Bud­get pre­view a breeze in NLR

Cost-cut­ting gets mayor’s praises

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS INSIDE - JAKE SAN­DLIN

North Lit­tle Rock City Coun­cil mem­bers breezed through a pre­lim­i­nary re­view of the city’s pro­posed bud­get for 2018 dur­ing a pub­lic work­shop Mon­day, not­ing how the city kept spend­ing low, even while know­ing ex­tra money would be com­ing next year from a new sales tax.

The $66.21 mil­lion gen­eral fund bud­get is be­low the $66.36 mil­lion bud­get for 2017 ap­proved al­most a year ago. Plus, the city ex­pects to add $3.3 mil­lion to its re­serves by next year’s end.

Mayor Joe Smith said he plans to call the bud­get for a vote at the coun­cil’s Dec. 11 coun­cil meet­ing. Coun­cil mem­bers will have one more reg­u­lar meet­ing be­fore that for any fur­ther tweak­ing.

North Lit­tle Rock vot­ers ap­proved in an Au­gust special elec­tion a 1 per­cent­age point in­crease, from 1 per­cent to 2 per­cent, in the city’s sale tax. With state and Pu­laski County taxes added to the city’s, the to­tal tax charged in­side North Lit­tle Rock will be 9.5 per­cent, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1.

De­spite the ex­tra tax money, the city kept its ex­pen­di­tures un­der con­trol, Smith told coun­cil mem­bers. Though col­lec­tion of the tax be­gins Jan. 1, the city won’t start re­ceiv­ing those new funds un­til March. The

bud­get projects $13.82 mil­lion from the new tax rev­enue.

“No. 1 is how proud we are that our depart­ment heads lis­tened to our chal­lenge and met our chal­lenge,” to keep ex­penses down, Smith said. “We treat this bud­get and this money as if it’s our own.”

Coun­cil mem­ber Debi Ross com­mended depart­ment heads for keep­ing their fund­ing re­quests in line with this year’s bud­get.

“This is prob­a­bly the eas­i­est bud­get we’re ever had in my 11 years on the coun­cil,” Ross said. “It’s not just that we had the additional tax

rev­enue com­ing in.”

One-half of the additional 1 per­cent city sales tax is per­ma­nent and will go into the gen­eral fund for oper­a­tions and main­te­nance. The other 0ne-half per­cent, to ex­pire in five years, is ded­i­cated to a new po­lice and courts build­ing, build­ing or ren­o­vat­ing fire sta­tions, and streets and drainage im­prove­ments.

The only hic­cup in Mon­day’s dis­cus­sion in­volved ques­tions over fire­fighter num­bers and the pos­si­ble con­sol­i­dat­ing of sta­tions dur­ing planned ren­o­va­tions and an eval­u­a­tion of fire cov­er­age ar­eas.

North Lit­tle Rock has 163 per­ma­nent fire­fight­ers and that num­ber will re­main next year, ac­cord­ing to the bud­get.

The num­ber of po­si­tions is 15 more than two years ago, but nine fewer than the max­i­mum 24 the city could have hired un­der a Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Staffing for Ad­e­quate Fire and Emer­gency Re­sponse grant awarded two years ago. Be­cause the grant ex­pires in Jan­uary, Smith said the city couldn’t af­ford to hire the re­main­ing nine it had al­ready trained and vet­ted.

“No­body is los­ing their job or even their rank. Pe­riod,” Smith said. “We will be look­ing to see what [sta­tions] are in the wrong spot. How we can bet­ter place our fire sta­tions. We will prob­a­bly build two brand new fire sta­tions.”

Lynn Dereuis­seaux, rep­re­sent­ing

the North Lit­tle Rock Fire­fight­ers Lo­cal 35, said dur­ing the meet­ing that in ap­ply­ing for the grant, the depart­ment an­swered “Yes” when asked if it planned “on try­ing to sus­tain” the num­ber of hires once the grant ex­pired.

“We told FEMA we would keep 24,” he told coun­cil mem­bers.

Smith said he dis­agreed. “We said we would do our best,” Smith said. “We kept 15 of 24. That’s pretty good. I think we’re fully staffed.

“As long as I’m mayor, I have no in­ten­tion of lay­ing off any fire­men,” Smith said. “And if we can cover our city with 10 sta­tions in­stead of 11, I think it would be pru­dent to do so.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.