Thursday, July 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> Homeowners in Sherwood may pay $39 for a library

Leader staff writer

If Sherwood voters approve a temporary 1.3-mill increase in November, owners of $150,000 homes could pay $39 a year to build a new $6 million library.

The city council recently voted to place the tax issue on the general election ballot rather than hold the special election requested by petitioners and the Central Arkansas Library System.

CALS director Bobby Roberts said the measure would likely stay on the November ballot, but that its placement there could make passage more difficult.

He told The Leader that the library system’s success rate was 92 percent for special elections, compared to 60 percent for issues that landed on general election ballots.

For the owners of $150,000 homes, that success would mean a $39 increase to the 50.8-mill property tax residents are already paying. The current millage rate is the second lowest in Pulaski County.

The homeowners’ money would be used to pay back bonds sold to construct and equip a new branch that would replace the Amy Sanders Library on Shelby Road.

The millage rate is not based on the appraised or fair market value of a home, but on its assessed value.
According to Joe Thompson, the county’s chief assessment administrator, the state legislature — decades ago — set the assessed value at 20 percent of what a residence is worth.

So a home worth $150,000 has an assessed value of $30,000. All property taxes are based on that $30,000.

An increase of 1.3 mills would equate to $13 for every $10,000 in the assessed value of a home — or $39 a year for a $150,000 home.

Roberts added that the proposed millage increase is temporary. It will expire when $6 million in bonds is paid off, he said.

Petitioners capped the selling of bonds at that amount, the director explained.

He said the city could decide to issue 20-year, 10-year or 5-year bonds. Roberts expects that, considering the growth of Sherwood’s tax base, a 20-year bond could be paid off in less than 12 years.

Because the election is now set for November, if it passes, collections cannot start until January 2016. The collections as well as construction will be delayed by about a year, Mayor Virginia Hillman said previously.

On Wednesday, she said the November date would “make it a little more challenging, but I think there’s a lot of good support for it.”

Alderman Tim McMinn explained the date change at the June 23 council meeting. He said, “We all agree we need a new library, plus that would also allow the police department to use the old library building, but a special election as requested by the library system doesn’t turn out a large number of voters. This is an election on a tax. We should want a larger turnout than 1,500 to 2,000 voters making the decision for 30,000.”

Roberts said the library system has held 13 special elections and had issues on five general elections since he has been employed there. Sherwood petitioners requested that a special election be held in August.

CALS won 12 of the 13 special elections, Roberts said.

Three of the five issues on the general election ballots were passed, he noted.

Roberts said that means a special election measure has a better shot at being approved by voters. On a more positive note, the director added, CALS has never lost on a bond issue to build a library.

But mayoral candidate Don Berry doesn’t agree that a special election would have given the issue a better chance of being passed.

He said the last time Sherwood voters passed a special election on a library issue was in 1993.

Since then, while Little Rock passed six special-election library votes, Sherwood and other Pulaski County voters voted down an operational increase in 2001, Berry told The Leader.

Just the 2005 Jacksonville special election and a Perry County special election last year have passed, Berry pointed out.

He continued, “With the additional time before the general election, there is ample time for proponents to market the proposed library, highlighting features and its advantages over the current and other area libraries in the Central Arkansas system.”

Roberts said he has recommended that the CALS’ board of directors look at filing a lawsuit over the council setting the date.

But the director noted that there is no case law on setting an election date and language in the law concerning who can do so is very vague.

Even though the council has the backing of the state Attorney General’s office, Roberts argued that whether the aldermen could set the date was a “close call.”

Berry said he attended the most recent CALS board meeting. He told the members that pursuing a lawsuit would not accomplish their goal of building a new library.

“Regardless of the outcome of a lawsuit, win or lose, neither result in a library as a direct outcome so, therefore, must simply be a benefit to CALS, not Sherwood’s library proponents specifically or voters in general,” Berry explained.

Roberts argued that there is also a cost component associated with the election date.

With the proposal being on the November ballot, Roberts explained, “We need a lot of money to communicate with more voters because you’ve got more people. So it takes more money to run the campaign. It goes from $8,000 or $10,000 to about $30,000.”

That money is generated by contributions and does not come out of CALS’ budget, Roberts said. He doubted that $30,000 could be raised for the small local campaign in Sherwood.

And CALS would have paid the $10,000 to $15,000 cost of holding a special election, he said previously.