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It's said that money can't buy happiness, but it's at least as true that lack of money can bring discontent. Whether one wants lunch or a first-class city, one must pay.

Little Rock has its charms; the Arkansas Times celebrates them regularly. Yet Little Rock could be more charming if its residents invested more in it. They can make such an investment by voting for a penny increase in the city sales tax. The Times recommends that they do. Early voting begins Tuesday, Sept. 6. Election Day is Sept. 13.

The proposition is not perfect. These things never are. But it is the only proposition before us, and there's no point in comparing it to nonexistent alternatives.

The proposal from the Little Rock Board of Directors comes in two parts and requires separate votes. One part is a five-eighths-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax for operations. This would allow, among other things, the hiring of 52 new police officers and 36 new firefighters; an increased number of code enforcement officers and emergency-response staff; the creation of two new Central Arkansas Transit bus routes; continued maintenance of streets and sidewalks, and improved parks and recreational facilities.

The other vote is on a three-eighths-of-a cent tax increase for capital investment. This increase would expire after 10 years. It would allow for two new fire stations, one in West Little Rock and one in Southwest Little Rock; two new police substations, one on 12th Street and one in West Little Rock; the replacement of an antiquated public safety communications system; expansion of the Little Rock Port, with the intention of creating new jobs; a UAMS/UALR technology research park intended to attract high-tech businesses; new ballfields for kids; improved streets, sidewalks and drainage.

Many of these needs are pressing, as anyone who's driven around town on our battered streets can confirm. Little Rock has been cutting and postponing and laying off for some time now. There'll be more cuts, and more public facilities will become less adequate, if the tax increase fails.

A city is not just police and fire protection, essential services though they are (and both addressed in the proposal on the ballot). Cities have parks, museums, zoos, public transportation, swimming pools, golf courses, an appreciation of history and the arts. The Central Arkansas Library System is not funded by the city, but the library's decision to put a new building in what had become a desolate part of town led to a remarkable revival in that area. CALS trustees support the tax increase. "We're wedded to the well-being of the city," the library's director says. All of us who live here are.

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