Library director makes case for $2.8 million property tax increase

story by Ryan Saylor

A proposed millage increase to be voted on next month would net the Fort Smith Public Library an additional $2.8 million in revenue, allowing the library to expand offerings and upgrade technologies to meet customer expectations.

That was the message library executive director Jennifer Goodson shared when interviewed about the millage increase Monday (July 21), the first increase the library has sought since 1957's increase from a half-mill to one-mill.

Goodson said the current one-mill of property taxes accounts of about $1.4 million of the library's annual operating budget. Additional funding comes from the countywide sales tax, of which the library receives 6% of the city's share of revenue. The amount totaled $921,239 in 2013 and was budgeted at $925,572 this year.

Another revenue source for the library includes $100,000 in fines and fees collections. The library also receives some state funding and grants. The library's 2014 budget was set at $2.7 million.

Should voters approve the two-mill hike on Aug. 12, Goodson said the additional $2.8 million would slightly double the library's budget and allow the largest library system in Sebastian County to expand its offerings.

She said the plan presented to the public through a series of civic presentations, town hall meetings and online at was developed in coordination with the library's staff, board of directors, endowment and other community stakeholders and offers services of some sort for all Fort Smith residents, not just children or adults.

"Part of the intention of creating this plan for the library's future was to come up with a future for the library that impacted every single person in the community. So we didn't want something that just impacted children, although that's certainly important. We didn't want something that just impacted techies, although that's important, too. And so the plan really has something, or I say in many cases multiple somethings, that benefit every single person in the community."

Following are specific areas where the funding will be spent, according to the library's campaign website promoting the millage increase:
• Offer more books, audiobooks, and DVDs;
• Expand special collections such as Spanish language, Vietnamese language, large print, and Genealogy;
• Lease copies of bestsellers to better meet customer demand;
• Offer more digital magazine titles through Zinio;
• Offer more eBooks and downloadable audiobooks through Library2Go;
• Expand the resources available through TumbleBook Library;
• Add new eBook offerings such as Disney Digital, Sesame Street books online, BookFlix, and Safari computer/technology books online;
• Offer Netflix-style streaming video through hoopla, Freegal Movies, and/or other services;
• Update, upgrade, and expand current technology;
• Add computers for children, teens, and adults;
• Upgrade Internet speed, improve WiFi;
• Update and add software for library users;
• Upgrade and redesign the Fort Smith Public Library website;
• Add the ability to accept online payments of fines and fees;
• Develop a mobile app to better direct library users to digital resources;
• Upgrade the Main Library Community Room audio/visual system;
• Microfilm-to-digital conversion project for newspapers and other historical materials;
• Print-to-digital archives conversion project for one-of-a-kind print materials such as photographs and funeral home records;
• Replace digital signage systems inside the libraries; and
• Checkout Kindles/iPads/laptops to cardholders for in-library or outside library use.

Goodson said the decision to add to and improve so many items should the millage pass was made in an effort to serve "every single person in the community."

"And we recognize that not everybody in the community uses every resource and service that we offer and that's part of serving a community the size of Fort Smith. And we also recognize that on a day-to-day or a year-to-year basis, what people need and look for out of the public library will change. Someone with little children is going to use the library very differently than someone whose children are grown and out of the house or who may not have children at all. So that sort of goes back to what I was saying about the plan — we recognize that not everyone in the community will be excited and enthusiastic about every part of what we offer with expanded funding, but we've got several things in the plan that will appeal to folks no matter how they use the library."

While each individual improvement or addition to the library cannot be detailed in each and every presentation, Goodson did point out the need to improve technology at all library locations and not just by increasing the inventory of iPads and computers.

She said the library plans to install RFID (radio frequency identification) at the library's branches in order to improve inventory control and customer service. The technology would not only allow the library to locate mis-shelved books or be notified of books being taken from the premises without first being checked out, but it would also allow for the eventual implementation of self-checkout of books.

"It's one of those infrastructure things that will improve the quality of people's experience when they come into the library when they really don't know what all is going on in the background," Goodson said.

The library's main branch will also feature a "maker space," which she said would allow individuals to use technology such as 3-D printers and video editing equipment for personal projects or possible small business needs such as a training video.

The maker space is not intended to serve as a business incubator, Goodson said, adding that the goal was simply to offer specific technologies to the public.

"In the library world, the philosophy behind a maker space is being able to offer technology to the public that they may not be able to get their hands on another way. And so technology in the maker space environment is very broadly defined. A 3-D printer is one of the most common things that appears in a library maker space and that's something that a lot of people really don't have access to any other way. So this would be an opportunity for people to utilize a 3-D printer that they might now have access to."

The date of the special election, Aug. 12, was selected in order to focus the conversation on library needs instead of being drowned out by other statewide races taking place in November, according to Goodson.

She added that if approved, the two-mill increase to three-mills would cost Fort Smith homeowners (with a median home price of $100,000) about $60 per year, or $5 per month. The current one-mill accounts for $20 per year in property taxes, or about $1.66 per month.

And if approved Goodson said she hopes it is another 57 years before another millage increase is requested.

"But at any rate, we expect the additional two-mills to position the (branch) libraries well into the future. We have very strong facilities, we just now need the funding for what goes on inside the facilities to be as wonderful and as strong and supportive as the facilities, the buildings are."