Fort Smith library officials talk budget cuts following millage election loss

by The City Wire staff ( 2 views 

At the first Fort Smith Library Board of Trustees meeting following the failed millage increase election on Aug. 12, the board and management of the library are expecting budget cuts for the 2015 fiscal year.

The library millage failed, 64.02% to 35.98%. If it had passed, it would have provided an additional two mils of funding, or $2.8 million, to the library beginning in fiscal year 2016.

Jennifer Goodson, executive director of the library, told trustees she was not prepared to recommend future action regarding the possibility of another vote on a millage increase.

"My recommendation to this group is that we take a little bit of time, process this result and how we feel about it and what we want to do next," she said. "I don't know that a week later is the time to start to make some decisions and figure out exactly what we want to do."

For Goodson, "my thoughts have been all over the map, really, for the last week and I'm not in a position where I can make a recommendation to you about exactly what we should do next."

Trustee Ben Shipley agreed with Goodson's statement, but added that it was time to reduce the library's need on dipping into reserves. For the 2014 fiscal year, board Chairman Robert Kelly said the amount of reserve funds tapped by the library to balance its budget totaled $100,000.

"But I do think the time has come in the next weeks or months that we will have to be very serious about continuing to go into the hole, reserves to maintain the same level of services. I mean, I think the people have spoken and we take that seriously and respect that. But I think we also as prudent board members have to not raid the reserves,” Kelly said.

The budget for the library totals about $2.7 million annually and comes from a single mil of property taxes, as well as 6% of the city's portion of the one cent county-wide sales tax.

"And I'm not saying that we need to make drastic cuts or anything, but I do say that I think we need to act prudently and we will," Shipley added.

Goodson said the cuts would be included in the 2015 budget as it is prepared in the coming months.

"As far as preparing for the 2015 budget, I'll be preparing that budget with the expectation that we'll draw little if any reserves in 2015. And that we'll begin to just make the adjustments that will be necessary for us to allow income and expenses to match."

As part of the upcoming budget cuts, Goodson said she would work with department heads "and get their recommendations as far as what they see as appropriate in those areas because it will need to be a team project in order to make that happen."

Asked what next steps the library could take regarding a future millage vote for a possible lower amount, Kelly would not provide an answer saying that it was too soon.

"I guess immediate action on part of the board to seek additional funding, my sense is to get through this year and get through the budget process as suggested and then see where we are with that. I guess I'm just saying I don't see any real rush to have any kind of a study session in regard to a millage or seeking additional funds at this point. Maybe after the first of the year."