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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mayor Stodola says millage poll not city's work

Posted By on Sat, Jun 23, 2012 at 7:00 AM

'BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE': Mayor Mark Stodola said that's sole purpose of property tax proposal.
  • 'BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE': Mayor Mark Stodola said that's sole purpose of property tax proposal.

BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE: Mayor Mark Stodola said thats sole purpose of property tax proposal.
  • 'BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE': Mayor Mark Stodola said that's sole purpose of property tax proposal.
I reported the other day receiving a call from an opinion research firm on an expected proposal to renew a Little Rock property tax millage for roads and drainage. The questions centered on Mayor Mark Stodola's idea to reduce the millage rate from 3.3 to 3 mills. The drop in bond interest rates means the city could stilll have more money for bond issue-backed work.

Questions also focused on opinions about the mayor, city board and Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The same sort of polling preceded the formation of a committee housed and run by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce in support of a recent increase in the city sales tax. Though the mayor and chamber later disputed that this was a chamber operation, it clearly was. Chamber CEO Jay Chesshir even testified before the state Ethics Commission in defense of the secrecy in reporting of campaign expenditures and see jump for financial expenditures by the Chamber. For secrecy, he exploited a poorly drafted law that the Ethics Commission hopes to correct in 2013, the chamber willing (which it isn't.)

BTW: Does anybody but me think it's socialism to tax people's groceries to build buildings for private enterprise?

So I asked the mayor about the polling. I also asked Chesshir and a representative of the consulting firm through which all the sales tax campaign money had passed so as to shield how it was spent. Only Stodola responded. I give you his response in full on the jump.

The coming property tax vote and community attitudes are critical in the context of the city's recent push to make it appear like they aren't on board with the Little Rock Technology Park Authority's desire to bulldoze a low-income residential neighborhood to build an office building to lease space, they hope, to private technology companies. Without an overwhelming vote in about four high-income white precincts, the sales tax — which gave the Little Rock Chamber-controlled operation $22 million in taxpayer money for the Tech Park — would have failed. The Republican-heavy western Little Rock precincts that liked the sales tax might not like the property tax so much. That makes poor folks — who defeated the sales tax in every precinct — even more critical when the property tax is on the ballot in November. Annie Abrams, a pillar of the black community, was on the "steering committee" of the sales tax campaign, for example. She remonstrated the City Board this week for threatening a residential neighborhood with destruction for the Tech Park.

Stodola did promise in his note that there'd be no money for the Tech Park/Chamber in the property tax millage. The question is important because the $22 million is only a down payment on an estimated $50 million-plus to get the Tech Park off the ground. So far, apart from token sums from the UAMS, UALR and Children's Hospital sponsors, the only real money on hand is the flow of tax pennies from grocery, clothing, car and utility purchases and restaurant meals (Taco Bell for the 99 percenters; somewhat better fare for the Chesshirs and Co.)

I don't see how you can run a big-time city without an ongoing source of revenue from a hopefully expanding property tax base for important infrastructure. But I also don't know how you can pass such a millage without public trust in city government and a feeling among citizens of mutual respect and equality of influence. If you get my drift.

Read on.

EMAIL FROM MAYOR STODOLA

Max——I honestly don’t know who is paying for the poll. After I received your email I made inquiry and understand it has not been billed yet and Opinion Research Associates has not been told who to bill. I do know that in 2004, fundraising for the campaign involved raising money from individuals in the business community. I did not brief or clear with the “chamber” my announcement about continuing and reducing the millage before telling the public my thoughts on the matter.

[City Manager Bruce Moore] Bruce and I have subsequently told the business community of our intentions to move forward with an election and a reduction in the millage with the Board of Directors (or a substantial portion of them) being the Campaign Committee. I believe some members of the business community or members of Fifty for the Future, in considering whether to support this effort, will be paying for the poll. They typically want to know what people are thinking. I seriously doubt that the Chamber will be paying for it directly.

The questions for the poll were not reviewed by me or anyone at City Hall. I have not been polled or subsequently seen the poll, but would have probably asked some different questions.

I read your blog on this yesterday——no money from a continuation of the millage will be going to the Technology Park. The millage is for basic and much needed infrastructure already identified, in excess of $700 mill in identified street and drainage needs. The sales tax allocation will cover only about 10% of this amount so it is seriously needed for the health of our roadways and drainage systems. A reduction and continuation for 15 years will net an additional $105 mill. It does not include the research park.

Regards, Mark

NOTED: The Little Rock Chamber paid $32,000 of the $203,000 spent on the sales tax campaign, including some $3,400 in legal fees to the Friday firm during the time Chesshir was defending secrecy in how the money was spent. But, since it receives $200,000 in taxpayer money every year as a city subsidy, it could afford it.

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