Majority of Fort Smith Board quiet on library millage increase question

Four members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors would not comment on the 2 mil increase for the Fort Smith Public Library, with two directors planning to vote for the increase and one against.

A proposed millage increase to be voted on Tuesday (Aug. 12) 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, according to library officials.

Library Executive Director Jennifer Goodson has 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.

The City Wire recently asked the seven members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors and Mayor Sandy Sanders if they were for or against the millage increase. There was no response or a response of no comment from Directors André Good, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz and Kevin Settle, and Mayor Sanders. Sanders’ wife has appeared in advertisements supporting the millage increase.

Director George Catsavis said now “is not the time for this millage increase.”

“First I want to say that I have always supported the library and will continue to do so but I can not support this millage increase,” adding that he believes the library is “very solvent.”

“Also our senior citizens that have their property taxes frozen will not be protected with this millage increase. (T)hey will pay more and the ones on a fixed income will be hurt the most and I know the middle income people of Fort Smith are still having a tough time,” Catsavis wrote in an e-mail note to The City Wire.

City Directors Philip Merry Jr. and Pam Weber are for the increase. Their full statements are below.

City Director Merry: “I am FOR the library millage increase.

“I believe that a library is at the very core of the culture of a city.  I am hopeful of an absolute state of the art library facility that is not just up to speed but on the cutting edge of options for its “cardholders”.  Libraries serve its citizens of all ages and the fruits to be had are there for the asking. Note that all of the services are for free when one signs up for a Free Library Card…now and after the vote upcoming….

“I am proud to support the Library millage increase because I believe it to be an INVESTMENT rather than an expense that will return well on investment for the decades to come.”

City Director Weber: "I will be voting for the library mileage increase. The Fort Smith Library provides extensive services for all citizens. I have used the library for over fifty years and am constantly amazed at the quality of service provided and the range of those services. We live in a changing world and our citizens need the resources to compete – children and adults will be provided services with new technology.

“Businesses and nonprofits will be afforded the opportunity to do extensive research that is currently not available. Most of all, libraries have allowed citizens the opportunity to dream and learn – many of us have studied history and traveled the world and broadened our horizons through the library. I want my granddaughter to have those experiences and more.

“The City of Fort smith has done numerous citizen surveys – the library alway ranks at the top with citizen satisfaction.”