eight code-enforcement positions.
Little Rock is adding 12 new officers to its Community Oriented Policing program, made up of officers who are stationed at alert centers or are out on bicycle patrols.
The largest chunk of the maintenance and operations budget went to public safety. Combined, the Police Department and Fire Department account for $91.3 million of the operating budget. Along with new police officers, the city plans to hire 12 new firefighters this year. Eventually, the tax will pay for the hiring of 36 firefighters.
Moore said also high on the list of capital projects needed is the completion of a fire station in west Little Rock.
Fire Chief Gregory Summers has said that firemen struggle to meet even 10-minute response times in the western reaches of the city.
Such high response times coupled with other factors put the city at risk of losing its Class 2 ISO rating last year.
Formerly called the Insurance Services Office, the agency rates cities on a variety of factors such as the number of fire stations and response times; the city’s water supply; the equipment available to firefighters, how many are on duty on an average day and the amount of training they have and the city’s 911 dispatch system.After scoring all the factors, an average is taken and class rating assigned on scale in which Class 1 is best and Class 10 is worst. As these ratings drop, fire-insurance rates in the city increase.
On a scale of 100 points, Little Rock scored 81.44 and barely kept its Class 2 rating for 2011.
A residents sales-tax overview committee has yet to be appointed.
Mayor Mark Stodola has said he forwarded to city directors a list of names of people who applied to serve on the committee and had hoped to make appointments Jan. 3.
However, Ward 3 Director Stacy Hurst asked for more time to contact potential members who could serve on the committee. Since Tuesday’s meeting will be dedicated to the capital-improvements budget, the committee appointments won’t come back before the board until the Jan. 31 meeting.
Moore said that whatever the board decides Tuesday will be taken to the public in a series of ward meetings that he expects to begin next month.
The council meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 500 W. Markham.