Craighead County voters have decided to defund their library. The unofficial tally showed that 14,643 (54%) voted to cut funding while 12,489 (46%) voted to keep the funding in place. The vote reduces the library’s millage collection from 2 mills to 1 mill.
The library had about $6.139 million in cash assets at the beginning of the year and is projected to collect $4.5 million this year. The public entity is “forward funded” meaning that unlike many other governmental entities it has its funding in place prior to the year beginning. It has been forward funded since the 1940s.
This year the library has a $4.2 million budget.
Last year, the library erected a display celebrating those who identify as LGBTQ. Several board members, community leaders and conservative politicians supported an oversight committee having final say on what is displayed at the library.
There have been national movements to ban books with LGBTQ themes and storylines. The controversy at the Craighead County Library was so heated the library director and assistant director resigned. Many of those who were concerned about the LGBTQ books and themed-projects supported defunding.
Library officials stated that deep cuts would have to be made if funding was cut. Programs would be slashed, and employees would have to be laid off. Two Jonesboro citizens advocated both sides of the issue at several public meetings leading up to the election.
Bill Harrison, a self-avowed conservative businessman, advocated to keep the library’s funding at its current level. He stated at several public events that the literacy levels in Craighead County need to improve and defunding the county library is not a step in the right direction. He noted that the library building is 60 years old, and was built before computers were in common use.
Opponents have argued that rising property values have over fueled the library’s budget and will continue to do so into the future. Harrison fired back, noting if the millage is dropped to 1 mill then inflation will catch up with the rising property values by 2028. He said other governmental entities could also raise millage rates in response to the cut, meaning taxpayers will still pay the same but the funds will just go somewhere else.
J.D. Hagler has publicly advocated for the millage decrease. He noted that of the other libraries in the state of similar size, and with 2 mills of funding, Craighead takes in about $750,000 more than those other libraries due to higher real estate values in NEA’s largest city. He said there are no programs offered at the library to help improve reading skills. One of his concerns was the library has no plan on how to spend its money in the future.