Save Our Libraries vs. Citizens Taxed Enough

The Craighead County/Jonesboro Public Library has been the center of fierce debate since the introduction of a ballot measure that would cut the library’s budget.  

The initiative was submitted on Sept. 27 and approved by the Craighead County Election Commission on Sept. 29. It requires a 50% majority plus one to pass. 

The group Citizens Taxed Enough, who introduced the petition, said the library is overfunded and that the measure would save taxpayers up to $1 million annually. 

“If you look at the Craighead County records, right now through the end of September, they have received just under $2.1 million,” said Robin Martin, treasurer of Citizens Taxed Enough, in the Kiwanis Club debate. “In my conversations with Terry McNatt (Craighead County treasurer) over the last month, he said those numbers were going to be stronger than that. We’re probably looking at $2.2 million to $2.3 million coming in the rest of the year.”

The Save Our Libraries campaign has been battling against the measure for the past four weeks, with the campaign concluding on Nov. 8. 

Iris Stevens, coordinator of Citizens Taxed Enough, said Craighead County is one of ten counties whose libraries have a budget of two mils. 

“The Craighead County/Jonesboro Public Library pulls in $750,000 more than all (nine) other counties together,” Stevens said. “That’s almost three quarters of a million dollars more than all the others combined. As far as population, we’re only 33,000 less in population than all other nine counties combined.”

If the vote passes, the library’s funding could be cut at the county level or the city level. If the county vote is lost, $500,000 worth of budget could be lost. If the city vote is lost, the library could lose up to $3 million. 

“There’s a county vote and a city vote and each one of them is to reduce our budget by one mil,” said Vanessa Adams, director of the Craighead County/Jonesboro Public Library. “Our budget from the city and the county totals close to $4 million. So 75% of that is city and 25% of that is county.”

Adams added that if the county vote was lost, there would be a possibility that the county branches would have to be shut down. If city funding is lost, the library would have to cut hours, programming, personnel and put future plans on hold. 

Stevens said the library would not be affected if the vote passes. 

The Craighead County/Jonesboro Public Library is forward-funded, which means any revenue generated goes to paying the next year’s bills. Adams said this was why the library appeared overfunded, due to a surplus of revenue leftover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically decreased spending. 

Stevens said the surplus is the result of a 1994 initiative that increased the library’s budget from one mil to two mils. The purpose of the increase was to renovate existing branches, as well as build new branches in Monet, Caraway and Lake City.

“The voters voted on that extra million, but there was not a sunset clause put on it,” Stevens said. “Frequently when you have a tax supported institution, they will try to raise a millage but they will put a sunset clause. Once the objective for that money is reached, the tax goes back down. That didn’t happen to the Jonesboro Library. It just stayed on for 30 years.”

Last year, the library came under fire for a Pride display in the children’s section. Since then, the library has held numerous public meetings to discuss the issue of whether books with LGBTQ+ content belong in the library. 

“If you look at some of the opposition’s advertising, it will say things like we are not a safe environment for children,” Adams said. “It all started because of that display.”

Brian Mason, a doctoral student in heritage studies from Jonesboro who identifies as politically independent, said while he thought books like “The GayBCs” shouldn’t have been in the children’s section, they should not be removed from the library entirely.

“It’s something that parents should have the discernment before they read it to or give it to their child,” Mason said. “It needed to be in the educator and parents section and that’s where the library staff moved it. It should have been a dead issue.”

Citizens Taxed Enough said the LGBTQ+ books and the tax reduction are two separate issues. 

In support of the library, Arkansas State University students and Jonesboro community members have placed yard signs in both private and public spaces. In addition, the on-campus campaign has provided window signs for apartment and dorm residents.

On Oct. 21, a group of A-State students traveled to the Nettleton High School football game and placed flyers in people’s car windows. 

“Football games are a big deal for a lot of people and you can get your message out,” said Dean MacDonald Jr., a graduate student in public administration and nonprofit management from Paragould. “We were out there handing flyers to everybody that tells people the full information.” 

In addition, Save Our Libraries has been doing door-to-door campaigns across Jonesboro and the surrounding communities, which include Bono, Bay, Monet and Caraway. 

Save Our Libraries has been tabling in the Student Union and the Humanities and Social Sciences building, promoting the cause, helping students register to vote or change their voting address. MacDonald said students can change their voting address to their college address in order to vote against the initiative. 

MacDonald said they helped register around 150 A-State students and assisted around about 80 students in changing their voting addresses. 

Citizens Taxed Enough has had its own campaign, running ads on KAIT 8 and Facebook, as well as promoting their cause on Facebook. Responsible Growth Arkansas, who Citizens Taxed Enough has been working with in tandem, has dispersed informational flyers via mail.

Ann Long, a junior political science and history double major from Jackson, Missouri, joined the Save Our Libraries campaign due to her fond memories with libraries.

“I still remember the fun times I had with my grandma as she would take me to the (Dexter Library) every week for the children’s programming events or to get a new book,” Long said. “Through my involvement with the campaign, I have been able to fight for an institution that means so much to me and so many other people.”

Other students involved in the campaign see the measure as an attack on the working class.

“When I was in high school a lot of my schoolwork was with the internet. If I didn’t have internet, my grades suffered, so I would have to go to the library,” said Sam Jones, a first-year psychology major from Blytheville. “As soon as you start defunding something that you might not think is a big deal because you’re rich, I feel like you don’t appreciate the working class who can’t afford stuff like that.”

Early voting began Oct. 24 and ends Nov. 7. If people want to vote early, they need to go to the Craighead County Election Annex on Monday-Friday 8 a.m. through 6 p.m., or on Saturday from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. 

Alternatively, people can vote on Election Day Nov. 8. There will be a voting precinct on the A-State campus at First National Bank Arena from 7:30 a.m. through 7:30 p.m.

Categories: News

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