2021 Millage

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The Future of CALS

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$1 Billion Economic Impact

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Frequently Asked Questions

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In the News

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Did you know?

Funding for the Central Arkansas Library System is on the ballot this November. A special election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 9. Registered voters who live in Little Rock are eligible to vote.

Visit the Arkansas Secretary of State website for election information.

Your public library system has not had an increase in operating tax rate since 2007.

CALS had a $1 billion economic impact on the community over 10 years. For every $1 of public money, the library system returned more than $5 economic impact. (CALS Impact Evaluation & Analysis 2010–2019, Boyette Strategic Advisors.

children and adults reading books to dogs

The Future of CALS

The Future of CALS


If the library millage increase passes, CALS will…


  • Be able to purchase more technology and ensure facilities are properly outfitted to support continuation and expansion of programs and services.
  • Maintain a welcoming and comfortable environment that allows the community it serves to thrive. CALS will be able to continue to provide first-class services and facilities enriching the community.

a chart showing how money added by the millage increase will be spent: $800K for wages and staff rentention, $800K for increased and continued costs of ebooks and audiobooks, $400K for deferred maintenance on aging buildings, and $400K for technology upgrades for patrons

Click to enlarge



  • CALS had a $1 billion economic impact over 10 years. (CALS Impact Evaluation & Analysis 2010–2019, Boyette Strategic Advisors.)
  • The Rock It! Lab program empowers local entrepreneurs with free consultation services and access to temporary retail space at the library.
  • CALS is an active and vibrant part of the community and downtown Little Rock. The library system contributed $486 million to Little Rock MSA and $31 million state and local tax impact over 10 years.

  • Continue to offer and expand popular programs like Count UP Math Tutoring Program; Rock It! Lab, a learning and start-up hub designed to promote entrepreneurship; and Be Mighty Little Rock, a food and nutrition program for children. These are scalable programs that serve the community.
  • Library staff will continue to partner with outside organizations, such as the Little Rock School District and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, and seek additional funding through grants, sponsorships, and community support.

  • Continue to partner with other organizations on programs like Be Mighty Little Rock. Through this program, CALS served meals to more than 175,000 kids and 8,000 adults during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020.
  • CALS will continue and also expand mobile delivery for books, supplies, and more. The mobile services were used to help residents complete the 2020 U.S. Census.
  • Expand mobile hotspot borrowing programs to help fill gaps in internet access for work and education.


If the library millage increase fails, it could result in…


  • CALS has invested in six new properties since its last millage increase in 2007. Those new facilities include the Children’s Library & Learning Center, Ron Robinson Theater, Roberts Library, and Rooker Library. Dee Brown, Fletcher, and Thompson libraries were also expanded to include additional meeting rooms. Without expanded funding, maintenance and care of these properties could be cut.
  • Condition of facilities may degrade if CALS is unable to address normal wear and tear and ensure technology is up-to-date. Several CALS libraries have kitchens for educational and entrepreneurial purposes. The Children’s Library, for example, has a greenhouse, theater, beehive, garden, all of which require proper upkeep to be functional pieces supporting well-rounded education for youth.

  • CALS might have to cut back on important adult and children’s literacy programs, computer classes, storytime, entrepreneurial training, job skills counseling, math tutoring for school kids, and after-school classes.
  • CALS might be unable to continue to bring in national speakers for the annual book festival, concerts, lectures and poetry events. These festivities attracted more than 215,000 attendees over 10 years, supporting the local economy as an arts and cultural anchor in downtown.

  • Rising cost of digital materials might mean a reduction to services around the digital collection.
  • CALS might purchase fewer types of materials and fewer copies. This means people would have to wait longer to check out popular titles.
  • Fewer digital assets could negatively affect the educational quality of the digital tech card, which gives access to digital materials for students.

chart showing CALS funding sources: 91% property taxes; 3% State of Arkansas; 2% Fines, fees, rental income; 2% donations and grants; 2% other

Click to enlarge



  • If the millage increase doesn’t pass, it will prohibit staff expansion. Amazing, educational programming that builds a vibrant community requires CALS to keep and expand its knowledgeable and devoted staff and pay competitive compensation.
a mother reading to her child at Children's Library

$1 Billion Economic Impact
an infographic outlining the economic impact of the Central Arkansas Library System

$1 Billion Economic Impact

Last year, CALS engaged a local consulting firm, Boyette Strategic Advisors, to study the period of 2010-19 and report on the measurable economic impact CALS had on the Little Rock MSA. Relying on nationally normed statistical methods and CALS’s employment, operational spending, capital investments, and retail sales data, Boyette Strategic has recently determined that the total economic impact of CALS over this ten-year period exceeded one billion dollars.

Local and state tax revenues received by CALS during the period totaled approximately $159 million. Those dollars generated over $1B in direct, indirect, and induced economic impact, meaning that for every dollar of public money, CALS returned $5.28 of economic impact, in addition to the qualitative social impact we more readily think of when considering the value of the public library to our community.

Read the full report

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two girls reading a book at Fletcher Library



Why is the Central Arkansas Library System asking for this millage?

  • CALS has not had an increase in operating tax revenue since 2007. Since then, two new libraries (CALS Children’s Library & Learning Center and the Oley E. Rooker Library) and a theater (Ron Robinson Theater) have been added, and three libraries have been expanded (Dee Brown Library, Fletcher Library, and Thompson Library). The system needs additional support with personnel and utility costs at those facilities. Also, until recently, most acquisition costs were being paid out of bond proceeds, which was deemed an unsustainable practice and discontinued. After a series of measures were undertaken to cut costs across the system, there was still a forecasted gap of about $2 million between revenues and expenses, especially driven by shocking increases in the cost of digital materials such as e-books, which are widely checked out and enormously popular.
What efforts has CALS made to reduce expenses?

  • Required all departments to seek budget cuts of 8% for 2019 budget. This led to elimination of at least three positions at the end of 2019, and left a number of vacant positions unfilled.
  • In 2016 CALS had 306 employees. Now 280. That’s an 8.5% reduction in staff.
  • Engaged a consultant in 2017 to evaluate pay and established a new pay grid that caps raises for certain long-tenured employees. Capped accrued leave benefits that employees were owed at severance. Some long-term employees were owed salary for many months after they retired.
  • Hired an energy audit that resulted in dramatic energy consumption savings.
  • Consolidated retail entities that were being subsidized $250,000 a year, with a goal to break even by 2022. This consolidation became the Galleries & Bookstore at Library Square.
  • Brought housekeeping and landscaping services in-house, saving $170,000 annually.
  • Moved to market rent for some of the tenants and negotiated a new agreement with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center For Arkansas History and Culture with more favorable terms.
How have CALS’s expenses and revenues changed since the last increase in operation millage in Little Rock in 2007?
CALS has made six fixed asset additions since 2007.

  • ASI/Roberts Library – 2009
  • Rooker branch on Stagecoach – 2011
  • Hillcrest Hall – 2013
  • Children’s Library & Learning Center Branch – 2013
  • Arcade/Theater – 2014
  • Maintenance building on East Sixth Street – 2015
  • Revenue growth hasn’t kept pace with expense growth since the last increase in millage in Little Rock. (Numbers have been adjusted for inflation and include all taxing jurisdictions.)

From 2008 to 2020, CALS has expanded revenues available to operate the system by $1.2 million. Meanwhile, salary and benefits expenses rose $2.9 million, and operating expenses rose $1.03 million.

  • Total Operating Expense Increases: $3.9 million
  • Total Revenue Increases: $1.2 million
Has CALS sought or used other sources of income in the past? If so, why not use those sources again?

CALS has used capital bond proceeds to subsidize funding library materials, which is a temporary fix, as the bond funding has been depleted. The system needs a permanent, sustainable way to fund acquisitions of books.

  • In 2016, CALS used $1.6 million in bond proceeds and $464,000 from its operational budget.
  • In 2017 and 2018, CALS used $1.589 million in bond proceeds and $511,000 from its operational budget.
  • In 2019, CALS used $705,000 from bond proceeds and $1.395 million from its operational budget.
  • In 2020, CALS used all operational funds. Materials were budgeted for $1.9 million. However, due to cutbacks tied to the Covid-19 pandemic, the library only spent $1.6 million.
How much will it cost me?

  • The proposal on the ballot is to increase that part of the ad valorem property tax dedicated to library operations in Little Rock from 3.3 mills to 3.8 on a dollar of assessed valuation of real estate and personal property, including automobiles. The property tax increase for a home in Little Rock will average about $14 a year.
  • CALS currently receives approximately $15.7 million a year from Little Rock property taxpayers. This would increase that amount to approximately $18 million.
  • Arkansas has among the lowest property tax collections per capita in the U.S. The lowest collections per capita are found in Alabama ($598), Oklahoma ($771), Arkansas ($776), Tennessee ($799), and New Mexico ($832). On average, state and local governments collected $1,675 per capita in property taxes nationwide in FY 2018. Source: taxfoundation.org
What will happen if the measure fails?

  • CALS would be unable to expand and might have to cut back on important adult and children’s literacy programs, computer classes, storytime, entrepreneurial training, job skills counseling, math tutoring for school kids, and after-school classes.
  • It could be more difficult to recruit and retain high-quality staff to assist patrons and lead programs in the branches and pay those employees a living wage. Some vacant positions would go unfilled.
  • CALS’s ability to stay connected to the community could be impaired, especially regarding vulnerable residents who rely most heavily on CALS services and resources. The library would be less able to help people learn English, find employment, locate a clothing closet or a food pantry, get connected to the internet, or escape homelessness.
  • CALS would be less able to maintain the outstanding buildings for which the system is so well known and replace public-access computers when they wear out.
  • Library users might have to wait longer to check out popular titles.
How will the money be used?

  • With proper funding, CALS will be able to avoid cutbacks and continue to provide the excellent service it has been dedicated to for so long. Also, a more sustainable budget will enable CALS to purchase more technology – such as tablets, laptops, and internet hotspots – and provide devoted staff members with better salaries and benefits.
  • The money can be used to fund expansion of (1) literacy and math tutoring for children; (2) life skills training/lifelong learning (like coding, technology, workforce development, job hunting, entrepreneurship); (3) more staff for after-school programs and storytime; (4) more social workers to help with services to local schools and teachers.
  • CALS could purchase more books on more platforms, resulting in shorter wait times for popular books and broader access to materials, including through the Little Rock School District’s tech card program.
What’s the explanation for the differences between the millage rates for police and fire department pensions and the Library’s operations millage?

  • Tax statements show 3.3 mills for library operations, 1.0 mills for police pensions, and 1.0 mills for fire pensions in the City of Little Rock, but this does not reflect the relative budgets of the library and the police and fire departments. The library millage represents the entire CALS property tax revenue from Little Rock taxpayers. The 1.0 millage rates for police officers and firefighters fund only their pension programs. The operating budgets for police and fire for Little Rock, which total more than $130 million come from the City of Little Rock general budget, while the total budget for CALS is around $19 million.
These are hard financial times for many people. Why are you asking for this money now?

  • Underserved communities need public entities like the library and all its free services and resources during difficult times. In many cases, the library is their only option for important resources.
  • CALS served over 175,000 meals to kids during the shutdown and another 8,000 to adults in partnership with other organizations for the Be Mighty Little Rock program.
  • CALS staff has gone above and beyond to serve the community during the Covid-19 pandemic, offering curbside service beginning in April 2020 after closing the doors in March. The library system re-opened much earlier than many libraries in Arkansas and beyond. It re-opened partially in June and re-opened in September 2020, for almost all hours.
  • CALS was open for connectivity, when others were still closed, providing technology access for individuals needing photocopies for benefits or online applications for jobs or benefits.
children taking a cooking class at Children's Library

In The News

In the News

Growing a Library

“I remember vividly the two days I spent on the road with Nate Coulter in the summer of 1993. We have a lot in common.

We both hail from southwest Arkansas; I’m from Arkadelphia and Coulter is from Nashville. We were born in the fall of 1959; I’m exactly one month older. And we know many of the same people.”
Read the Article

Southern Fried Podcast: Hometown Libraries

“And the library, the Central Arkansas Library System, is an institution for Central Arkansas and for Central Arkansas to be strong. You and I are both avid readers, I think you would agree with me, we need a strong library system, we need a strong newspaper, both.”

Library System Hopes for a Tax Boost to Maintain Services and Improve Digital Offerings

“If voters pass it on Nov. 9, a property tax increase that amounts to about $14 a year for a house worth $150,000 would go toward keeping the Central Arkansas Library System up and running for both in-person and online patrons.”
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LR Lab Offers Startups a Hand

“This is going to change the face of entrepreneurship in Arkansas and democratize the process to give everyone who has a good idea a chance to succeed,” Lubazibwa said. “Anyone who has a good idea for a business deserves an opportunity to develop it and see it grow.”
Read the Article