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Tax elections are bunching up in Pulaski County 

And asking a lot of voters.

click to enlarge Central Arkansas Library System image Main Library

The generosity of Pulaski County voters is being severely tested these days. Little Rock voters in September approved a one-cent increase in the city sales tax. North Little Rock residents were voting on a one-cent sales tax increase Tuesday; the results were not known when the Arkansas Times went to press. The Central Arkansas Library System plans to ask Little Rock voters for additional property-tax support, probably in March. (North Little Rock has its own library.) The North Little Rock School District plans to ask for a millage increase in February. And a new player may enter the tax arena. Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock is seriously considering whether to ask for county-wide property-tax support. It has no local tax support now.

Dan F. Bakke, president of Pulaski Tech, was asked if this might be too many tax elections. "That's what we're going to have to look at," he said.

Bobby Roberts, director of CALS, said the library system could have set its election earlier, but "We didn't want to get in the way of the city [Little Rock] election." CALS will ask for a $19 million extension of an existing bond issue. The existing tax rate will not go up — in fact, it will go down somewhat — but Pulaski Countians will pay the tax longer. The proceeds from the extended bond issue will be used to add storage, auditorium and parking space at the main campus downtown; to add on to the McMath Library on John Barrow Road, and to buy land in far western Little Rock, where a library will eventually be needed.

The North Little Rock School Board is expected to officially authorize a millage election at its next meeting, Nov. 16. School Superintendent Kenneth A. Kirspel said a 7.4 mill tax increase is proposed to build new facilities. The election will be February 14 if the Pulaski County Election Commission approves the date, as it does routinely in most cases. "It's been 18 years since we asked for a millage increase," Kirspel said. "We're overdue."

Bakke could reply that his institution has never asked for local tax support since its founding in 1991. Pulaski Tech is one of the seven state community colleges that receives no local taxes. All of the other 15 benefit from either the property tax or a local sales tax. Pulaski Tech could ask for either property tax or sales tax, but Bakke said, "To me, the sales tax is regressive."

Bakke said he'd been talking to business and community leaders about a tax election, and that a committee would be formed to study the matter further. Pulaski Tech is the largest of the state community colleges, and, with 12,000 students, bigger than all but three of the four-year colleges — the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. With no local tax support, and a low level of support from the state, Bakke said, Pulaski Tech's only other choice to raise revenue is to increase tuition and fees. "If you keep raising those, you keep people out of school. ... We've got to have technical programs if we're going to build the work force."

Kirspel said he'd heard that Pulaski Tech was considering a tax election. Having more people looking for tax money "could" be a problem, he said. As to whether a Pulaski Tech election specifically would adversely affect the North Little Rock School District's plans for an election, he said "I guess it depends on when they do it."

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