Don’t blame the voters

The City Wire editorial
admin@thecitywire.com

This notion that a majority of Fort Smithians are anti-progress and aren’t willing to pay the bill for socio-economic improvements is absurd and an unfortunate and ill-considered response among those frustrated by voter rejection of a library millage increase.

The millage question for the Fort Smith Public Library system would have raised the library's millage rate from one mil to three mils, which would have increased the library's operating budget by approximately $2.8 million. The millage question failed in an Aug. 12 special election with 64.02% against to 35.98% for out of 4,343 votes cast.

In comments on social media, opinions and in comments directed to The City Wire, supporters of the library millage have made clear their frustration and anger over the election outcome. Those emotions are understandable. A core group of library staffers and supporters worked hard to gain voter approval, and the margin of defeat surely stung.

There have been social media comments that the election outcome is an example of why Fort Smith is not keeping up with other cities – especially Northwest Arkansas cities. Some of the frustrated who live in other cities said the election outcome validates the reason they moved away from Fort Smith. Some have said the vote is proof that most in Fort Smith do not support services for children, seniors, and the unemployed. It confirmed for some that most in Fort Smith are selfish and uneducated cave people.

A local newspaper editorial suggests that the election outcome should result in “soul-searching” based on the “meanness” and “anger” and “complete misinformation” among those who opposed the millage increase. When it comes to paying the bills for a better community, the newspaper editorial said that too often “we pull our heads and feet into our shells and say, ‘no, no, no.’”

The editorial assessment is simply wrong, wrong, wrong – as is the perception that the library millage defeat reflects a broad anti-progress attitude in the city. To say the rejection of a $2.8 millage increase is a sign that voters always say “no, no, no” is to wholly ignore the more than $1 billion – yes, billion – of tax increases or extensions Fort Smith voters have approved in the past almost 30 years.

Let’s review our voting history on major funding proposals.

In 1985, voters approved a 1% tax for street and drainage improvements. The street sales tax — which sunsets every 10 years — was approved by voters again in 1995 (with 87.2% voting yes) and in 2005 (with 66.3% voting yes). The tax may appear on Fort Smith ballots again in 2015. That tax has generated more than $400 million in infrastructure support – some of which has allowed for economic development at Chaffee Crossing.

Fort Smith voters passed a second 1% sales tax in the 1988 general election in order to fund $31.5 million in revenue bonds for the Lee Creek water system. The sales tax passed with 71.6% of the vote. The city paid off the bonds before construction at Lee Creek was completed. With the bonds retired, the 1% sales tax also ended in February 1993.

After two failed attempts, Sebastian County and Fort Smith voters approved in 1994 (56.2% for) a countywide sales tax. The tax – which provides almost $1 million a year to the Fort Smith Public Library – was renewed in 2003 with 63.5% voter approval. The tax was overwhelmingly approved in May 2013 by almost 79% of voters. That tax has generated more than $450 million since 1994.

In 1997, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund a combined $45.6 million in revenue bonds for the Fort Smith Convention Center (then the Fort Smith Civic Center), the library, and a new riverfront park. Then, in 2001, voters approved another half-cent sales tax to fund a combined $80 million in bonds for the Lake Fort Smith Water Supply and for wet weather wastewater improvements. Once the bonds for the convention center, library, and riverfront park were paid off, the tax revenue for those bonds was automatically redirected to the water supply and wastewater improvements, meaning that a full penny of sales tax revenue was now funding those areas.

Residents of Sebastian County also pay a quarter-cent sales tax for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Voters approved the tax with 76.3% of the vote in a July 2001 special election.

In 2006, the city proposed using the combined 1% sales tax to cover new bonds for wastewater improvements, a riverfront sports complex, city hall improvements, and a public safety radio system. Voters rejected the sports complex and city hall bonds but approved the wastewater and public safety radio bonds. The city paid off the public safety radio bond over the next few years, and in 2009 it brought the combined 1% tax back to the ballot so voters could approve using it exclusively for wastewater improvements. The ballot measure passed with nearly 90% of the vote.

In March 2012, Fort Smith voters approved a broad package of infrastructure and recreational improvements through a 1% sales tax extension. Refinancing of bonds was approved by 75.8% of participating voters. The extension was estimated to finance more than $112.56 million in new bonds for water and sewer system improvements, and potentially direct $45 million in 10 years toward the operations of the city’s Fire Department and Parks Department. A $9.11 million plan for fire station improvements gained approval from 77.25% of participating voters. The $4.26 million proposal for the aquatics park at Ben Geren received 64% voter approval.

In addition to the 2006 rejection of a sports complex and new city call and the recent library millage increase rejection, Fort Smith voters also rejected in recent years (62% voting against) enactment of a 1% prepared food tax.

Our unofficial tally shows that of key funding proposals in the past 30 years, Fort Smith voters approved 19 tax increases and/or extensions and rejected six. That’s a 76% rate of approval.

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Specifically to the library, voters approved five tax/millage increases and/or extensions providing direct funding for the library, including the bold 1997 package that allowed for construction of the new main library and three branch libraries. The recent library millage increase was the only rejection. That’s an 83% rate of approval and hardly the pattern of a selfish or uneducated electorate.

The facts indicate that soul-searching by Fort Smith voters has resulted in anything but a “no, no, no” response when asked to improve the world around them.

And to that point, The City Wire reiterates its belief that the library system needs more funding, and is willing to advocate for a half- or one-mil increase tied to a clearly defined plan.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.4 (28 votes)

Comments

Takes this paper and shove it

we ain't readin' it no more. In all fairness to those who say we are grinches most or at least a lot of those weren't voted in with regular and fair elections. This time it was even on page 1 on 'special election' day probably due to the drama right here when the normal SOP is it's no mention after about a week before and on election day itself a small article buried deep within it somewhere. No doubt an editor of an instrument tasked to inform a city as this one has been for over a hundred years, could stand to do some deep soul searching themselves about what it's job actually was supposed to have been for the past century. There have been tricks pulled on the citizens here to squeeze a little more out of our good and trusting nature in the past without informing people first with not one iota of fear from the news saying a thing in the past. We also now can see how far they will go to get out of controlling their regular friends up there. Alrighty then. It wasn't only the library that happened this time although it would be best to avoid allowing the words 'double' or 'triple' to be used I would think. What happened to Bill Clinton after he 'doubled' the car tags in Arkansas? Looking forward or perhaps better stated looking to the future, we have a high school, an activity center, undoubtedly very fearful EPA guidelines, and of course the specter of what happens at the River coming up with nary a thought by those who want all these things of is there anyway we can possibly absorb it all. Some of this won't make it most likely. Get another good one ready newspaper editor.

Backers are at FAULT

This election failed for the reason elections like this fail in every community across the U.S. Those asking for the money failed to paint a compelling picture of what this money was going to be used for and how this was going to help the community. I think part of the reason a compelling argument was not made was that their was not one. I never saw or heard a complete accounting of what all this money was going to be used for and how this would make the community better. All I heard and read were vague generalities. I realize that those heavily invested in the library understand the need and think that anyone with half a brain should likewise. Well sorry. We all have whole brains and need to have you to explain how you are going to spend our money. You need to be more realistic about your expectations and your approach to raising the money. Sammy J.
This election failed for the reason elections like this fail in every community across the U.S. Those asking for the money failed to paint a compelling picture of what this money was going to be used for and how this was going to help the community. I think part of the reason a compelling argument was not made was that their was not one. I never saw or heard a complete accounting of what all this money was going to be used for and how this would make the community better. All I heard and read were vague generalities. I realize that those heavily invested in the library understand the need and think that anyone with half a brain should likewise. Well sorry. We ...>> Read the entire comment.

Sam's Mind can be a dangerous place.  Only the brave and wise need enter.

Second rejection; not first

"The recent library millage increase was the only rejection." Not true. There was also a rejection of a 2-mill increase in 2002.

Supporters of library tax out of touch

Thank you for the article about not blaming the voters for the rejection of the library tax. I certainly feel I have done much to support the community of Ft. Smith with the amount of tax increases I have voted if favor of in the past and currently pay. A word to the library administrators, Fort Smith officials, and anyone else wanting to put their hands into the taxpayers pockets for more money. We have just about reached the saturation point for paying new taxes. It not that we don't support community growth but at what point are we overtaxed. Sure most of us can pay the current tax and some more increases but what does a large tax rate say to individuals and companies wanting to locate to Ft. Smith ? I think high tax rates are counterproductive and sends the wrong message to newcomers to the area plus our kids will begin their lives in Ft. Smith with a higher than normal tax rate with only one direction to go .....Higher. Seekers of more money would do well to look at doing more with less, using what monies you have, live within your budget, and quit asking for higher taxes. That what us taxpayers have to do. If it's the way we have to fund our wants and needs. If it's good enough for us it's good enough for you too. Enough is enough.
Thank you for the article about not blaming the voters for the rejection of the library tax. I certainly feel I have done much to support the community of Ft. Smith with the amount of tax increases I have voted if favor of in the past and currently pay. A word to the library administrators, Fort Smith officials, and anyone else wanting to put their hands into the taxpayers pockets for more money. We have just about reached the saturation point for paying new taxes. It not that we don't support community growth but at what point are we overtaxed. Sure most of us can pay the current tax and some more increases but what does a large tax rate say to individuals and ...>> Read the entire comment.

Library

If the library wants a good turn out, they should have voted in the general election. They should not have been allowed to call a special election

the no's have it.

the "no, no, no" wasn't about no voting taxpayers, it was about the contingent of folks who are constantly saying "no" in every conversation. No to a homeless shelter, No to a sign that says 'bar' downtown, No to a new city office building, No to a museum, No to a statue, No to a Ferris Wheel, No to water park, No to a convention center expansion, No to a third high school, No to automated trash, No to a downtown splash pad, No to expanding Old Greenwood Road to Kelley Hwy, No to a larger dam, No to a new firehouse at Chaffee, No to a cultural center, No to buying the old Girl's Inc., No to fireworks, No to a ice hockey rink. Hence, No, No, No. It wasn't that voters said no to the tax, it was that they convinced others to also say no through falsehoods and demeaning comments.

This is a bit one sided.

This is a bit one sided. Votes to improve infrastructure should be looked at differently than votes on socioeconomic development. Most people, if given the chance, will gladly vote to improve roads, water systems, ect. Partly because it's something tangible that they use. If you're going to compare voter approved funding in Fort Smith to that of surrounding areas, then it would be good to see facts on those other areas. I think if you did the same study on NWA your article would be drastically different.

One Sided Is Right and

the city tax cry boys seem to have a short memory of the extra 1% sales tax that the voters approved that is worth a cool 25 million dollars or more every year and the 10 year extension could amount to a cool 250 million dollars or more. The people of the city have been more than generous with their voting so don't look a gift horse in the face.

I Must Say

The newspaper has a lot of nerve attacking Fort Smith people for not approving the library tax when its the newspaper that has announced that they are moving all their printing operations to NW Arkansas to save money and are cutting all their long time printing employees.

Library tax

This was an excellent editorial. I live outside Fort Smith now, but had I been able to vote, I probably would have voted "no" after considerable vacillation. I believe in libraries, but the increase was huge, and claims and counter claims were flying without sufficient time for the truth to surface. The issue should have been on a general election ballot. The other paper claims that reports of plans for a drive through window and such were outright lies. If so, the paper should offer proof and also the origin of the supposed misinformation campaign so that these individuals will not be able to sway public opinion in another election of any kind. A smaller increase, with a more modest list of improvements, would probably have passed. I know I would have voted for it. With most any good sized shopping trip to one of Fort Smith's large grocers leading to a ten dollar tax, people are very aware of the already high taxes in Fort Smith, and don't want to be played for fools.

We No Longer Shop In Fort Smith

The sales tax is higher than most near communities and many of these communities have stores that sell the same products or are an exact duplicate of the store in Fort Smith. It seems to me that city leaders have lost touch with reality and no longer value the visitor dollar.

Sad Indeed

When city leaders raise property taxes and sales tax, every single person in the community feels the increase because the cost must be recovered by business owners, property owners, builders, construction workers, health care facilities, doctors, lawyers, and every single person who does any business in the community. There is no free lunch so someone must pay when a new tax is levied. The increase in taxes requested by the library that would have doubled their income seemed a bit excessive in these hard times and that is why I think it was rejected by the majority. There was most likely a need for some extra funding at the library because of increased costs but a request to double their income probably caused this to fail by a large margin similar to the prepared food tax proposal.

Library tax

We don't make trips to FS JUST to shop. We buy a lot in our little community. But my husband has one or two appointments a month in FS and at those times, we stop for things that aren't available out here, or some things that are really a lot cheaper.

not a lie

I wish there would be some way you could give me your email address. I can send you the 100% absolute proof you deserve to see regarding the so called "untrue" statements on that SWTR vicious editorial. It is on black and white, directly from a budget prepared by the library staff and approved by the Board. The City Wire has that budget and moght give it to you. It was passed out at the Q and A meeting to about 100 business men last Tuesday and they All saw it and have a copy.

rivercity

iratus antiquis dictus

save your breath. facts don't matter here (which was the point of the newspaper editorial). they are intoxicated by their own venom. they are "cotton-mouthed commentators" and nothing more.

No doubt quite frustrating for such a genius as yourself

but it does appear you did need a great deal of support which you did not get from the people they knew. Perhaps you should check out a book on psychology before you champion a cause again.

The Missing Link

Thank you for the clue that explains everything. It is in your best interest to keep Fort Smith dumbed down. If the huddled masses use the library to improve skills and apply for jobs, where does that leave you in your retired state?

Vicious Editorial

The newspaper has lost a whole lot of its readership because of its failure to understand the mood of the people on important issues in the community.

Generous or Gullible?

The newest Ft Smith buzz phrase is "Quality of place"! Broken down what it means is some very expensive things are headed our way and a lot more of our money will be needed in order to bring them about. Shouldn't "Cost of place" factor in at least a little? Not at all apparently with the ones around here that, "Never met a tax they didn't like." At some point taxing more and changing things to what appears better ceases to help and begins to hurt instead. You lose more from where you take it than you gain from where you put it. I'm as bad as any to think, "Well taxes are going to have to go up." Wait a minute though this can't keep happening forever now can it? If I slow it down by agreeing to half (and assume they won't quickly learn to ask double) am I not simply postponing the inevitable? How is the effort looking with tax recipients when we compare putting some aside for the future and getting the entire years money all spent? Uh huh! It was nice to read awhile and think, "Maybe I'm not a grinch" but when I look back at decades of biased news and tricks I realize there's no way for me to determine that.
The newest Ft Smith buzz phrase is "Quality of place"! Broken down what it means is some very expensive things are headed our way and a lot more of our money will be needed in order to bring them about. Shouldn't "Cost of place" factor in at least a little? Not at all apparently with the ones around here that, "Never met a tax they didn't like." At some point taxing more and changing things to what appears better ceases to help and begins to hurt instead. You lose more from where you take it than you gain from where you put it. I'm as bad as any to think, "Well taxes are going to have to go up." Wait a minute though this can't keep happening forever now can it? If ...>> Read the entire comment.