Voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether or not to reduce library funding
By Avery Jones | Editor
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO, Ark. – On the Nov. 8 ballot, during the general election, voters will decide whether or not the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library’s tax millage should be cut in half. Recently, more than a hundred library patrons gathered to silently protest the potential tax cut at a community event called, ‘Support Our Library Read-In.’ The streets and parking spaces surrounding the library were crowded with vehicles as patrons gathered on the front lawn as well as along sidewalks during the early evening of Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.
A petition was presented to the Craighead County Clerk on September 27 to advocate for reducing the mills of county property tax from 2 to 1, which would significantly cut the funding of the library.
The petition was proposed by a local political group known as Citizens Taxed Enough, who are upset about the amount of funds that the library receives from taxes.
Since the proposal was presented, there has been much controversy over the validity and effectiveness of the potential tax cut. Those against the motion argue that the cut would force the library to reduce many of its programs and community outreach activities and that the average person wouldn’t save that much in taxes from the change.
“I think [the tax cut] would affect the library’s ability to do what it does now drastically…half the employees, half the programs, half the services, half the branches available to people,” said Rebecca Mixon, who sits on the Friends of the Library board.
Mixon went on to say that many people don’t realize just how many services the library provides.
“It’s one of the only places in our community where you can go for the day and be in a heated and cooled environment and not spend anything,” Mixon said. “You could sit and make yourself better at the same time. That just doesn’t exist anywhere else in our community.”
Some of the programs that the library offers are after-school activities for kids, free classes, summer activities, and outreach to public schools and nursing homes.
Dawn Morgan and Hope, frequent patrons of the library, said that they take advantage of many of the library’s programs and support everything the library does for the community. Morgan’s children enjoy the children’s library section of the library as well as the after-school crafts.
Morgan herself has been attending the Jonesboro library since she was a teenager, when she also was in a young adult book discussion group.
In addition, her grandmother, who is retired, enjoys the knitting classes and often comes to the library because she feels safe there.
One library program that is especially vital to Morgan’s family is the craft fair. Morgan owns a small business, and one of the places she sells her products is at the fair.
“Without the craft fair, my small business would probably not exist. We honestly get the best turnout of anywhere here at the library,” Morgan said.
According to Chelsea Young, a 7th grade English teacher at Nettleton Junior High School, the literacy rates of children in Arkansas are currently at the lowest she has seen in her 10 years as a teacher.
“The library means so much to the community in terms of increasing the ability to read,” Young said. “Nothing will increase student reading scores like independent reading.”
She believes that a variety of resources needs to be available to encourage students to read more and that reducing these resources by cutting the library’s funding would be a huge mistake.
Not only does Young frequently use the library, she also takes advantage of the digital database and tells all of her students to sign for digital library cards as well. The library’s digital database provides resources for academic research, genealogy records, language learning, college and career preparation, and more.
“A lot of my students live in poverty. There is a lot of poverty especially in rural districts. Even if the funding cut doesn’t affect this particular branch of the library, it will affect rural districts, which are most at risk for literacy issues,” Young said. “People in rural districts might not have access in terms of being able to walk into this library…so it’s absolutely vital and critical that people especially in rural districts have continued access to [the digital database] to increase literacy.”
According to Eric McGee, a candidate for state representative, the current funding that the library receives has allowed them to open satellite branches within the county such as in Brookland, Monette, Caraway, and Lake City. “The only reason those libraries are open is because of that funding,” McGee said.
He stated that the people that are for cutting funding to the library are misrepresenting that information.
McGee explained that the money the library receives is forward funded, which means it’s slated to be used the next year in case something happens to their current funds.
Right now, the library is operating out of last year’s budget, and the money they’re receiving now will be saved for next year, which is how they have a “surplus.”
He said that although cutting the millage would supposedly reduce taxes, the average person would only save about $1.78.
Since the actual amount saved would be so low for the average citizen, many supporters of the library value the library’s services far more than they do the money they would save in taxes.
Stinson Burton, who goes by ‘Lee’, and Katrina Baureis, both college students at Arkansas State University, said that the library is so important because it’s the only place where you can be educated for free.
“I spent a large part of my teenhood in a library,” Baureis said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have access to a library, and I think everyone deserves that same opportunity.”
Burton plans to be a librarian while Baureis wants to work in a museum. Burton currently works at the Harrisburg library and explained that smaller libraries always need more funding.
“The smaller town libraries in the region will be negatively affected because a lot of them are run by a handful of people and their cities don’t have a lot of money [for] their libraries to begin with,” Burton said. “The Jonesboro Library supplements a lot of that and without that, that hurts the whole region, not just this library.”
Erika Askeland, who had set up a voter registration booth, said that the petition for the funding cuts was occurring because of the politicians who had taken issue with the LGBTQ+ pride display set up at the library more than a year before.
Askeland attended several library board meetings, and said that Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) promised that if LGBTQ+ materials weren’t removed, they would bring the issue to a vote.
“I feel like it’s just them following through with what they said, and at this point, they turned it into a funding issue,” Askeland stated. “They’re really, really hoping for the voters to stay misinformed in an effort to cut funding.”
The purpose of the event at the library was for locals to show their support for the library and their disapproval of the potential tax cuts as November voting approaches.
Crowds of people of all ages were relaxed–reading, chatting, mingling, playing, and running around. One couple was even meditating and ringing Tibetan singing bowls. Most people were set up on blankets, lawn chairs, and under tents. Cotton candy was being handed out and a bubble machine was running; a blue inflatable tube man waved about, welcoming people to the event. The diverse group of attendees displayed the value of the library had to them.
Avery Jones is a sophomore in The Department of English and Philosophy at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She can be reached at [email protected]
Library Patrons show support during Read-In. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council