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Mayor Mark Stodola's 2012 State of the City Address

March 27, 2012

Download 2012 State of the City Address

Thank you Vice Mayor Dean Kumpuris for that warm and gracious introduction.

To my colleagues on the Board of Directors, City Manager Bruce Moore, City Attorney Tom Carpenter, to the many City employees and to the citizens of Little Rock, thank you for joining me here at Dunbar Community Center in Ward One for the annual State of the City Address. This is such a fine facility, offering various programs for both young and old, it is a model of the kind of city buildings and services we provide to our people that are so important to the vitality of a neighborhood and the vitality of the human spirit in this community.

In this instance, knowing the importance of City improvements such as this, our citizens in 2003 voted to maintain 3.3 mills of property tax for capital improvements covering a variety of important projects throughout the City. Street improvements, drainage projects, the firefighter training center and like were constructed and built between 2004 and 2007 -- $69,000,000 was spent on much-needed capital improvements in our city. $1.9 million was spent improving this facility.

When I reflect on what is the most important asset in our city, there is no question in my mind that it is found in the very nature of our people – and the strength of “community.” This “community” is an extraordinarily powerful and positive force that is helping to make Little Rock the next great City in the South.

We saw the power of this force, these strategic alliances, in the vast and diverse composite of groups and individuals who came together to pass a much needed sales tax increase last year in the midst of the biggest recession since the Great Depression. It was a commanding victory which found its strength in a vision of what the future holds for our city, its people and, importantly, the children of our city.

I want to thank our City Board of Directors for their leadership, and I want to thank the countless individuals and organizations who came together on September 13th of last year to give us this sweet victory.

These strategic partnerships, made up of people focused on the positive, on the future, rather than on the past, understood the meaning of “community.” It was truly a gratifying win!

It is now our job as the stewards of these revenues to ensure that the monies are spent wisely and spent as we promised they would be spent. Building trust with our citizens and ensuring accountability is absolutely paramount. We have formed a voluntary citizens group, called the CENT Committee, which will help to monitor the expenditure of our new tax revenue to ensure we are providing the services we promised during the campaign.

Just this month, we began to receive the revenue from the one-penny increase in the sales tax. The revenue generated from this new tax is consistent with our projections.  Because the citizens voted for this – in 2012 this year, the first year of our ten-year program, we will now begin the process of  

  • Hiring 52 new police officers to make our streets safer, the first batch will be fully trained and hit the streets in October.
  • Hiring 20 new 911 operators, improving response times.
  • Hiring 36 new firefighters with a new crew ready to occupy a new firestation coming on line by the end of the year.
  • Replacing an antiquated 20-year-old public safety communications tower.
  • Building the 12th Street Midtown Police Substation.
  • Locating and outfitting a West Little Rock Police Substation.
  • Building and completing the West Little Rock fire station which should open by December of this year.
  • Siting the location for a Southwest Little Rock Fire Station.
  • Building and completing our Senior Center on 12th Street.
  • Siting and beginning the design process for the West Central Community Center.
  • Additionally, we are hiring 20 code enforcement officers, so important for safe and clean neighborhoods.
  • We will be providing economic development infrastructure funds to create jobs. This has already been evidenced by the new $100 million new capital investment Welspun will be making to manufacture smaller diameter steel pipes and in so doing, adding 200 new jobs to our community.  Announcement made last month

All of these things, coupled with new city park upgrades, the hiring of additional park maintenance workers, new zoo exhibits and upgrades; adding public transit routes, committing additional funding for neighborhood based and community initiatives aimed at giving our citizens usable skills for gainful employment, and developing successful re-entry programs in an effort to reduce prison recidivism rates, are the ingredients for creating a great city. This summer the City will be hiring over 500 young people, teaching them the importance of an education and teaching them about responsibility. So I say thank you to our citizens for giving us the opportunity to work for you to improve this city.

I want you to know that all of my colleagues up here with me deeply love this City and while we all have our own unique ways of showing our love, be assured it is very much real! If I start to name the causes and issues that each has taken up as a reflection of their love, we will be here all day. So, rather, I simply want to say thank you to my colleagues for the passion and commitment each of you continues to make to improve our city. While we don’t always agree, so too is that the nature of an engaged democracy, the right to speak out; to engage in respectful dialogue among ourselves and with our citizens.  It is the hallmark of the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

Let me also compliment City Manager Bruce Moore, City Attorney Tom Carpenter and our employees. They have the task of taking our ideas, projects and policies and turning them into reality on a daily basis. They make sure the engine of city services is running effectively.

I won’t be able to highlight everything. Our city, like a major corporation, does a myriad of functions on a daily basis, but here is a sample of what our employees do to make a real difference in our everyday lives:

  • While we have seen a small percentage increase in the number of felony crimes committed this past year, it is still the fourth consecutive year we have reported under 18,000 UCR felony offenses. By comparison, in 1992, some 20 years ago with a population of 175,000 versus a population of 193,000 today, we reported nearly 29,000 UCR felony offenses. Chief Thomas is spearheading a reorganization of the Department which will coordinate the Quiet Nights Street Unit with the Detective Division on anticipating violent crime trends and assigning property crime investigators to the various Sub-Station Patrol Units.
  • Chief Summers has established Spanish Immersion classes for all line personnel and has developed an EMS Bicycle life-saving team to be utilized at major events in the City such as Riverfest and the Little Rock Marathon, which saw over 10,000 people take to our streets earlier this month.
  • Our Community Punishment Program, where people work off their fines for violating the law, contributed 26,912 hours or over $195,000 in labor to clean our Parks and work with various neighborhood organizations.
  • Our Fleet Services Department, under the leadership of Wendell Jones, was recognized as among the top 100 Best Fleets in North America. When you think of the number of cities and their size in the countries in North America, this is a very significant honor.
  • Steve Beck, Director of Public Works, has had streets rebuilt, repaved or extended to improve our daily travel and to help promote economic development, such as the 9th Street Extension, funded with Federal Recovery Act money, allowing greater employee access to the Fixed Base Operation businesses on the Northern and Western portions of Airport property. Major Airport expansion and modernization is underway at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport with the Port of Little Rock alone now home to over 4,000 jobs. 
  • This summer we will be opening the City’s Homeless Day Resource Center across the street from the Union Rescue Mission. Interestingly, three Clinton School students have been doing research on the transportation challenges facing many of our homeless population. They have conducted focus groups with the homeless and have learned that the jobs they are most interested in are at the Port, some 1,000 of them that require no particular skill set. Based on these interviews their research has concluded that the location of the City’s Day Resource Center on Confederate Boulevard, across the street from a soon-to-be-built 190-bed homeless shelter, is a very excellent location for accessing these jobs.
  • In the area of sustainability and environmental stewardship, Ronny Loe and Melinda Glasgow and her colleagues in Public Works have teamed up to bring us single-stream recycling and a rewards program, they have launched a recycling awareness campaign and a paper recycling program at Little Rock School District campuses. Our third annual Sustainability Summit is scheduled for April 1st and is focused on how sustainability is economically good for business.
  • Most people don’t realize that the City is very much involved in helping re-build neighborhoods, particularly those in the older parts of town south of I-630. Last year, the City spearheaded the building and renovating of over 143 homes through the use of its NSP funds, our Elderly Home Repair Program, our Urgent Need Program for very low-income and disabled homeowners, and our partnerships with students who come here every year through the World Changers program.
  • Neighborhood redevelopment is also evident as witnessed by the land acquisitions made by the City’s Land Bank Commission, which now has 58 properties in its inventory available for redevelopment.
  • While funds were scarce in 2011, we managed to condemn and demolish 107 structures. With what is on the agenda this evening, by the end of March, we will already have condemned 50 this year. All this is critically important to building up neighborhoods and reducing crime.
  • Our strategic partnerships with UALR, UAMS and various neighborhood groups resulted in the award of a coveted Promise Neighborhood planning grant which will be invaluable in improving our neighborhoods south of I-630.
  • Caran Curry and the grants team worked very hard this past year to help us receive many many grants. In particular, Main Street received the benefits of an EPA Greening America’s Capitals grant, only one of five awarded in the country. Soon, you will be seeing the tangible benefits of a greener and more pedestrian-friendly Main Street. That, coupled with the NEA Our Town grant to create an Arts District centered around the Repertory Theatre, spells out new opportunities for Main Street revitalization.
  • A City is truly uniquely defined not by what is normally expected as city services, filling pot holes, picking up the garbage, clean water and a good sewer system, but by those quality of life amenities that make a city special. INDEED WE ARE A SPECIAL PLACE. We, along with our neighbor to the north, have received special recognition for our bicycle and pedestrian trails. Along with Pulaski County’s efforts, our River Trail has become a top tourist destination nationally. We have adopted a new bicycle plan and, along with our City Bicycle Friendly Community Committee and other related groups, including Metroplan and the county, we all are working to close the loop along Cantrell Road. The River Trail, the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Park Bridge, opening up beautiful park lands owned by the City and the County is simply fantastic.
  • We also are finishing up our improvements to War Memorial Park, adding soccer fields at Natural Steps and finishing improvements to neighborhood parks such as the Prospect Terrace Park along with other park projects all funded by the 2004 Parks Revenue Bonds.

Last year, the Zoo opened up its new Penguin Pointe exhibit, funded by the Laura P. Nichols Foundation, to huge new crowds, resulting in a substantial increase in revenue. Our Little Rock Animal Village Shelter, for unwanted dogs and cats, which has received national recognition, processed an amazing 2,004 adoptions in 2011. Before the development of this facility, these animals, now in the hands of loving owners, would have been euthanized.

Last year in my State of the City speech, I focused on what the City could do through our Cities of Service grant to improve the health and thereby the education of our children. I am happy to report that in the area of student truancy, we have filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court a petition for a per curiam opinion to give our District Court the ability to interdict the truancy issue much earlier than the current status quo – which oftentimes takes 3-7 months before these cases go to court.

We partnered this past year with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Metroplan to identify those conditions of the built environment that diminish a child’s ability to succeed in school. We have documented the condition of all neighborhoods in our city within five blocks of our elementary schools, identifying inadequate community infrastructure. This includes the distance and lack of access to grocery stores, the age, safety and maintenance of playgrounds and parks, the adequacy of street lighting and the absence of sidewalks, recognizing that for children to reach their full potential the City can and must be a full partner in the process by improving and maintaining the public improvements we are responsible for.

  • We also are in the process of adopting a citywide and school-district-wide joint use agreement that facilitates partnerships between school leaders, community groups and the City, allowing both city property and school property to be used as a center for community life after the school day ends.

  • As part of the Mayor’s Community Wellness Program, we hosted a Healthy Food and Active Living Summit with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as our keynote speaker. We are launching a Healthy Vending Machine initiative and are providing technical assistance and incentives to start new farmers’ neighborhood market sites.
  • This past year Our Cities of Service Initiative launched our signature program “Love Your School” with pilot programs at Martin Luther King and Western Hills Elementary Schools focused on providing in-classroom nutritional instruction and school-based gardens.
  • Partnering with UALR, Philander Smith College and Arkansas Baptist College, we provided vigorous and age-appropriate walking programs for K-5 students to supplement their physical education classes. We have implemented parental healthy cooking classes for parents at Martin Luther King and Western Hills and plan to expand this initiative to four more schools in the Fall.
  • One of the issues so important to our citizens in the sales tax campaign was allocating money for streets, drainage and sidewalks. This year, in 2012 we will be spending $6.5 million citywide on immediate street and drainage problems.  During the remaining 9 years of the capital portion of our sales tax program we will be spending $8.4 million in each Ward. 

While this amount may sound good, and certainly is an improvement, please realize this total of $72 million is only 10% of the over $700 million in estimated costs for street and drainage improvements needed to fix the many problems citizens have brought to our attention.  Is there anything that can be done about this? 

The answer is yes, there is.

New opportunities continue to present themselves to us to help grow our City. During the sales tax campaign, I remarked that we had not built any streets since in 5 years since 2007, the final construction year of our 2004 Capital Improvement Bond issue. This was a reference to a voter-approved Bond election in 2003 to maintain an existing 3.3 millage for capital improvements that was slated for a 15-year payoff. I am happy to report that our Bond Trustee recently notified us that these bonds will pay off this year – a payoff in 8 years instead of 15 years. This millage for capital improvements has been in existence since 1958, some 54 years.

This fact provides us with a unique opportunity which must be decided this year before November when we send our millage rates for next year to the County. We have the opportunity to maintain or even reduce the existing millage rate, without raising any new property taxes which will allow us to continue to expand our construction of street improvements and drainage projects, OR we cannot, by letting it expire. So, again, let me emphasize, this can be done without raising any new taxes.

Thus, I am going to ask our City Board of Directors to consider referring to the voters a bond issue election later this year. I am proposing that we REDUCE the existing millage from 3.3 mills to 3 mills. Doing so, over a 15-year payoff period, will generate an estimated $105,000,000 for street, roadway and drainage improvements.  Our research has indicated that the millage rate has been as high as 3.75 mills. Currently, on an average home of $200,000, the 3.3 mills costs $132 annually. By reducing this to 3 mills, your property taxes for this will be reduced to $120. If the voters approve reducing and continuing this capital improvement millage, we will add $105 million in new growth and new jobs in our city. I believe this opportunity is worthy of our consideration. It will be a tremendous shot in the arm, giving us untold opportunities as a progressive city.

So, how do we fare? Like any metropolitan City, we have our share of challenges – but in my opinion, we compare very well. I believe you will agree with me, we are a very special place.

  1. The Brookings Institution continues to rank us as having the 4th-Strongest Metropolitan Economy in the country and 4th-Fastest Growing City for Green Jobs.
  2. Kiplinger ranks us as the 7th-Best Value City in the country.
  3. Forbes ranks Little Rock as the 6th-Best Mid-Size City for Jobs.
  4. This year, Forbes ranked us as the 2nd-Cleanest or Least-Toxic City in America and
  5. Gallup ranked us as the 6th-Happiest City in America.

So, let’s keep smiling; let’s be positive; and let’s all work together to make Little Rock the next great American city in the South!

God Bless you ………and God Bless this Fair City.

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