Sales tax proposal put to vote in North Little Rock
North Little Rock voters will have a chance to vote at the polls on whether to keep a half percent sales tax.
North Little Rock City Council gave the go-ahead Monday night for a referendum on Aug. 9 to effectively expand the sales tax. If passed, the tax would generate about $9 million in revenue annually over five years, according to North Little Rock chief financial officer Ember Strange.
Mayor Terry Hartwick said keeping the expiring half-percent sales tax would mean new fire stations, updated community centers and improvements to streets, sidewalks and drainage.
“I want to try to do everything in that half-penny for every neighborhood in our city: community centers, fire stations, and still streets, drainage, and sidewalks,” Hartwick said.
If approved, the referendum would expand the city’s current 2% sales tax structure that was put in place through a similar referendum in 2017. In the referendum, voters approved the increase in the city sales tax of 1 percentage point, half of which was for utilities. improvement projects and is due to expire in 2022.
The 2017 sales tax referendum helped fund the city’s new Justice Center and provided revenue to help fund city services and employee salaries.
The North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce will help lead the campaign to keep the sales tax, Hartwick said. The chamber of commerce also helped campaign for the sales tax referendum in 2017.
The half percent sales tax would generate about $45 million in revenue over five years, according to Strange. If approved, the tax would expire in 2028.
Here’s how the city plans to spend the tax revenue:
• $15 million would go to the fire department for facility upgrades.
• $18 to the Parks and Recreation Department for community centres.
• $10 million to improve streets, sidewalks and drainage infrastructure in each neighbourhood.
• $2 million for new public safety vehicles.
Now that the half-percent share of the sales tax is due to expire at the end of 2022, Hartwick has spent the past few weeks gauging voter interest while meeting with neighborhood associations.
Councilman Nathan Hamilton of Ward 1 said he supports the referendum even though he believes sales taxes are a “regressive tax” that will hit “poor members of our community” the hardest. Hamilton said he supports the sales tax referendum because it will be paid in part by non-residents who come to North Little Rock to shop.
“We can’t pass an income tax and we have very limited opportunities as a municipality on how we can raise revenue,” Hamilton said.
Stephen Hart, president of the Cypress Crossing East Homeowners Association, and Ira Blueford, president of the Ashley Downs Neighborhood Association, spoke in favor of keeping the sales tax at Monday night’s meeting .
“If we don’t approve of that — the way politics works — we’re going to see it one way or another,” Hart said. “It will come either on the water bill, or on the electricity bill, or by some other means.”
Hartwick said he would use the funds to build a new central fire station on 13th Street and another fire station on the east end of North Little Rock.
“We need infrastructure, we need a new fire department, so we need whatever we can get,” Blueford said.
Members of city council were unanimous in their support for the ordinances that will put the issue of sales tax on the ballot and for its passage.
The sales tax issue will be put to a vote in a special election in August, which will cost the city $15,000, Hartwick said.
Kenny Wallis, a North Little Rock resident who campaigned against the sales tax referenda in 2011 and 2017, said the proposed sales tax was a “scam”, criticizing the city’s latest budget which increased the salaries of North Little Rock employees, including elected officials.
“One of the most cowardly acts of local government is to create a situation where the funding of necessary services can only be done by a special increase in the poll tax which also funds pet projects,” Wallis said in a statement.