Spe­cial elec­tions planned

Out­comes to af­fect Beaver Lake Fire District, Avoca

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

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.”

NWA Demo­crat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY

Stacey Latham, who along with her sis­ter owns Two Sis­terz Liquor store in Avoca, works Mon­day to stock a shelf at the store. Ben­ton County has two spe­cial elec­tions set for July 11. Avoca res­i­dents will vote on Sun­day liquor sales while res­i­dents of the Beaver Lake Fire District will vote on a pro­posal to in­crease dues to hire more full-time fire­fight­ers.

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