Special elections planned
Outcomes to affect Beaver Lake Fire District, Avoca
BENTONVILLE — Voters in Avoca and the Beaver Lake Fire District will cast their ballots in a pair of special elections on July 11.
Fire district residents will be asked to approve an increase in annual dues from $75 to $150. The dues are assessed on all homes and businesses in the district. Avoca residents will be asked to approve the Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption.
Chief John Whisenant with the Beaver Lake Fire
Department said the department is working on a plan to hire enough full-time employees to have two firefighters on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The department also needs to add on to the fire station to accommodate full-time crews and to buy some air bottles for the department’s breathing apparatus, since those the department now uses will expire next year, he said.
Dues have been at $75 a year since 2007, when voters approved an increase from $40, Whisenant said. The proposed $75 increase would cover the anticipated $113,000 annual cost of additional personnel and the needed equipment and work on the station. The department’s dues, which are collected by the county on the annual property tax statements, brought in $174,398 in 2016, according to the Benton County Collector’s Office.
In a special election on July 12, 2016, fire district voters rejected a proposed $225 increase in annual dues that would have allowed the department to hire three fulltime firefighters and make facility improvements. That plan was voted down with 289 votes (45 percent) in favor and 347 votes (55 percent against). Department officials heard what voters said after that election and scaled back the request, Whisenant said. The department has also done more work to inform voters about the request, he said.
“We’ve spoken to all the property owners groups. The reception has been mostly positive, with less than a handful of people against the proposal,” Whisenant said.
Another difference in this year’s vote will be the work of the Friends of the Beaver Lake Fire Department, which was formed to support the department, but is not affiliated with it. Kent Sohosky, who retired to the area from Rogers about 2½ years ago, said he was surprised by last year’s vote and wants a different outcome this year.
“I couldn’t understand why would somebody not vote for it,” Sohosky said. “Why would you not want to save a life or put out a house fire? People out here pay $85 a quarter for trash service.”
The group has a website and Facebook page and has distributed push cards, put out signs and banners that support the proposal and done one mailing, with a second mailing set for this week, Sohosky said.
“Last year, we had no positive campaign,” he said.
The Avoca election was the result of a petition drive by two women — Stacey Latham and Stephanie Zortman — who own Two Sisterz Liquor in Avoca.
“We had several patrons mention they were going to Missouri to buy liquor on Sundays and wondering why we weren’t doing it,” Latham said.
The women researched the legal requirements to hold a special election and put out a petition at the store, collecting 40 signatures, two more than the 38 needed, according to the Benton County Clerk’s Office. The women will pay the cost of the election, which Latham said they’ve been advised will likely be around $5,000.
“We think it’s worth it,” she said. ”Why would we want those tax dollars going to Missouri when we can keep them here? Even if we don’t win, at least we know we tried.”