Vote to decide the future of Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library – NEA Report

Craighead County voters have a big choice in the upcoming ballot when it comes to library funding. Either the voters keep things the way they are, or they cut the funding in half.

And like most disagreements, each side raises valid points while finding a way to ignore opposing arguments.

Factual background

Funding for the Craighead Jonesboro County Public Library (CCJPL) will be cut from 2 to 1 mill if voters decide to approve a mileage reduction in the November ballot.

The Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough group gathered the required signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Iris Stevens is the coordinator of the group and also the coordinator of the NEA Tea Party. She is a retired English teacher.

“It started in February or March of 2021,” Stevens said, saying the matter was unrelated to recent politics. “Another citizen and I got together and we were talking about the upcoming reassessments and how that was going to change. This person had looked at many taxes in NEA and this probably won’t Go to be the only one we watched.

Do we pay more?

One of the highlights of “Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough” was that the CCJPL has $6 million in the bank. CCJPL Director Vanessa Adams clarified that this is because they are term funded. It’s a system they’ve used since the 1940s, she says, to protect both taxpayers and the library.

“Funded term, by our library definition, that all the funding we got last year is what we’re living on this year,” Adams said. “So all the property tax, all the mileage that we get now this year, is going to fund us next year. It’s a great format.

This explains why the library has set up a surplus fund. But since the library generates more revenue than its operating expenses, the question arises whether the library is overfunded. Library director Adams says no. Citizen organizer Stevens says yes.

A county may levy up to 5 mills under Arkansas law for the maintenance and operation of a library, authorized by Amendment 38 of the Arkansas Constitution. Any changes must be made by voters. Stevens said Craighead County is unusually high at 2 mills when considering property value and size.

As a Class 6 county (Class 7 is the highest), Craighead County collects more mills for its library than other counties of a similar size (The source). However, it is essential to note that this is still not disproportionately high. Saline County has 1.7 mills, Jefferson County 1.4 mills, and Garland County 1.6 mills. At 2 factories, Craighead would go from being one of the best-funded libraries to one of the worst-funded, if funding were cut in half to 1 million. Faulkner County and White County, also Class 6 counties, collect 1 million.

What would be cut?

Jonesboro voters and Craighead County voters will vote FOR or AGAINST the measure, but each outcome has individual implications, Adams told NEA Report.

If the county cuts funding, all four county library branches will be forced to close. This includes Lake City, Brookland, Monette and Caraway.

Stevens, without being able to provide evidence, disputed this and said the branches would not be affected. She said she was working on documents to prove this, but they are not ready yet.

If Jonesboro’s measure passes, the library’s operating funds will be cut in half, Adams said, meaning much more visible consequences.

“We will potentially have to sell our mobile book,” Adams said. “We will have to reduce the hours. We will not be accessible to the public when we are now. We will reduce our programming. We’re doing a lot of outreach programs in nursing homes, Alzheimer’s units, daycares, we’re going to have to cut all of that. »

Stevens seemed to believe otherwise, in that the library could thrive and continue to adequately serve the community with the reduced mileage. Although Adams and library supporters disagree, Stevens said inflation and the recent spike in assessments across the region are the main reasons his group wants to cut funding for the library. the library.

“We’ve had high inflation for 40 years, with people seeing grocery prices go up a dollar or two per trip,” Stevens said. “Wherever we can help them, I believe we should. They are the ones paying the bills and we have to make sure they don’t overpay.

But a property tax is generally felt less by those who can barely afford food. The tax increases according to the value of the property. Of all taxes collected in Arkansas (state and local combined), 18.1% comes from property taxes. It is the fifth lowest in the country, according to TaxFoundation.orgwhere the average is 31%.

Stevens acknowledged this, but said a ripple effect from big landowners could still be felt by those struggling to get by.

“Those with smaller homes and lower incomes are already in deep trouble,” Stevens said. “So let’s raise their taxes more on reassessment. When assessments go up, the rent goes up for everyone. So it helps people who are struggling to pay their rent.

Until the results are known on election night, no one can predict with certainty which direction the tax measure will go. A vocal contingent appears to have rallied around the library in a social media campaign to ‘Save the Library’. The library director calls this encouraging and seems genuinely positive about the outlook. But it was clear that a bitter feeling would not go away for her at the mere concept, she said, of people wanting to fund a library that helps people who have nothing else.

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