Dear Concerned Citizens of Van Buren County,
Thank you for your interest in knowing about the Library Building Project. I must start with the history to get to the full picture.
Prior to 1982, the library was housed in the Old Clinton State Bank Building which is located on the corner across from Regions Bank.
1982: Library was destroyed by the great flood. The Library Board purchased the old Pharmacy Building (1500 sq. ft,) from David Bintliff with funds from the insurance company and fund-raising. Because we are fortunate to be in a Regional System with Faulkner County, we also received state funding. All of these various sources of revenue helped purchase the building free and clear.
1988: Library growth was phenomenal. We vastly outgrew the 1,500 sq. ft. building. Through grants, many yard sales, Friends of the Library fund raising, and the Regional Board backing us, the library board was able to add another 1,500 sq. ft. free and clear. However, that was the only room for add on, and the library was land locked.
1998: Again, the library was out growing its building. The library board went before County Judge and the Quorum Court to ask if the county had any land the library could build a new building on. They gave the board 3 acres by the county jail. The board hired an architect and had mock drawings made for a 10, 000 sq. ft. building with room for future expansion. The board felt they would need to go before the people and ask for a millage increase or sales tax to be able to build the library. Mind you, this was the same time the hospital decided to go for a sales tax, and the jail was in need of additional funds. The board hired a local attorney and was advised it was not the time to compete with the jail or hospital: So, save your money and come back another time.
So we saved, fund raised, saved, fund raised. In the meantime, the newly elected County Judge and the Quorum Court sold the library parking lot to the state highway department. The library board did not find this out until the Highway Department showed up with paperwork. So, here we are land locked, nowhere to add on, and no parking lot. We were able to make-shift a parking lot between the library and the road called Page Street and Hope Medical. It was decided to give the library board 10,000 sq. ft. in the old Nursing Home. Once again, the board decided to get an architect involved to see what it would cost to remodel the Nursing Home. It was cost prohibitive to renovate the building. The Quorum Court decided to turn the 10,000 sq. ft. into a new Court Room. The library board decided to continue to save money.
2011: A new County Judge was elected. Because the library is a county entity, he worked with the board to find a way to build the library. But it could not be through a sales tax increase or millage increase because 1) the Hospital was planning to ask to keep their sales tax and 2) He was not an advocate for asking the tax payers for more money. Over the next two years, the library board met with lawyers, bankers, Canaday Abstract Company, White River Planning and Development, State Legislators, the State Librarian, the County Assessor, and Gas Companies on all legal aspects. At this time, the board had $500,000 built up in its Millage account, and the Friends worked very hard to save their money to help buy the furniture. The County Assessor established a worst case scenario to assure the library board would be able to fund and operate the new library.
In order to purchase the furnishings, the Board sold the old building to CSI and the Friends of the Library contributed funds so the furnishings would be paid for free and clear. With the help of Van Buren County’s grant writer, I wrote grants for our technology system. Our internet and phone bill is paid for by a Federal Communication grant called ERATE, which I wrote with the help of the State Library Technology Administrator.
The worst of the worst happened when at the end of 2015 with the State Legislation changing the MCF rates from a standard assessed value to a three year rolling average per MCF. At this time, the board decided to ask to have a voluntary tax placed on the personal and business property tax to help the library operations. Mind you, this is a voluntary tax and not mandatory. Then came litigation by the gas and oil company against various counties in the state and it is my understanding they are able to withhold their property taxes until the suit is either won or settled.
From 2007 to 2013 we saw our reserves go from $106,506.30 to $883.365.80 and by the time the first payment was due, our reserve balance had grown to $ 1,818,907.44.
The State law regarding millage is restricted to library operations only and not for building new construction unless you go before the voters and ask for a building millage, but you can lease/purchase. Having the land donated, the library was able to lease-purchase the new building through White River Planning and Development in Batesville for a period of 10 years, at which time, upon the final payment, the building will become the property of Van Buren County. There are seven remaining payments. When we paid our first down payment in January of 2017 of $1,000,000, we had a remaining balance of $899,907.44. Funds for the down payment and yearly payments of $330,000 were approved in the library board budget by the Quorum Court Budget Committee. By the end of 2017, we had our millage funds built back up to almost $1 million dollars. In 2018, we saw a major decrease in the gas and oil companies not paying its fair share of property tax, resulting in short falls not only for the library, but the entire county.
Could some things have been done differently? Yes, I believe so. As in all situations, there is always tweaking and learning. Fact is the library board and county officials are going to have to find more funds whether it is through donors or going before the tax payers to ask to fund the library. Please note the library board has been running on the same millage that the library was founded on (70 years ago) which is 1 mil. A millage increase of an additional 1 mil would amount to approximately $20.00 on a $100,000.00 piece of property.
We have over 7,100 Van Buren County resident library card holders. This does not include the whole Regional System. Nor does it include Searcy, Stone, and Conway County residents that pay a yearly $25 fee to use our library. We charge Searcy, Stone, and Conway County residents because they want the luxury of using our library but don't pay taxes to keep our library going. We service over 56,000 visits per year. This does not include phone research. One advantage is the number of computers (20 to be exact) and faster internet service, which was obtained through grants, hence we are able to serve more clients. Another advantage of the new library is we added a community room which serves many non-profits and is used more than 250 times a year. We have the same amount of staffing as we did in the old library building.
Damascus Library falls under the Van Buren County Library Board and the librarian is paid with county taxes, which falls under the library board’s 1 (Mil) millage that supports the library.
If the library were to close, it will affect the overall county entity. The operation is not only the obligation of the library board but an obligation of the entire county. It does impact each and every one of us.
Having obtained the advice of elected officials, lawyers, legislators and county entities, the library board has done everything from a thoroughly researched legal standpoint before going forward with the building process. It is unfortunate to be in this position, but it was not from lack of work on the library board's part.
With regards to the construction of the building, contrary to unfounded beliefs the library is not a block building. Also, it has been compared to the Tractor Supply's Building. There is no comparison! That building is a metal building like a barn with a false front. On the contrary, the library is metal stud framed out of high-quality materials with a brick face. For that reason, it has a lot of protection in the event of a tornado. After reviewing 13 bids of various General Contractors for a Construction Manager both locally and out of County, Nabholz of Conway, who employs many Van Buren County workers was awarded the bid.
There has been concern about building in the flood plain. This was thoroughly researched as a prerequisite to obtaining any financing. The library was built in 2015. We have had substantial rains with no flooding.
One last thing, our county is very blessed to have a library service of this capacity.
With Love for my County and all Residents,
Outgoing Library Administrator