Craighead County, Jonesboro voters approve decrease in library property tax

By: - November 8, 2022 10:52 pm

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JONESBORO – Voters in both the city of Jonesboro and Craighead County favored decreasing the Craighead County Public Library’s millage from 2 mills to 1 mill on Tuesday.

This was one of the more hotly debated issues of the election, which saw a vast increase in voter turnout this year, county election officials said. It stemmed from protests over a gay pride book display in the library last year and a transgender author’s visit there earlier.

There were actually two millage elections. County residents voted on their millage rate while Jonesboro residents cast ballots in a separate citywide election.

Complete, but unofficial results:

County results

  • For the 1-mill decrease — 5,626
  • Against the decrease — 3,520

City results

  • For the 1-mill decrease  — 9,017
  • Against the decrease  — 8,969

“I am disappointed in the outcome, but I want to ensure the community that the library will continue to serve them, and we will do our best to work with those who wanted this budget cut to come to more agreeable terms,” library director Vanessa Adams said in a statement moments after the election results were announced.

“I would like to see harmony in the community, and I’m anxious to work with the people of Jonesboro and Craighead County to reach a solution,” she said in the statement.

Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said the millage decrease will take effect in both the county and city on Jan. 1, 2023.

Proponents of the decrease claimed the library had a surplus of $6 million due to the millage rate. Many counties and municipalities collect only 1 mill for their libraries rather than the two Jonesboro’s library collects. That breaks down to about $40 per year for a home assessed at $100,000.

Voters passed a 1-mill increase in 1994 to help build three branch libraries. The millage rate has remained the same for the last 28 years.

Adams said the library does not have a $6 million surplus as reported.

She said the library system may have to close branch libraries or reduce some services as a result of the decrease. The library has branches in Lake City, Caraway, Lepanto, Marked Tree, Monette, Weiner and Brookland.

“I don’t know what we’ll do,” she said. “We’ll probably spend the next couple of weeks figuring out what to do.”

She added that the Save the Library committee, a group that formed to help promote the library during the election, will discuss calling for a special election in 2023 to raise the millage.

“We’re funded until next year,” she said. “But there’s not that much surplus funds in the bank. We don’t get money every month. It comes once a year, and in January we’re going to have to do a new payroll.”

Adams took over as director in February after former director David Eckert left because of pressure over a gay pride book display in June 2021. The display, which had been a yearly feature, was moved to the children’s section last year due to construction in the area it was generally shown.

Opponents of the display protested at library board meetings in the ensuing months. Eckert said he had been threatened and eventually left to take an administrative job at a library in Iowa.

In October 2019, transgender author Meredith Russo spoke in a public event at the library. After several protested Russo’s upcoming appearance, the library requested additional  police to attend the event for protection.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Adams said Tuesday night about the millage and surplus. “It was about all that before.”

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Kenneth Heard

Kenneth Heard works at the Craighead County prosecuting attorney's office and is a freelance writer. He was the northeast Arkansas bureau correspondent for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 20 years until 2017 and had worked at other newspapers for 15 years. Heard lives in Jonesboro with his wife, Holly.