Frank Scott Jr. is pushing to ‘Rebuild the Rock,’ and he is making his case for a penny sales tax that will finance the ambitious revitalization effort.
Scott presented his case for the sales tax on Wednesday, March 31 during a press briefing, stating that the sales tax would have a 3/8-cent impact through Dec. 31, 2021 and would be 5/8-cent afterwards.
Currently, the sales tax rate in Little Rock is 9 percent, and the sales tax initiative would boost that to 9.625 percent. The state tax and the county tax would remain at 6.5 and 1 percent, respectively. The local tax would rise from 1.5 percent to 2.125 percent.
According to Scott, the sales tax increase would result in a $53 million annual haul. This influx, he said, would be used to fund a series of capital projects in the coming decade. Specifically, the Rebuild the Rock campaign would focus on parks, economic development, early childhood development, public safety, infrastructure, affordable housing, and the Little Rock Zoo.
“We want to be better than our beginnings,” Scott said.
The ‘Rebuild the Rock’ capital campaign will serve as a new economic development model, he said, to improve the quality of life and infrastructure in Little Rock. These quality of life improvements will form a significant portion of the campaign funding.
One of those improvements would be to increase funding to the Little Rock Zoo. Based on graphs provided by the Mayor’s Office, the ‘Rebuild the Rock’ campaign would put forth $30 million over 10 years for capital investments at the zoo. In total, the Little Rock Zoo would see a total investment of $50 million, which includes an estimated $20 million in operating expenses.
Zoo director Susan Altrui said that she aims for the Little Rock Zoo to become a “true destination” that attracts tourists and visitors to Arkansas’ capital city. She announced that the zoo is seeking to reintroduce giraffes, incorporating an interactive element with feedings. This interactive habitat would be a $20 million investment.
Another significant zoo investment would be a North America habitat, featuring red wolves and razorbacks. This habitat would have a $10 million price tag.
Parks and recreation will receive a large chunk of the capital funding, with Scott’s office estimating a $138,500,000 capital investment in 10 years with a total estimated investment of $180,750,000 once $42,250,000 in operating expense increases are factored in.
Scott said there are currently 63 parks in Little Rock, noting that they have not been properly funded in his lifetime. Through this capital campaign, he is allocating $30 million to Hindman and War Memorial Park, $20 million for general park improvements and park/trail maintenance, $37 million for an indoor sports complex, $12 million for a West Central complex, $6 million for a senior center, $13.5 million for a Rebsamen soccer facility, $3 million for a pro shop facility at Rebsamen Park, and $9.5 million for an indoor Olympic pool at the Jim Dailey Center.
Public Safety was another priority Scott listed, with a total estimated investment of $62.750 million over 10 years. Most of that funding is geared towards increased operating expenses with public safety technology and operations being allocated $20 million and public safety vehicle replacement for the police and fire departments being allocated $26.250 million. The campaign lays out a plan for a new fire station in west Little Rock that would receive a $8.5 million investment with $8 million for expected operating expenses.
Infrastructure projects will be allocated $50 million over 10 years. A graph from the mayor’s office lists “strategic infrastructure improvements” receiving a $20 million investment and street resurfacing receiving $30 million.
Annually, the infrastructure projects would receive $5 million.
In addition, an early childhood education program would receive $45 million in funding, economic development would receive $41 million in funding, information technology projects would receive $30 million in funding, an affordable housing fund would receive $20 million in funding, and neighborhood programs, including the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, the Museum of Discovery and the Neighborhood Empowerment Capacity Fund, would receive a collective $12 million. All of this sums are for the 10-year period.
Scott also laid out general capital improvements, including improvements to downtown parking decks for $13 million, city hall renovations for $7 million, Hinton Center for $2 million, JE Davis upgrades and acquisition for $1 million and land acquisition on Markham Street for $2 million. These capital improvements would cost $25 million in total.
Based on the figures provided, all of the 10-year projects would cost $528.5 million. This represents $272 million in capital investments, combined with $256.5 million in operating expenses. The mayor’s office estimates that there will be an average allocation of $34,475,000 per year for the projects.
As part of the oversight process, Scott said there will be two mechanisms of accountability: a reallocation resolution and a citizen-led commission.
The reallocation resolution will set the priorities for the capital funding and allows the city board of directors to reallocate funds every 10 years. The resolution, which is introduced by the mayor, must be approved by the city board by Dec. 31 of the year prior to the 10thyear of the previous resolution. This resolution can be amended by a three-fourths vote of the board.
There will also be a citizen-led committee that will hold quarterly meetings to hear reports on projects, evaluate spending and make semi-annual reports to the city board of directors. This board would also make recommendations to the mayor and city manager for future projects, although Scott noted that the current projects have been locked in place.