LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Little Rock city officials could go back to voters and ask that the 2012 sales tax be renewed, but the proposal could include something voters first approved in the original tax more than a decade ago.
Little Rock District Court Judge Melanie Martin, along with the two other district court judges, opened the building’s doors to our cameras after we requested to see reported issues.
“It’s an overall concern for all the staff,” Martin said.
Earlier this month, a Washington-based consulting firm included photos of inside the court’s basement which houses the police property and evidence room.
Photos reveal sewage and leaking pipes in the court’s basement.
From chunks of concrete missing from a support beam to an extension cord running from the ceiling to the wall below it, Martin said there are many issues.
“This is pretty much the standard throughout the building,” Martin said. “Structural issues here going on.”
A door near the garage leads to the court’s historic records but knock twice.
“Surely, they can hear us,” Martin said.
Employees make as much noise as possible before opening the door because court staff has seen rats run out.
“I find it amazing we even have docket books from the 40s and 50s,” Martin shared.
She said the court has no choice but to store it near the garage.
“There’s no storage upstairs. There are employees stuffed in rooms,” Martin said.
There are three elected judges that work at the Little Rock District Court building, but there are only two courtrooms. Martin said two judges have to share a courtroom which can create a scheduling conflict.
In 2011, Little Rock voters approved a 3/8th-cent sales tax. Projects range from the 12th Street substation to the 911 system upgrade — all complete.
The Little Rock Board of Directors and voters approved the renovation or construction of a police headquarters and district courts building.
Crews hammer nails at the new police headquarters building on Markham, but it will not include the city’s district court.
“I think this being the last project perhaps, an emphasis was not placed on revisiting this project,” Martin said.
Little Rock Chief Financial Officer Sarah Lenehan said in a written statement the court’s portion is the only project that will not be completed with the 3/8-cent funding.
“The 3/8-cent tax did not achieve the estimated growth of 2% per year over its 10-year life,” Lenehan replied.
So, what does that mean? The city does not have enough money.
“Combined with the increase in the cost of construction and materials due to the pandemic, the funds could not accommodate a combined Main Police Headquarters and Courts building,” Lenehan wrote.
The city has allocated $9,792,111 for the new police headquarters building and $7,807,112 has been spent so far.
“[It’s] been expended with the remainder encumbered with outstanding purchase orders,” Lenehan said.
Despite what Lenehan said, City Manager Bruce Moore said the city never wanted to combine the police and court building.
“It was always our intention to build both facilities. However, it was never envisioned as a joint facility,” Moore said.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Little Rock Board of Directors is expected to discuss sending the tax renewal to voters, but they have to decide what to fund first.
During a Board meeting earlier this year, Moore asked Board members to consider adding the construction of a new district court building to the tax renewal, which would include a new property room for LRPD.
Martin cannot talk about funding sources since that falls at City Hall, outside the court’s authority.
“The three branches work for that reason to kind of have a checks and balances in the system,” Martin said. “We all work well together.”