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Library board opting to go for millage raise

by Joseph Flaherty | May 28, 2021 at 3:05 a.m.

Central Arkansas Library System board members approved on Thursday a resolution to pursue a millage increase of 0.5 mills in Little Rock with an eye to having the city's voters approve the property-tax increase in an election sometime this fall.

The Little Rock Board of Directors will have the final call on whether an election will happen, and the text of the library's resolution leaves the date of the referendum up to city officials.

Library officials seek an increase from the current rate of 3.3 mills to 3.8 mills to cover operational and maintenance costs.

The resolution empowers the library system's executive director, Nate Coulter, to work with the law firm Wright, Lindsey and Jennings to prepare petitions to be signed by 100 taxpaying electors and then submit them to the city clerk.

The resolution was approved in a voice vote.

According to a copy of the director's report prepared in advance of the meeting, Coulter wrote that if the millage increase is approved, it "would raise property taxes by $14 a year on the average home in [Little Rock] and ensure the long-term sustainability of our first-class public library by addressing the rising costs of operations, particularly with digital material."

He added, "It would further enable CALS to build upon its successes in serving a wider array of community needs."

At the meeting, Coulter listed steps the library system has taken to expand revenue and reduce costs in the interest of prudent management, but said those efforts are not sufficient to get the system where it needs to be.

He suggested the election would take place Nov. 2, though he acknowledged the "uncertainty" over when the city board might set the vote.

Happening concurrently with the library's move toward enacting a property-tax increase is the debate over a permanent 1 percentage-point sales-tax increase proposed Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.

Because city directors recently delayed a decision on whether to call a referendum on the mayor's sales-tax increase until at least mid-July, the two issues could overlap on the agenda of the city board.

At the same time, Little Rock School District officials have discussed extending for a number of years the collection of mills for debt service, though the school district's board has yet to approve a proposal.

During Thursday's library board meeting, Coulter emphasized that the library's situation was not an emergency, before adding, "But we ought to deal with it because if we don't deal with it now it may be an emergency at some interval, and it's better to deal with it sooner rather than later."

He noted that a vote on an operational-millage increase has not occurred since 2007, and since then the library system has added new libraries and expanded branches, all of which costs money, Coulter explained.

Asked at the meeting about the board's role in securing public acceptance of the increase, Coulter said officials have talked with the organization EveryLibrary, an Illinois-based nonprofit political action committee for libraries.

He said the organization can help the library system's staffers learn what they can and cannot do.

CORRECTION: Central Arkansas Library System board members approved a resolution on Thursday. An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect day for the meeting of the library board.

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