North Little Rock residents go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether the city will continue to have a “half-penny” sales tax supporting capital improvements.
Early voting began this week for the referendum, and 695 people have already voted, the Pulaski County Election Commission told the Democrat-Gazette at the end of the day Friday. While early voting ended that day at the William F. Laman Library and Glenview Community Center, the Pulaski County Regional Building will be open Monday from 8 am to 5 pm for those still hoping to cast their ballots ahead of election day. On Tuesday, residents will vote at their assigned polling places.
The tax is estimated to bring in $45 million in revenue over five years, North Little Rock Chief Financial Officer Ember Strange told the Democrat-Gazette. The city plans to put the tax revenue towards designated projects, which North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick refers to as the “three Ps”: parks, police (and fire) and public maintenance.
Both Hartwick and Strange said they view the new tax as a “continuation” rather than an addition. The current one-half percent sales tax, passed by North Little Rock voters in 2017, expires at the end of this year and helped fund the city’s $26 million justice center. The new tax would end in December 2027.
North Little Rock resident Steven Smith posted on Nextdoor Wednesday that he’d voted to extend the half-cent tax “to continue progress in troubling times.” He told the Democrat-Gazette he voted for the tax when he first moved to Park Hill in 2017, and since then, he’s seen many improvements. His Nextdoor post included a quote from former Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”
Hartwick said approving the tax will help the city continue making improvements. He said North Little Rock isn’t trying to “shortchange anyone” and said up to 40% of the tax revenue would come from non-resident taxpayers who make purchases in the city. The half-cent tax costs the average resident about $5 per year, Hartwick said.
But North Little Rock resident John Hawley cast his vote against the tax Thursday evening at the Laman Library. He said the city hasn’t done much to fix roads since 2017, so he doesn’t believe leaders will do much with the money from the continued tax.
“I figured that giving them extra money which they’re not going to use in the proper way is not the right way to go about it,” Hawley told the Democrat-Gazette.
Kenny Wallis, a North Little Rock resident who also campaigned against the city’s sales tax referendums in 2011 and 2017, told the Democrat-Gazette he believes the city should include capital improvements in the annual budget rather than relying on a tax to cover them.
Wallis said the people need a tax cut, especially during rising inflation and a possible recession. He encouraged residents to vote against the tax.
Derrell Hartwick, the president and CEO of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, said the tax revenue will be put towards “the betterment of the city,” and he said all the projects outlined in the tax directly affect economic growth.
When businesses consider moving to North Little Rock, Derrell Hartwick said, they want to know about the city’s public safety, parks and roads. He said quality of life is important for business growth.
Derrell Hartwick told the Democrat-Gazette on Thursday that early voting turnout has been higher than he expected, which he sees as positive. He also shared that residents can call the Chamber of Commerce for transportation to the polls on election day.
Under the plan, $18 million would enhance North Little Rock’s community centers, $15 million would upgrade North Little Rock Fire Department facilities and $10 million would improve city streets, sidewalks and drainage infrastructure. Mayor Hartwick said the city would allocate $2.5 million to each of the city’s four wards, the additional $2 million would fund new public safety vehicles.
On the ballot, North Little Rock voters will see the following question and have the option of casting their vote “for” or “against.”
“Adoption of a one-half percent (1/2%) local sales and use tax within the City of North Little Rock, Arkansas, which shall only be levied until December 31, 2027 and shall only be used to acquire, construct, repair , and/or improve streets, sidewalks, and drainage structures, and facilities for public safety departments (Police, Fire Department and Emergency Services Departments), and the Parks and Recreation Department, and for the acquisition of vehicles and/or equipment for public safety departments.”