BCN Executive Editor Wesley Brown – Sept. 12, 2021 – In this week’s edition of BCN Headlines on KABF 88.3 FM, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. acknowledged the recent passing of former Little Rock City Director Erma Hendrix while also urging local residents go to the polls on Tuesday to support his “Rebuild the Rock” one percent sales tax initiative.
Scott was the special guest on the fast-growing weekly news talk show hosted by BlackConsumerNews.com’s Chief Creative Officer Angel Burt and guest co-host, Osyrus Bolly, the racial equity coordinator and community organizer for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Little Rock Freedom Fundactivist.
In a tribute to Hendrix, who died on Sept. 8, Scott called the former Ward 1 city director “a voice for the voiceless.” Last week, Scott issued an executive order for the Little Rock’s city flag to fly at half-staff on behalf of Hendrix.
“I also want to take time to continue to acknowledge and affirm the committed and consistent public servant and City Director Erma Hendrix — who was a voice for the voiceless and who was unapologetic in herself and always shared words of wisdom, words of action and we are grateful for her life and legacy,” Scott told the KABF listening audience.”
“She was like a grandma to me who I loved dearly,” Scott continued. “It truly is a grieving time and period for the entire city.”
Hendrix first served on the Little Rock City Board of Directors from November 1993 to December 1994. She was serving her fourth term, after being reelected in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018. Hendrix also served as commissioner on the Arkansas Parole Board and as Community Development Block Grant chair for the city.
The longtime Ward 1 director was also a graduate of Little Rock public schools and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Arkansas Baptist College and a master’s degree in Urban Planning and Development from St. Louis University. She worked as a psychiatric nurse at Fort Roots Veterans Hospital and was administrator of the Anti-Poverty Program at the Metropolitan Housing Alliance.
A long-serving member of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Hendrix was also active in a variety of community organizations in Little Rock. She was the mother of six adult children. Ruffin & Jarrett Funeral Home Services of Little Rock will be handling Hendrix’s upcoming funeral services. Planning for the services by the family are still underway.
In highlighting his relationship with Hendrix, Scott said the longtime city director backed the resolution on June 29 to put his “Rebuild The Rock” sales tax proposal on the ballot on Sept. 14, but also had some reservations about some of the details. Early voting for the measure for county residents in the city limits of Little Rock began on Sept. 7, two days before Hendrix’s death.
“She voted … to allow it to go to the people but she had some concerns, and we were able to work through those concerns, so I am very grateful for her,” Scott said of the initiative.
In highlighting his post-pandemic vision for the Arkansas’ capital city first introduced in his virtual State-of-the-City address on March 25, Scott explained to KABF listeners that his proposal is an extension of an earlier decade-long sales tax under former Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola that will sunset on Dec. 31, 2021. That one penny sales tax included a permanent 5/8 cents “operations” tax hike and a 10-year temporary 3/8 cents “capital investment” tax levy that went into effect in January 2012. Annually, it generates over $45 million for the city, funding several mayoral priorities and capital improvement projects such as the Little Rock Technology Park and Twelfth Street Police Station.
“Technically, we are asking voters for 5/8 of a cent. Many times, it is hard to explain … so we decided to say hey, ‘it’s a penny’ to round it up,” said Little Rock’s first duly elected Black mayor. “What that means, on a hundred dollars it would be an additional 67 cents. So, if you went to the grocery store, when you add this increase, it would be one hundred dollars and an additional 67 cents.”
Today, Scott said Little Rock has one of the lowest sales rates in Arkansas. Compared to regional peers in surrounding states and across the South and Southeast U.S., the city’s sales tax is also much lower, he said. However, Scott explained when evaluating the differences between cities, “apples to apples comparisons” must be made in how each city, municipality, county and state applies its tax rate.
For example, the state sales tax rate in Arkansas is 6.5%. With local taxes for each city, the total sales tax rate across Arkansas ranges between 6.5% and 12.625% with Little Rock at the low end of the scale. With the addition of the 1% sales tax levy for Pulaski County, Little Rock’s total sales tax rate is 9%.
“Right now, Little Rock has one of the lowest tax rates in the state of Arkansas. If we were to lose this (election), we are already going to lose a 3/8 penny, so it will take us from 9% to 8.67%, which would make us the lowest in the state of Arkansas,” Scott said of the city’s current annual budget of $280 million.
Noting Little Rock’s status as Arkansas’ largest city, which new Census data shows recently topped 202,591, the mayor’s plan would raise more than an estimated $53 million annually in new sales tax revenue over the next 10 years. Admitting that Arkansas’ sales tax code is regressive, Scott said there is no other way to raise revenue for fund growth initiatives and ongoing needs.
“That’s the reason we are pursuing it because we know Little Rock is a growing city, and I am happy to report that after the 2020 Census, Little Rock saw about 5% growth, which meant about 10,000 new people,” he said. “And for the first time in Little Rock’s history, although we claimed 200,000 (people) but we could never show it on paper, with the U.S. Census we worked hard to count all the hard-to-reach areas and to make sure everyone is represented.”
Scott urged Little Rock citizens to vote “yes” for his tax proposal because Little Rock has a responsibility to represent Arkansas to the rest of the world.
“We are the largest city in a small state, but we are the most diversity and most populous city, and we have additional responsibility because we are the economic hub for the state and we have many people utilize services that our residents use as well, so we have to always take care of our priorities, which are our residents,” Scott said.
Noting his efforts to bring more and better jobs to the city, including the recently opened 850,000 square foot Amazon fulfillment center in Port of Little Rock and a new Costco warehouse club in West Little Rock. Altogether, Scott said his administration has negotiated deals to bring more than 5,000 new jobs to employer payrolls.
According to details of the mayor’s tax plan, that extra $530 million in new revenue over the next decade will fund Scott’s broad vision to rebuild the city as a “New South” mecca and tourist destination. Among many things, the measure includes public safety reforms to decrease police response times, technology investments, and community policing enhancements that are data-driven to reduce crime. It also includes a new fire station in west Little Rock, neighborhood revitalization improvements, Little Rock Zoo enhancements and expansion, and a first-of-its-kind new senior center.
Other key details of the mayor’s initiative include revitalization plans for the former War Memorial and Hindman Parks golf courses that will connect both parks with a state-of-the-art trails system and create new recreational options at both parks. It will also provide funding for early childhood education access for toddlers and infants, critical improvements to the remainder of the city’s park facilities, and a new city-owned trust to acquire, develop, and rehab affordable housing.
In urging local voters to go to the poll’s this week to support his sales tax referendum, Scott said larger cities such as Atlanta and Oklahoma City also had similar tax proposals to catapult their local economies. He said the $530 million in proceeds from his Rebuild the Rock plan could be a “game changer” for Little Rock over the next decade.
“WE will truly be intentional, we’ll be inclusive, we will be innovative, and we will be investing back in our community to rebuild our city,” said Scott. “We are at a time now that we have been blessed, and the city of Little Rock elected me to change this city, and we’ve done a great job with the resources that we have, and we’ve had historic job growth, but we need more resources to rebuild the growth.”
“We can do this,” he exclaimed.
To listen to the full BCN interview with Mayor Scott, click here to go to BlackConsumerNews.com, or listen to the weekly Angel and Wesley podcast on Anchor/Spotify here. Besides the interview with the mayor, Burt and Bolly also discussed equitable city bidding for Black contractors in Little Rock, voter turnout for Tuesday’s election, and the impact of Mayor Scott’s Rebuild the Rock on the Black community.
Earlier on the Sept. 3 edition of BCN Headlines, Burt and BCN Publisher and Executive Editor Wesley Brown also interviewed Little Rock City Director Antwan Phillips about the upcoming special election. Go here and here to listen to that interview.
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