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Businesses would pay most of millage increase for library

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

In discussions about a two mil increase in property taxes to benefit the Fort Smith Public Library, much attention has been paid to the impact a tax increase could have on homeowners. But property tax records indicate that businesses operating in Fort Smith could be on the hook for a large portion of the estimated $2.8 million raised through the tax increase.

Early voting on the library tax begins Tuesday (Aug. 5) and continues weekdays through Monday (Aug. 11) in room G-8 of the Sebastian County Courthouse in Fort Smith.

Voters casting ballots in the special election on Aug. 12 will vote in one of four polling sites:
• Ward 1: Creekmore Park;
• Ward 2: Windsor Drive Library;
• Ward 3: Southside Senior Center; and
• Ward 4: East Side Baptist Church.

BUSINESS IMPACT
Property tax figures and projections based on assessed property values were provided to The City Wire by the Sebastian County Assessor's office. They indicate that the top 22 line items would make up 12% of the increase in taxes if the millage rate supporting the library increases from one mil to two mils.

It should be noted that the line items may not include all parcels or business personal property owned by the companies listed in the report. For example, Baldor Electric Company confirmed that property tax information listed in the report included only one parcel from its 2013 tax bill while excluding other parcels owned by the company.

The top company listed in the report is Fort Smith HMA LLC, with a value of $17.841 million. At the current one mil rate, HMA's property tax benefitting the library would only stand at $17,841. If the millage increase passes Aug. 12, the company's tax obligation for increases to $53,523, a difference of $35,682.

Nearly tied for the same increase is Gerber Products Company, which would see its taxes on an assessed value of $16.79 million increase from $16,790 per year to $50,370, an increase of $33,580.

Third on the list are seven properties owned by Wal-Mart, including the Sam's Club location on Rogers Avenue. The total combined assessed value of the properties stands at $14.213 million with a tax obligation on one mil of $14,213. If the millage for the library passes, the total Wal-Mart would owe in taxes increases to $42,640, a difference of $28,427.

For just the three businesses listed as having the largest tax obligation, the increase combined would equal $97,689. The figure for the three is 3.48% of the $2.8 million library Executive Director Jennifer Goodson has said would be raised annually by tripling the millage rate. Just the 22 line item payments provided by the Assessor’s office would account for 12% – $336,170 – of the total, an indication of how much of the property tax bill is paid by business operations with property and certain fixed assets in Fort Smith. Businesses on the list also include Gerber, O.K. Foods, Golden Living, Sparks Health System, Mercy-Fort Smith, Mars Petcare and ArcBest Corp.

‘A UNIVERSAL THING’
Asked before a town hall event Monday evening (Aug. 4) touting the library's proposed tax increase for reaction to the impact a millage increase could have on businesses, Goodson said she "was not equipped to comment on that." Asked whether the library's board of trustees had considered the impact a tax increase could have on businesses in addition to residences, Goodson said, "We knew that the business community would be impacted."

"We're just talking about the future of the community. That's what our focus is. And so if a business and/or individuals believe that this plan is something that is good for the future of Fort Smith, then they make that decision. We don't make a distinction about business perspective versus individuals, people who have a lot of money or people who have a little money. The library is a universal thing in our community, so we've been targeting a variety of folks not a particular segment in everything we've done."

In presentations to the public, Goodson has said the tax impact on a $100,000 home would amount to about $5 per month, or $60 per year, in total taxes paid to the benefit of the library. Goodson confirmed Monday that the taxes would also go up on personal property, such as cars and boats. Information from the Assessor’s office indicates the average tax bill in Fort Smith will rise $72.86 if the millage increase is approved.

NOT A SHARED VISION
Goodson's remarks regarding the fiscal impact a tax increase would have on the city's biggest taxpayers came before a town hall meeting of about 25 individuals which saw most residents who chose to speak voicing opposition to the millage increase. Resident Jay Wiechert was among those who spoke out against the increase.

"We have one mil. You're wanting three mils. That's greed. Shame on you. Shame on you. How can you go from one mil to three mils and keep a straight face?"

Goodson referred to her presentation of nearly an hour Monday night, interviews and information available online as proof that the library board had a plan for the money should voters approve the tax hike.

"And if that is not your vision for the library and its impact in the community, then I certainly respect that. But it is the vision of the board, staff and a number of our stakeholders,” Goodson explained.

HISTORICAL COSTS
Fort Smith resident Jerry Fleming also spoke and had presented town hall attendees calculations, which showed the library had increased its receipt of tax proceeds by 6,397.22% since 1958. The library's one mil property tax rate was passed in 1957. Fowler's chart — formed using data provided to him by the library and presented to attendees Monday — shows the library collected $36,000 from one mil in property taxes in 1958. The total is estimated to be $1.413 million from the one mil in 2014.

The total increase in operating budget included 6% provided to the library from the city's 1% of the county sales tax proceeds. The distribution to the library began in 1995 with $596,000 and is expected to increase to an estimated total of $926,000 this year.

The total from both taxes are estimated to ring in at $2.339 million this year, or 64 times more revenue generated in 2014 than 1958, according to Fowler.

Goodson responded by noting that inflation had increased from the 1950s to present day, noting the rise in the price of an automobile which she said was priced at $2,700 in the 1950s. She also said the library provides more services than in 1958 and has four branches, versus one when the current millage rate was approved by voters. Goodson's response did not persuade Fowler, who said he was not opposed to all proposals included in the library's plan but said the proposed increase was simply too much.

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"If you multiply that (the quoted price of a car in 1958) times 64, a car today would be $172,800. A house, $20,000 times 64 is $1.28 million. Bacon, 39 cents a pound in 1958 times 64, we'd be paying $25 for bacon. The only thing that got a 64 times increase that I can find is the library. Now I really don't think that's material. I've said that all along. I just wish you'd stop that being your major theme and that is your major theme."

Resident Don Dickey said the proposed spending plan Goodson and the trustee board have formed for the first year the tax revenues are available (2016) does not address future ongoing budgets, noting that as a business owner he must present business projects and budgets with projections for five years out before he can get a loan from a bank.

Goodson called the proposed budget "a flexible document, not a rulebook. We've got a good first year, but we need to see what we learn and what we experience between now and 2017."

Fowler compared Goodson's response to that of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who famously said of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 before it was voted on in the House: "(W)e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

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Comments

So much quality of life we can't afford to live it?

New businesses also look at expenses in possible new locations. Utility rates, millages, sales tax. Folks maybe we should realize right here and now there's a long line forming for our pocketbooks and Jennifer Goodson just cut in front of everybody else. We have a new high school looming, the re$ults of a $340,000 survey are about in, there's a guy with a shovel and a fancy sports car wanting to build a museum that's about 3/4 short of the money he needs and I guess I'm the only one who notices all that water BEHIND the thing in the picture. The mayor in his last campaign quite unbelievably mentioned yet ANOTHER lake project and BTW has the sewer project they put off for the 25 years while they spent all the money they could get their hands on elsewhere started hitting our bills yet? Each new tax has simply been the basis for the next new tax my entire life in this city. They lick the bowl clean and then try to look cute over and over again usually in a low turnout special election. Not me not this time. If Abe Lincoln could do it laying on the floor surely we can do it at a building that already rivals the Taj Mahal. Early voting every day thru Monday or Tuesday at your own out of the way location. Eating makes great cities too!
New businesses also look at expenses in possible new locations. Utility rates, millages, sales tax. Folks maybe we should realize right here and now there's a long line forming for our pocketbooks and Jennifer Goodson just cut in front of everybody else. We have a new high school looming, the re$ults of a $340,000 survey are about in, there's a guy with a shovel and a fancy sports car wanting to build a museum that's about 3/4 short of the money he needs and I guess I'm the only one who notices all that water BEHIND the thing in the picture. The mayor in his last campaign quite unbelievably mentioned yet ANOTHER lake project and BTW has the sewer project they put ...>> Read the entire comment.

Thank You Gen4

Just for telling it the way that it is in Fort Smith and some of us want you to know that we see the very dirty water behind the picture too!

No thanks

This even furthers the need to squash this increase. I don't care whether or not there hasn't been a millage increase specifically for the library in 50 years+ or not. Increasing the tax burden on anyone, including businesses, in Fort Smith is a horrible idea. This is quickly becoming an area of depression and is already the laughing stock of the state of Arkansas because of poor leadership and low ambition. It's the "what should have been" town still living in the 1800's where everything is considered "historic" and progress is stopped at every corner. Now you want to place a bigger burden on businesses while screaming "please, don't go to Mexico". Shame on anyone who is asking for this tax right now. There's a time to ask for things like this and it's not now and trying shove it through a low-turnout special election during a time when the unemployment rate of the region is 6.5% and the real unemmployment rate is probably more like 15-20%. Fix the local economy, get rid of regulatory policies, invite businesses to thrive here (notice I said thrive, not just exist) and then, when things are improved, you can reinvestigate a massive increase on the taxes, including the majority who don't even go to the library who are being taxed to death to support it.

"including the majority who

"including the majority who don't even go to the library who are being taxed to death to support it" This is one of the most ridiculous arguments I have ever heard. I do not now, nor have I ever, had any children in the Fort Smith Public Schools. I do, however, have to pay my fair share of taxes to support the school system - including a potential 3rd high school! I also, as an intelligent human being, understand that our community NEEDS to educate our young people and so I am happy to pay a share. Just because YOU do not utilize the public library does not mean it does not contribute a vital service to our community. This is how communities work - we ALL pay for things that will enrich the area we choose to live in, whether we use them personally or not. Perhaps if you chose to utilize your public library a bit more, you would realize it's actual value goes far beyond not only what we are currently paying, but what we are being asked to pay in the future as well. I will be voting YES to help ensure that this city I love will continue to move forward.

We are about to be deluged with great ideas for taxes.

Each of them will likely be presented as extremely crucial to our advancement and if we fail it may well be due to a new tax idea somebody had that we didn't pass. As the intelligent person you say you are surely you realize this more and more can't keep happening forever especially in a sputtering economy like here in the fort can't you? 1. I am voting NO to an extravagance here 2. I will always vote NO in special elections from here on out as they've become merely a sham to bypass the will of the people.

I'm interested in this notion

I'm interested in this notion of Fort Smith being a "sputtering" economy and wonder where it comes from. I read monthly, here on the City Wire, about all of the new businesses coming into town and all of the new building permits and renovations that are requested. The most recent article states "Fort Smith area building permits up more than 10% through July" (http://www.thecitywire.com/node/34127#.U-OIwONdXAk). It has been my observation that building and renovations slow down in times of economic uncertainty and downturns. This is not, of course, the only indicator of how a city is doing, but it is an important one. Next, your statement that you will always vote NO in special elections from now on is troubling. I support wholeheartedly your right to vote no against this (or any) issue, but to make a blanket statement like that about all possible future issues indicates a lack of willingness to research specific issues. By all means, vote your conscious, but please also take some time to research each individual issues. Lastly, I honestly do not understand how a special election is supposed to "bypass the will of the people". If people are too lazy to participate in the running of our government on more than one day a year, they have no right to complain about it later. Early voting opportunities also negate the limited polling places complaint - there is no reason that the majority of people cannot make it to either the courthouse downtown beforehand or their local polling place on the day of the election. I have done my research and am satisfied that what the library is asking for is not extravagant and I will be supporting the issue and voting YES on Tuesday.

Just Saying Hold On To Your Wallet

When business is forced to pay more property tax, they must raise their prices on the products they sell, so not only will your property taxes go up, but every single item that you buy in every store. So everyday, "Hang on to your wallet" folks because you could be paying much higher property taxes on your home and a higher price for what you must buy in every store.

Empty Wallets

If this INSANE library tax is passed, every single item purchased in a store in Fort Smith will GO UP. This INSANE tax will cause every business owner to raise prices on everything that they sell so property owners will see a huge increase in their property taxes and be HIT AGAIN when they buy anything over the counter at their favorite store. THINK ABOUT IT!

It Make Sense

If Business owners property taxes go up, it just makes sense that business owners would be forced to raise prices on everything that they sell or lay people off.

10 lowest taxed places-Ft Smith missed it again!

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/10-low-tax-places-retire-134214862.html Just 10 clicks will have you wondering just what the %#!@ is going on in one of the lowest paying places to be found! Could it be cushy good ol' boys deals at the top and people on committees shuffling money back and forth? Go look at what some people get out of paying for that you'll never see in a town that's been cheating people out of life and money from the start! From now until Aug 12th you can do something about the latest phase of the plan to eventually bankrupt your household!

Anti-library spokesmen use statistics provided by the library

Find it beyond ironic that those against the millage increase relied on the library to obtain information which they used in their presentations.. What would they do without the library and the services it provides for everyone? Vote for the millage.

Now That's Funny

The Library openly informs us that they are screwing us with a tax increase on property taxes and anything that we buy and this person claims that we should vote for the tax because they are honest about screwing us. How do you like that logic?

Its Worse Than Just Funny

The Newspaper said that everyone should vote for the increased property taxes to support the library but the Newspaper is moving all their printing operations to Northwest Arkansas to cut their costs and leasing out their Fort Smith Building. Wonder if the Newspaper is wanting to escape the high property taxes? Hmmm

They have refused to print the news from the start

and now their biggest fans are the happily uninformed here. IMO the fact that they have relentlessly refused to play their role for around a hundred years in the way our democracy was intended should award them much if not the most credit for the current mess our city is in. I haven't read it of course but in their very predictable parroting of MS Goodsons wishes do they say even ONE thing about how highly taxed we already are?

What role? Who? Are you

What role? Who? Are you referring to the newspaper or the library?

Postal Service

The newspaper boys wanted to be close to the postal service that moved up there.

We are saying we don't wish to pay TRIPLE,

we are not saying we don't want to pay a tax that's already in place. Come to think of it here in the Fort, have you ever seen a tax REDUCED or REMOVED once it's been voted in? Can you even imagine that happening here? Yet another reason not to embark on an extravaganza in the midst of pretending a recession is over perhaps? Early voting at the courthouse until Monday.

you ask me for money I ask for explanation

What kind of thinking is this? I think it is supposed to work like this: You ask for my tax money you better be ready to explain how it will be used or you will NOT get it. Just asking the library to supply some numbers to justify tripling my tax is ruffling your feathers! Asking for more than a one year projection revealed NO ONE had looked to actually see how the money would be used beyond the first year. You mention "STATISTICS ". Well, sonny, they dont exist

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