Layoffs possible in Little Rock budget amendment proposals

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — “Today is my 106th day. And we are sharing with you today, that we are behind 9 million dollars before I was even swore in,” Mayor Scott said. 

Tough decisions have yet to be made to keep the City of Little Rock’s budget in the black. 

Tuesday Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. called a special budget meeting to take a look at the financial health of the city. 

“We have to get our spending under control, so that’s number one,” Mayor Scott said. 

A storm has hit the rainy day fund for the City of Little Rock. 

 “We’ll go from 40 million to 33 million,” City Finance Director Sara Lenehan said about the city savings account. 

The 2018 budget took $7 million out of the fund. The 2019 budget is already projected to take another $2.2 million out. 

 “We cannot be a bank to other organizations and we got to make those tough decisions,” Mayor Scott said. 

“No one ever says, the hard part is we don’t have anything else to cut,” City Director Ken Richardson said during the meeting. 

Seventy-five percent of the city budget pays employee salaries. 

“But a more manageable personnel cost should be around 65 percent,” Mayor Scott said. 

Which means salaries or city positions could be cut. 

The discussion comes on the heels of the mayor’s safe city initiative where he wants to add 100 police officers in the next 5 years. 

“It’s interesting that on one hand, we’re talking about cutting and then on the same hand talking about spending more,” City Director Lance Hines said. 

It would cost the city 1.6 million dollars for every 20 officers, which doesn’t include training, vehicles or the proposed body cameras, according to the finance director Sara Lenehan. 

“We have to make certain public safety is a priority,” Mayor Scott said. 

In the meantime, the mayor has asked program directors to crunch numbers as well as launching a performance audit. 

 “We may not need to spend X amount of dollars anymore because we’re not receiving those results,” he said. 

The mayor says the research will create strategic and data-driven cuts to help make the city fiscally fit for the future. 

Mayor Scott said he’ll be working with Lenehan and the city manager to come up with three different budget amendments for the board to vote on. 

He said he wants to have it ready no later than June. 

The mayor’s office released the following statement Tuesday night:

On Tuesday, Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. conducted a budget hearing before the April 16, 2019 Board of Director’s Meeting to ensure Directors are aware of the City’s financial past, present, and future. The presentation by the City’s finance director and subsequent discussion addressed the status of the City’s general fund in preparation for potential efforts to amend the 2019 Adopted Budget (approved by the Board of Directors and Mayor Mark Stodola in December 2018).   

“As mayor, our City’s fiscal integrity must be a top priority because our ability to meet challenges and seize opportunities requires a healthy balance sheet,” Scott said. “Little Rock, like a number of cities its size across the country, is experiencing declining revenue while the demand for city services has increased. We have to get honest and serious about our spending.” 

Mayor Scott intends to issue an RFQ for an independent performance audit and is considering a cost reduction project to address the City’s external spending. In addition, Mayor Scott has asked the City of Little Rock’s department directors to consider and propose potential reductions to their respective budgets. No final or official decisions have been made.  

“It is imperative the City be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and under this administration, we will do just that. We will consider all possible options to alleviate the impact of reductions on our departments and to lessen the need for personnel cuts. 

“From the earliest days of my campaign, I made it clear that the people of Little Rock deserve to be safe on the streets and in their homes. There is more we can do to ensure we are truly a safe city. Accordingly, our budget must reflect our priorities, and public safety remains a top priority for Little Rock. We must do all we can to ensure safety while maintaining our financial integrity. We will strive to strike that balance over the coming months.”

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