Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

TOP STORY >> Wilson to try to stop funds awarded to library

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville businessman Mike Wilson said Monday that he would ask Pulaski County Circuit Judge Willard Proctor not to let the state Department of Finance and Administration release $190,000 in General Improve-ment Funds earmarked for a new Jacksonville library until he can appeal a ruling from Proctor handed down on Friday.

Wilson has sued to stop the state from releasing General Improvement Fund money for several projects, saying Amend-ment 14 of the state Constitution prohibits funding local projects.

In all, the state’s senators and representatives have earmarked more than $50 million worth of projects, in-cluding $330,000 for Jacksonville projects.

Proctor dismissed Wilson’s suits against libraries in Jacksonville and Heber Springs on Friday and hinted he would dismiss the suit against the Jacksonville Museum of Military History as soon as its attor-ney/founder Ben Rice filed the appropriate motion.

Wilson said Mon-day that he believed Proctor also hinted Friday that he thought Wilson’s suit against the other plaintiffs had merit. Proctor denied motions to dismiss the suits or issue a summary judgment in favor of the other defendants, including the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club, the Jack-sonville Senior Center and the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society.

Wilson said he would appeal Proctor’s decision to the state Supreme Court and would ask for the ruling to be stayed in the meantime.
“If the state is going to simply give money away to anybody, that would require a constitutional amendment,” Wilson said, “a vote by the people.”
General Improve-ment Funds as they now exist began in 1997, so Wilson said he wasn’t bringing home the pork when he was a state representative.

Wilson said he would appeal to the state Sup-reme Court.

“I’m not surprised,” he said of Proctor’s ruling. “I disagree with it.

“Some libraries are more equal than others. We all love libraries. I wish there was more money for libraries.”

JACKSONVILLE LIBRARY

While Jacksonville could use the $190,000 toward furnishing the new Central Arkansas Library facility slated for the town, it’s not that money that’s keeping the $2 million project from moving forward.

First, the city has to decide upon a location and purchase the necessary land, according to Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System.

“We have a preferred site, but we’re still considering others in case we can’t purchase that site,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said.
“Most of the sites under consideration would require negotiating with more than one seller.”

Although Roberts has hired the architectural firm Witsel, Ev-ans and Rasco, “We’re at a standstill until we get some property,” he said.
Wilson said he favors funding libraries, but in the proper fashion. Good thing, since Roberts and Wilson are brothers-in-law.

Roberts said there was some good news.

With revenues up and rates stable, the bond issue appro-ved by Jacksonville voters will probably generate a $2.5 million loan instead of the $2.1 million or $2.2 million expected earlier.

That’s good because prices have gone up considerably in the last nine months, Roberts said.

He hopes to sell the bonds in April, and the money would have to be spent within three years. Roberts said the library could be designed and built by June 2007.

PROJECTS AT RISK

The Jacksonville projects named in the case are:
• $190,000 for the new Esther D. Nixon Library
• $50,000 to the Jackson-ville Boys and Girls Club
• $50,000 to the Jackson-ville Senior Center
• $20,000 to the City of Jacksonville
• $10,000 to the Jacksonville Museum of Military History
• $10,000 for the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society

Jacksonville voters in July ap-proved a one-mill property tax increase to finance $2.5 million in bonds to build the new library, and Swaim pro-mises it will be built with or without the General Improvement Funds arranged by state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville and state Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy.