Mayor Stodola: Little Rock needs increased sales tax | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mayor Stodola: Little Rock needs increased sales tax

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Many wonderful things have been accomplished, Mayor Mark Stodola said in his state of the city address today, but all is not rosy. The city needs a sales tax increase, how much, he didn't say.

Here's the full text. Among the remarks:

Street surfacing came to a halt four years ago. A new fire station is unequipped. A planned police substation can't be built. Parks are inadequately maintained. Building maintenance money is woefully inadequate. Dozens of city positions are vacant. The budget is more than $10 million below the amount budgeted three years ago.

(But, thank God, the city can still afford to give $200,000 in taxpayer money to the unaccountable, anti-worker, public school-savaging Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.)

His case for raising the sales tax, which will be the focus of discussion in a coming series of city meetings:

The City enacted a half penny city sales tax mid-year in 1994, some 17 years ago. The rate has never been increased. In 1995, the first full year of collecting our ½ penny sales tax, we had a total of 1,537 employees in the General Fund. Now, 16+ years later, we have 1,542 employees on the payroll for a net gain of Five employees. Consider for a moment that in 1994, when our tax began to be collected, we had a total of 869 employees in our Police and Fire Departments. Now, 17 years later, we have 1,106 employees in our Police and Fire Departments, for a net increase in the area of public safety of 237 employees. Obviously, it is apparent that all of our other operating departments have been cut so that we do everything possible to ensure that public safety is our first and foremost obligation.

Now let’s compare our local sales tax rates to other cities in the state. North Little Rock currently has a 1-cent city sales tax; as a percentage of a dollar, this is 100% more than we have. Sherwood and Maumelle also have a 1-cent city sales tax, also 100% more; Jacksonville has a 2-cent city sales tax, as a percentage of a dollar, 300% more — and this list goes on. Conway has a 1 ¾ -cent city sales tax, a 250% increase as a percentage of a dollar.

Now let’s compare the Northwest corridor of our state. Fort Smith — a 2-cent city sales tax — 300% more; Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville all with a 2-cent city sales tax, again 300% more.

Last year, Little Rock collected $22,500,000 in local sales taxes. Contrast this with Fort Smith, a city less than half our size collected $37,000,000. This is $14.5 million more than Little Rock. Fayetteville, which is only 40% the size of Little Rock, also collected more than Little Rock — $31,650,000. Nearly $10 million more. Rogers, a city 30% the size of Little Rock, collected more sales tax as well at $22,600,000. Conway, a city 30% the size of Little Rock collected almost the same amount as Little Rock. And the City of Bryant, which is less than one-tenth the size of Little Rock, collected nearly half the total of Little Rock’s city sales tax at $10,260,000.

The critical issue, of course, is whether voters in those cities think they are better served than voters in Little Rock? Do they think city officials are honest? Do they think they are wise in spending public money? Do they think there are consequences when terrible mistakes are made? (This is a subliminal hint to think Little Rock National Airport.)

Stodola also addressed education and said he hopes to win legislative approval for a tougher and more efficient program to discourage truancy through District Judge Mark Leverett's court. He also mentioned hopes to improve school performance by making more secure neighborhoods and encouraging healthier kids by addressing hunger and exercise. Any number of task forces and projects are listed. Check it out.

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