Fund cut passes for Craighead County libraries

Ballot proponents criticized spending and LGBT exhibits

A child reaches for an item from the library bookshelf in this Aug. 17, 2010 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Craighead County and Jonesboro voters Tuesday voted to slash funding to their library system -- which has been criticized recently for excessive spending and LGBT exhibits.

The ballot issue asked voters in the city and county to decrease the current 2.0 mill tax for the library system to 1.0 mill. It was placed on the ballot in September after a petition was submitted to the Craighead County Election Commission by the group Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough.

In the county, the unofficial results were:

For 5,626

Against 3,520

In Jonesboro, the unofficial results were:

For 9,017

Against 8,969

"The people have spoken," Iris Stevens, Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough chairwoman, said Tuesday. "I think from the things that we have uncovered -- the amount of the surplus -- we really need to look at the board."

Stevens said the board needs to work with the director for long-term plans.

"I am disappointed in the outcome," Library Director Vanessa Adams said Tuesday. "But I want to assure the community that the library will continue to serve them and we will do our best with those who wanted this budget cut to come to agreeable terms.'

Adams said she would like to see harmony in the community.

Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough previously said there has been limited oversight in the public library system and the ballot issue was presented as a way to "claw back excessive tax revenue."

A group called Save Our Libraries formed in response to the ballot issue. Representatives of the organization previously said slashing the library was the wrong message to send to prospective businesses and residents considering moving to the city or county.

Many of those involved with Citizens Taxed Enough also have expressed concerns about an LGBT display showcased in the children's section of the library last year.

Stevens is listed as the chair of Citizens Taxed Enough, according to a September statement of organization. The organization filed a financial report on Oct 6, reporting $2,000 in donations.

Two of the group's members, Robin Martin and Sharon Stallings, each donated $500. Both previously spoke against the LGBT exhibit during a library meeting in August 2021, according to board minutes.

Darrel Cook, Craighead County Justice of Peace, gave $1,000, the largest donation to the fund, as of filings with the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Oct. 31.

Cook previously filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the library for not turning over financial documents. The library admitted to a violation during settlement of the suit.

He also has spoken against LGBT exhibits and content promoted to children but also previously said that his concerns about the library finances are separate from the LGBT issue.

Overall the organization received about $6,200 in donations, according to the Oct. 31 report.

The Save Our Libraries organization received about $39,300 in donations, as of an Oct. 31 report. The donations included a $25,000 donation from romance novelist Nora Roberts, a previous release from the organization states

Jennifer Clack, Craighead County Election Coordinator, previously said 100 signatures were needed from county residents and 100 from city residents to get the initiative on the ballot.

The petition was submitted on Sept. 27 and the Craighead County Election Commission approved it on Sept. 29, Clack said. A 50% majority plus one is needed for it to pass.

Craighead Citizens Taxed Enough has pointed to Craighead County having one of the highest county mill rates in the state.

The Democrat-Gazette has found in previous analysis that comparing library mills in the state is difficult. Some library systems are supported at the city level, while others are supported at the county level, and some extend beyond county lines. The library system in Bentonville doesn't have its own millage but depends on the city budget.

The Central Arkansas Library System received a millage increase from 3.3 to 3.8 when Little Rock voters passed a 0.5-mill increase to local property tax in Nov. 2001. In addition to the Little Rock millage, the system receives 2.1 mills in Maumelle and a 1.6 mill levy from the rest of Pulaski and Perry counties.