Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. asked residents for their continued support and cooperation in his second State of the City address Thursday night, particularly in the form of approving a one-cent sales tax increase.
Scott, who made history in 2018 as Little Rock’s first popularly-elected black mayor, told the audience at the downtown headquarters of Heifer International the tax hike would fund infrastructure and early childhood education.
“We would no longer have to piecemeal our projects, but we will make tangible progress throughout Little Rock, thereby stimulating growth and development across our entire city,” Scott said.
Scott said the increase would help improve the city’s zoo, community centers, public safety, and to help re-imagine the now-closed Hindman and War Memorial golf courses as city parks and entertainment venues. The increase, he said, would amount to $50 million in additional revenue annually, and put Little Rock’s sales tax more in line with other communities in central Arkansas.
Scott also cited a 5% increase in sales tax revenue over the past year, contributing roughly $4 million to the city’s budget. But Scott also proposed an economic development fund for the city, funded by the sales tax increase.
“The fund would generate equitable economic development in our city while also working alongside the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce to recruit additional jobs to Little Rock.”
A few months after taking office, Scott used his first State of the City address to propose sweeping changes in the areas of education, law enforcement and city government. This year, Scott recounted the appointments of Police Chief Keith Humphrey and Chief Education Officer Jay Barth as successes in his first full year in office.
Humphrey's appointment, Scott said, allowed for changes to the department's controversial no-knock warrant policy, as well as instituting a citizens review board and securing funding for body-worn cameras. Under Barth, Scott said he would hope to see a "community schools" model expanded throughout the Little Rock School District.
A former banker, Scott also touted the city’s economic achievements under his administration.
“In 2019, working with the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the state, we announced over 1,000 new jobs that will be coming to our city which is $54 million in new payroll and $174 million in new capital expenditures,” Scott said. “But here’s this: we hope to double that number of jobs in the first quarter of this year.”
Another signature message of Scott’s campaign was to reshape the city’s form of government. Scott said he would present two ordinances granting the mayor’s office more authority, and assigning the city’s three at-large directors to regions encompassing existing wards.
“In order to lift Little Rock, our government must work for the people it represents, and this ordinance will better allow us to work for you,” Scott said.
A promise of last year’s State of the City address was to create a city’s office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Building upon that, Scott promised to hire a Chief Equity Officer to help build partnerships with the city’s minority and LGBTQIA+ communities.
On the topic of Opportunity Zones, which have polarized many in underserved communities, Scott promised an anti-displacement plan as well as greater community engagement. Looking forward, Scott urged residents to be on the lookout for his 2030 plan, set to be released at the end of March.
Scott was elected mayor in 2018 after defeating former Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus in a runoff election. Before becoming mayor, Scott served as an advisor to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, a state highway commissioner, and continues to serve as a Baptist minister in southwest Little Rock.