LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A penny sales tax increase could be headed to Little Rock voters. Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. introduced his Rebuild the Rock initiative Wednesday, a program that would raise money for city improvement projects by taking an extra penny out of residents’ wallets.
Right now, 9% of funds from the increase are slated to head to the Little Rock Zoo, with projects including a new North America exhibit and interactive giraffe enclosure.
But before anything can get underway, voters will have to approve throwing in that extra cent and raising the city sales tax to 9.625%.
Those interested in visiting the “wild side” of Little Rock should head to the zoo, where families can explore over 30 acres of habitats and playgrounds. Monica Garrell and her kids do it all the time, letting off some afternoon energy on the many winding paths that lead to exhibits and enclosures.
“Our first stop is always the tigers,” Garrell said, with visit #2 being the elephants nearby.
But the Garrells may have a new starting place if Rebuilding the Rock passes.
The initiative would add new exhibits to the zoo within a 10 year period, including a giraffe feeding center. “It would be really neat to have something a little more interactive with the animals here,” Garrell said.
Creating a more interactive and engaging environment is the goal for director Susan Altrui. These projects are things she’s been working on for years, ever since the zoo’s master plan was introduced.
“This process actually started, believe it or not, back in 2014,” said Altrui. The sales tax increase would raise enough funds to carry out her vision, and answer the requests of visitors as to what they would like to see. “Really, they’re just going to be great for our guests,” Altrui said.
The zoo is one of many focus areas for the city. Under the initiative, parks like War Memorial would get an upgrade and plans are underway for adding a new senior center to the city. But not everyone is 100% on board just yet.
Directors at Tuesday’s board presentation questioned the heavy focus on parks and rec, when infrastructure and public safety are other areas that perhaps need more attention. “I like crime prevention, I like my firemen,” said B.J. Wyrick of ward 7, citing things that also need added funding. “I like my neighborhoods to be improving.”
But Altrui adds that quality of life is critical, and after a year stuck inside, people want to get out and enjoy the city. “They want to connect with nature,” she said, “and they want to connect with animals especially.” Garrell agrees with the need to get outside and enjoy the zoo, and says she’ll happily vote “yes” if the initiative makes it to the ballot. “It’s just a total gem to be able to have it in the city.”
In addition to zoo improvements, other areas covered in the increase include early childhood education and public safety.
This issue still has a way to go – the Little Rock Board of Directors must first vote to put the measure on the ballot, where it will then head to a popular vote. You can learn more about the Rebuild the Rock initiative HERE.