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Issues 'substantially different' for Central Arkansas Library System's Nov. 9 tax election, director says after sales-tax defeat

Increase sought for libraries by Joseph Flaherty | September 27, 2021 at 6:55 a.m.
The main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock is shown in this April 30, 2020, file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Central Arkansas Library System's executive director recently sought to reassure board members about the prospects for the system's upcoming property-tax referendum in the wake of the defeat of Little Rock's proposed sales-tax increase.

Little Rock voters rejected Mayor Frank Scott Jr.'s "Rebuild the Rock" tax package in a Sept. 14 citywide referendum, with 62% voting "no."

In the Nov. 9 special election, the library system will ask Little Rock voters to approve an increase in the local millage rate that supports library operations and maintenance. The rate would increase from 3.3 mills to 3.8 mills.

[DOCUMENT: Read Coulter's director's report for Sept. 23, 2021 »]

Each mill translates to the amount of tax paid on every $1,000 of the tax-assessed value of a piece of property. Millages are a property-tax device typically used to support entities such as school districts and libraries.

In a written report to library system board members, Central Arkansas Library System Executive Director Nate Coulter tried on Thursday to differentiate the system's upcoming millage increase from the failed sales-tax proposal.

"Some of you may be concerned that the prospects for the library proposal look dimmer in the wake of the decisive defeat of the city sales tax on September 14th," he wrote. "While that election indicates a high level of voter skepticism existed with the proposed sales tax, I believe that the sales tax and library property tax elections present substantially different issues and a majority of voters will be able to distinguish between the features of the sales tax plan and those of CALS' property tax referendum."

In terms of a net increase to the local rate, the Little Rock sales-tax proposal would have added five-eighths percent starting in January for an overall rate of 9.625% when accounting for state and county taxes.

The increase would have bankrolled quality-of-life spending in areas such as parks, early-childhood education and the Little Rock Zoo as well as infrastructure work and the acquisition of public-safety equipment.

Coulter contended that the library system's proposed millage increase "imposes a relatively smaller burden on taxpayers than the penny sales tax would have had."

A home assessed at $250,000 would experience a $2-per-month increase as a result of the millage proposal, he wrote, whereas a consumer who spent $1,000 per month would pay $6.20 per month under the sales-tax plan.

"Property taxes are generally not viewed as being as regressive as sales taxes. We are being careful to detail how the money will be spent," Coulter wrote. "For these reasons, I am optimistic that CALS will earn the support of many who were opposed to the sales tax."

Co-chairs of a campaign group called the Coalition for Neighborhood Libraries will be John Adams, Don Evans, Madhav Shroff and Anna Morshedi, according to a document the library system prepared for a recent meeting with the Pulaski County League of Women Voters.

James L. "Skip" Rutherford III, the recently retired dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and Annie Abrams, the educator and longtime community activist, have been tapped as honorary co-chairs of the campaign.

The document was circulated to board members as part of Coulter's report.

During Thursday's meeting, which was held virtually over Zoom, Morshedi told board members that the campaign has just finished filming a video that features Rutherford and Abrams.

A second video will feature people from different walks of life "to show how much the library means to people in this time," Morshedi said. "I think just personally the ways that the library has stepped up during the pandemic have been just unbelievable, and we want to highlight a lot of that."

Mailers will go out as well, she said.

The library system's referendum will be held a week after a Nov. 2 special election for the extension of the collection of mills for debt service on behalf of the Little Rock School District.

Coulter has said the Little Rock millage increase is necessary for the library system to avoid cuts to valued services. The last increase in the system's operational millage rate for Little Rock occurred because of a 2007 referendum.

Print Headline: Tax votes in Little Rock called dissimilar


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