Outlining priorities for Little Rock’s 2020 budget

by Frank Scott, Jr. (fscottjr@littlerock.gov) 374 views 

Change is confusing. It can be destructive and constructive, frustrating and liberating, at the same time. What’s certain is there’s no growth without change; and without growth, there is no life.

In 2019, I’ve asked Little Rock to embrace change in the name of uniting our City and moving us forward. Last Spring, we asked the City Board of Directors to make a tough decision, to change the budget mid-year by cutting unsupported spending. As we’ve moved into the 2020 budget cycle, it’s clear that without that decisive action, we would be facing a shortfall of approximately $6 million today.

Tuesday evening (Nov. 26), we’ll ask the Board to move boldly again, to approve a balanced budget for 2020 that is economically and fiscally responsible, putting us on the right track for growth. While no budget proposal will ever satisfy everyone, this budget addresses the City’s most broad and fundamental needs: Quality of Life, Education, Public Safety, Housing, Infrastructure, and Economic Development.

The proposal includes 14 new Waste Disposal positions to improve solid waste collection in every corner of the City. We have also proposed various personnel enhancements for Waste Disposal, Code Enforcement, Animal Services, and other front-line Street Fund workers. These employees, who accomplish many of the most difficult tasks, are critical to our residents’ quality of life, and we remain grateful for each and every City employee striving to provide the best customer service possible to our residents.

Our ongoing effort to improve public safety began with the hiring of Police Chief Keith Humphrey and the creation of Arkansas’s first Citizen Review Board. The 2020 Budget continues this effort by providing funding for 150 body-worn cameras for LRPD officers to increase accountability for both residents and police. Additionally, the 2020 Budget provides operating funding for the new Little Rock Fire Department Station No. 24 in Southwest Little Rock.

Much of the change in this proposed budget reflects shifts in approach or priorities, but one issue represents a fundamental shift in City policy. Accordingly, we have suggested the City target some existing Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment dollars to implement a community schools model to provide wrap-around services aimed at students, families, and communities that need it most.

For years, as the Little Rock School District (LRSD) has struggled with various issues, including revolving-door leadership and shifting public-policy agendas, the City of Little Rock has adopted a hands-off approach – presumably under the theory that more cooks in the kitchen couldn’t possibly improve the soup.

It’s time for a different approach.

It’s time to acknowledge that too many of the students in the LRSD live in poverty and in neighborhoods that have been plagued with neglect and violence. It’s time for the City of Little Rock to acknowledge that the schools can’t rise without the neighborhoods and the neighborhoods can’t rise without the City, united.

Hands off won’t work anymore.

In fact, we need all hands on deck. It’s time for the City of Little Rock to invest holistically in our most precious assets – our children. This proposed budget does just that. For our City to thrive, economically, socially, or otherwise, we need a world class education system. I believe investing in our community through our schools is how we get there.

Our budget should reflect our priorities. Education is a priority for the City of Little Rock. It’s time we demonstrate that with a targeted approach.
All hands in.

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Editor’s note: Frank Scott, Jr. was sworn in as Little Rock mayor on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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