Fayetteville voters to soon decide on millage hike to help fund Blair Library expansion

by Rose Ann Pearce (rapearce@thecitywire.com) 151 views 

Rendering of expansion plans for the Fayetteville Public Library.

Fayetteville residents are being asked to hike their property taxes to help fund an almost $50 million Blair Library expansion that would double the facility size as well as maintain it into the future.

An Aug. 9 election is set for the city’s 52,785 registered voters. Early voting begins Tuesday (Aug. 2) at the Washington County Clerk’s Office and will continue until the end of business on the following Monday (Aug. 8), the day before the special election.

Two questions are on the ballot: one to approve 1.5 mills for maintenance and operation of the library and the other, to approve 1.2 mills to pay for a $26 million bond issue to finance construction of about 88,000 square feet of new space for programming and special events.

Residents now pay 1 mill in property taxes to support the library. The proposed increase, if approved, would increase the millage to 3.7 mills. The proposal will cost taxpayers about $2.44 on a residence with an assessed value of $100,000, according to supporters. That’s about the cost of a loaf of bread, they say.

Jeff Koenig, a retired local businessman, who is heading the campaign committee, said the maintenance and operation millage would be a permanent addition while the construction millage would be retired after the construction bonds were paid off. Koenig heads an eight-member civic committee heading up the campaign.

The existing library, of about 82,000 square feet, was built in 2004 at a cost of $26 million. Since, the facility has become a popular meeting place for children, students, citizens of all ages who participate in programs, utilize meeting spaces and computer labs, as well as checking out books, movies and other material.  There are some hobby and personal interest groups that use the library as a meeting place. The library had 619,000 visits last year, said Maylon Rice, secretary of library’s board of directors.

The library has been challenged in recent years by a growing demand for services pitted against revenue that hasn’t increased as rapidly as the demands.

“We’ve made all the cuts we can,” Rice said. “We need more space for children and adults. … We may have to cut back our hours if we don’t get the maintenance millage.”

The library boasts the largest summer reading program in the state with over 4,400 children enrolled. Children and teens account for 43% of the circulation.

In its first 11 years, the library has seen a 44% increase in circulation. Some 43% of the circulation is youth services. Use of the genealogy collection has increased by 57% in the same time period. The data is part of a presentation on the need and use of the library that was made earlier this summer.

“This expansion pushes us further into the future,” Rice said. “As this region grows, these are the kind of services people want.” He noted the 2004 construction bonds have been paid off.

The library master plan through 2030 estimates use of the library will increase from 64,000 people in 2004 to 115,000 people in 2030, an increase of 179%.  The plan, unveiled this summer, is the product of Library Planning Associates and Meyer, Sherer & Rockcastle. Jeffrey Sherer is the founding principal of the architectural firm.

The overall project includes space to meet, study and collaborate, including a multipurpose room to accommodate larger audiences for special programs, doubling youth services and expanding genealogy and local history and increased parking from 220 spaces to 435.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $49.3 million. Just over half, or $26.5 million, would be financed by the millage, if approved. The balance of the project, nearly $23 million, would come from a private capital campaign, now underway. Koenig said pledges to the private capital campaign have been made but declined to announce the pledges.

No known opposition has filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Koenig said.

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