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Fort Smith Public Library director advocates for millage increase

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A decision has not yet been made on if or when voters may decide on whether to approve a millage increase for the Fort Smith Public Library, but it is not keeping supporters of the library from drumming up support for their cause.

At a noon meeting of the Fort Smith chapter of the League of Women Voters on Monday (June 9), Library Director Jennifer Goodson made her pitch, explaining what the money would be used for should voters approve taking the millage from one mil to three mils.

Goodson said the library would focus on offering more of "nearly everything" offered by the library, including an expanded selection of traditional books, audiobooks and DVDs, in addition to a larger selection of eBooks, online magazine, Spanish language and large print books. The increased millage would also provide the library with faster Internet speeds, as well as more WiFi and on-site computers for library patrons.

"For one thing, traditional library services are still very well utilized in our libraries," she said, pointing to statistics that show nearly 434,000 visits to Fort Smith Public Library branches last year, as well as nearly half a million checkouts of books, videos, audiobooks, music CDs and magazines.

She said on average, 414 library cards are issued to Fort Smith residents each month, with 4,973 issued during all of 2013, including 635 issued to non-residents at a cost of $35 per year.

But according to Goodson, while traditional use of the library is still being utilized, patrons of the library are in need of new offerings available in other libraries around the country. Some of these could be available at Fort Smith's library in coming years with the approval of the millage increase, she said.

Among the items included in the library's vision presented Monday are offering live online tutoring for students resume and job hunting assistance, as well as online video software tutorial videos and offering new online video streaming to library members, similar to a Netflix-type service.

"There are a couple of products out there for libraries," she said. "So how about we buy Hoopla (a streaming video provider for libraries) and/or Freegal movies ... let's say we buy Hoopla and we buy Freegal movies and you just get your streaming video for free through your library card? How's that sound? That sounds like a pretty good idea. Well, that's part of the plan, too. Those are all digital services offered 24/7 that we're not currently offering and in some cases we're actually referring to other libraries because we don't have them."

The increased property tax revenue would also go toward digitizing microfilm offerings, as well as creating Redbox-style kiosks for books and DVDs all over Fort Smith. Another idea is creating a "maker space" that would offer all sorts of resources to residents, including 3D printing, video filming and editing, and media conversion services.

No building projects have yet been proposed as part of the millage increase discussed by Goodson and other library supporters. All the monies would go to expand services.

The budget for the library sits at $2.7 million, Goodson said, $1.4 million of which comes from one mil of property taxes passed in 1957. By increasing the millage rate by two mils, the library would increase the operating budget to $5.5 million assuming collection of an additional $2.8 million in property taxes to support the library.

What it means for the typical Fort Smith resident is an increase of property taxes on a $100,000 home of about $40 per year, brining total taxes paid per home to the library to about $60.

In the most recent home sales report for Sebastian County, the average home sale price was $129,284, meaning the average person just moving to Fort Smith or purchasing a new home in the city could expect paying an average of $78 in property taxes to the library.

Additional funding for the library includes 6% of the city's share of the county sales tax, which amounts to nearly $900,000; about $200,000 in state funding; grants; and about $100,000 in fines and fees, including non-resident fees, which Goodson conceded could triple should the millage pass, bringing the non-resident fee in line with what residents of the city would pay in property taxes. The library now uses about $100,000 from its capital reserves to fund operations, Goodson added.

Library board member Ben Shipley said residents who constantly compare Fort Smith to the more prosperous Northwest Arkansas should consider the value libraries add to communities, as well as the economic impact libraries make on communities as explained in a Gates Foundation study commissioned in 2007.

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"This is a wonderful opportunity to become state of the art in terms of library services that are offered to folks," he said.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors will hold a special meeting Tuesday (June 10) to determine whether to hold an election for the millage increase. If approved, the city Board will also determine the date of the election. If the election is held August 12 as the library board has requested, Goodson said it would front the $30,000 cost of the election.

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Comments

This vote should be held in

This vote should be held in November during the general election.

The Vote On Property The Tax Increase

should be held in November during the General Election and then no special election would be necessary that would raise everyone's cost.

Special elections were for things that couldn't wait..

..until politicians saw the highly encouraging low turnout in the things and realized how easily they could manipulate it. Frankly Ms Goodson is really starting to mystify me about November with her persistence. There has to be some reason they are willing to burn $30,000 of their own money to rush this deal up. Uh oh. Maybe it's because they're not really burning it..they will get $233,334 a month extra for each month sooner that this 200% millage increase starts. Shhh!

Practice Practice Practice

They all seem to have learned that special elections have low voter turnout so they organize and send all their supporters out to vote to steal an election. Our City Hall has taught them well with practice, practice, practice.

I think your right.

That is an interesting observation. I believe you are correct. There seems to be a willingness to spend 17-30 thousand, in the hopes of more Yes voters willing to get out than No voters. Looking around town, money has also been spent on yard signs promoting the vote, as well as a newly created website simply for promotion. [http://librarieschangelives.us/]

special election

There's no urgency in this situation. The special election is only to get the tax passed as the only people who will vote will be the ones in favor. I see no reason why the city directors would let the system be manipulated like this. I thought our city had progressed!! This is outrageous.

Property Taxes and More

Put it on the November Ballot when most folks vote and let the people decide if they want to pay more property tax to support the library tax.

Taxed To Death

Fort Smith hasn't progressed in more than 75 years. Enough is enough. We are being taxed to death. If they want a new high school, library, fire station, or whatever else, let them earn it by utilizing the taxes already in place. If this city would get out of the 1860's and allow business (both large and small) come to town, grow and pay taxes it would promote a growth in population which would also end up increasing the tax income to a point where we don't have to increase taxes but have a quantitative increase in tax revenue. Then again Fort Smith is afraid of growth. My idea is nothing but a pipe dream that can only happen in places like NWA.

Puppets On Display

The BOD is only doing what they are told to do by the puppet master so what's new?

Board of Directors Should Vote NO Additional Millage or Election

Fort Smith citizens should already be proud of our current library system. We have a beautiful Main Library and 3 additional branches. But the Board of Directors should ask, how much is enough? Do we really need a public library to be on the cutting edge with Netflix type video streaming and Redbox type kiosks for books and DVDs? If so, maybe we should close some branch libraries and concentrate on kiosks locations. The library receives additional revenue each year as property values go up and that can't be said for the average worker in Fort Smith. The Board of Directors should NOT allow $30,000 of taxpayer money to be spent on a cheap wholesale special election for a millage increase. Should the board decide to allow the issue to go before the voters, then at least respect the average working person, who is typically too busy providing and raising their families enough respect to have the issue on the November ballot.
Fort Smith citizens should already be proud of our current library system. We have a beautiful Main Library and 3 additional branches. But the Board of Directors should ask, how much is enough? Do we really need a public library to be on the cutting edge with Netflix type video streaming and Redbox type kiosks for books and DVDs? If so, maybe we should close some branch libraries and concentrate on kiosks locations. The library receives additional revenue each year as property values go up and that can't be said for the average worker in Fort Smith. The Board of Directors should NOT allow $30,000 of taxpayer money to be spent on a cheap wholesale special ...>> Read the entire comment.

A 500% increase easily could have been extracted..

..for the library since a special election was perfunctorily approved by City Directors other than Catsavis with no questions whatsoever as to how much Paula Goodsons suggested improvements might actually cost to implement. At any rate due to her savvy investment in a special election this should drop around an extra $933,336 into her coffers based on 4 extra months collections.

Great...higher taxes

This is absurd. More taxes, just what the people of Fort Smith need. It's not like the ideas proposed are necessary either. Would "free" video streaming (although not really free as we would be paying for it)and a 3D printer be nice, sure, but not a necessity. I had to cut my cable and faster internet just to pay my bills because our taxes are already so high on our home. I just want to be able to afford to feed my family, not have the luxury to access a "free" book kiosk any time I want. What's so wrong with continuing with their current methods that obviously are still being used?