For the first time since 1994, Little Rock city voters approved a tax increase that was supported by Mayor Mark Stodola and city business leaders.
The special election called for two separate votes on a permanent 5/8 cent "operations" tax increase and a 10-year temporary 3/8 cent "capital investment" tax increase. The combined one-cent sales tax increase will generate an estimated $45 million annually for the city of Little Rock and will go into effect in January 2012.
The unofficial, but complete, vote tally showed the 5/8 cent tax passing 54-46%. The 3/8 cent tax also passed by a 54-46% margin. All told, more than 22,000 votes were cast for each measure.
According to supporters, the 5/8 cent tax would hire 52 new police office and 36 new firefighters. Additionally, the tax would create new Central Arkansas Transit routes and provide money for youth prevention and intervention programs.
The 3/8 cent capital investment tax would fund or partially fund:
* 2 new fire stations
* 2 new police sub-stations
* The replacement of an older public safety communications system
* Little Rock Port expansion
* A UAMS-UALR Technology Research Park aimed at developing and recruiting high-tech businesses
* New ball fields for youth sports
* Streets, sidewalks and drainage
Mayor Stodola told Fox 16 News that with passage of the taxes his first priorities will be for the communications system improvements and for hiring police, fire and 911 responders.
"I’m encouraged so far," Stodola said after early and absentee votes were tallied. "We want to see this city move forward." Stodola also promised that a citizen’s committee would be formed to push for transparency in the spending of the new money.
Jim Lynch, a spokesman for a grassroots group organized to defeat the tax increase plan, said it’s "hard to win when you’re being outspent 15-to-1."