UPDATE II, April 18, noon: Van Buren County Judge Dale James posted to social media recently that the ordinance has been pulled from consideration for tonight's meeting. (A copy of the post is included with this now-updated story.) 

UPDATE: April 17, 7:20 p.m.; the ordinance at the center of this story is expected to be pulled prior to vote at tomorrow night's Quorum Court meeting. 

Original story, filed earlier today, follows....

A requested pay raise at the county library proposed for a Quorum Court vote at its Thursday meeting is creating concern.

Proposed is an ordinance which would pay the Van Buren County Library Director $25.24 per hour, versus the current rate of $19.82 for that position, coupled with combining the Library Director and Youth Services Librarian positions at the Van Buren County Library. The pay rate would be retroactively effective to March 1, per the ordinance.

The ordinance was released as part of the packet sent out in advance of Thursday’s Quorum Court meeting. Pre-meeting packets include the agenda and copies of proposed ordinances, such as funding and administration requests, are typically released before each Quorum Court meeting.

Faulkner-Van Buren Regional Library System Director John McGraw said the $25.24 per hour is justified for several reasons.

Incoming Library Director Andrea Singleton was the current Youth Services Librarian prior to her being appointed to the Director’s position by the board recently, replacing the outgoing Karla Fultz, McGraw said. Singleton, he said, will enter into the position with a master’s degree in library science, a degree Fultz did not have.

McGraw also pointed to the pay rates for counties of this size for library positions. Van Buren County is classified as a Class 2 county by its size. Class 2 counties in Arkansas, such as Lawrence County with a 16,500 population, up to Arkansas County with its 18,000 population, pay library administrators in the $43,000 range. The exception is Franklin County, population 18,100 at $35,000 a year, and Drew County, population 18,500, at $52,000 per year.

Singleton’s position, McGraw stated, is from combining, “…a $42,000 library administrator position with a $27,000 Children’s librarian position. Andrea Singleton is more than tripling her work load and getting an extra $1,000 for her trouble [should the ordinance be approved], given the reduced work week.”

McGraw continues in his statement: “If there is a problem, it may lie with the historic undervaluing of libraries and librarians and their role in teaching kids to read, providing lifelong learning, and boosting the economic engines of their communities. Van Buren county libraries returned $5.89 in materials and services for every dollar spent.”

Singleton pointed out that her proposed position, combining Youth Services and Director, also removes one benefit package from the library expense since she will assume both roles.

Singleton also said the package was proposed to her by the library board. The board had been looking for a replacement for Fultz and having trouble finding someone to take the role when the proposal for a combined position, taking advantage of her budget and personnel management skills as well as her existing librarian skills, at $25.24 was presented to her, she said.

In February, at its regular meeting, the Quorum Court heard from library board members that the library was facing a funding shortfall.

At that meeting, Phillip Ellis, with the library board, explained the shortfall: The problem, Ellis said, was the library had been established based upon what was understood was a fixed revenue from its current 1 mil tax support. The problem was the money shortfall came when the legislature changed the way natural gas assessments could be calculated after the library board had made its assessment, and now the library was short the required fund to both operate and make the yearly building note of $330,000.

The problem, Ellis said, was that with the current funding projections the library is able to make its obligation on the building, or fund operations, but not both. At the same meeting, the court was told about cuts being made in library expenses, including its now closing on Fridays.

This budget shortfall against the pay request has been the source of concern.

Justice Gary Linn was listed as a sponsor of the ordinance. When contacted for a statement, Linn said he did not know his name had been placed on the ordinance and was going to ask it be removed prior to the Thursday meeting. (All ordinances presented to the Quorum Court require a sponsor, with sponsors added at times as an administrative function.)

Linn was opposed to the funding request, citing the library’s current funding shortfall.

Van Buren County Judge Dale James expressed opposition to the ordinance.

“If it [the ordinance] were to pass I would veto it. They [the library] are going to have to make cuts, not trims, cuts,” James said.

The county made several cuts in services as it struggled to form a 2019 budget, required by law to be within 90 percent of projected revenue. As part of its cost-cutting, the Quorum Court voted last month to lower the compensation for Justices attending other-than Quorum Court meeting.