County eyes new vot­ing ma­chines

Com­mis­sion head: Governor to re­lease money for equip­ment

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

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County vot­ers may soon be us­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of vot­ing ma­chines if state money be­comes avail­able as ex­pected later this month.

The Fi­nance Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day dis­cussed pay­ing for the county’s share of the cost of the new equip­ment. The county is ex­pected to pay half of the es­ti­mated $2.25 mil­lion cost while the state pro­vides the other half.

“We have re­ceived in­for­ma­tion that on the 16th of Au­gust the governor is go­ing to re­lease funds for elec­tion equip­ment,” Russ An­za­lone,

chair­man of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, told the com­mit­tee. “We’re first on the list of coun­ties to re­ceive fund­ing. What we don’t know is whether we’ll re­ceive the full amount.”

Tom Allen, jus­tice of the peace for District 4 and com­mit­tee chair­man, said he wel­comed the news, but thought the county could be pre­ma­ture in con­sid­er­ing an or­di­nance now.

“This is a lit­tle bit ahead of things,” Allen said.

Brenda Guen­ther, comptroller, said the jus­tices of the peace could de­lay ap­pro­pri­at­ing the county’s share un­til af­ter the governor’s of­fice makes the an­nounce­ment. An­za­lone said the county doesn’t plan to use the new equip­ment in any elec­tions through the end of 2017.

“I would like for us to not take any ac­tion un­til the Septem­ber Fi­nance Com­mit­tee,” Allen said.

Also Thurs­day, the jus­tices of the peace told Guen­ther to be­gin work on the 2018 bud­get with a ba­sis of no in­creases in spend­ing on per­son­nel, capital re­quests and op­er­a­tional costs. Allen said he wants em­ployee raises to be con­sid­ered be­fore capital re­quests, new em­ploy­ees and other in­creases but be­fore any in­creases are con­sid­ered he wants so see what the bud­get looks likes without any in­creases.

“I’d like to see us not set a num­ber,” Allen said of pos­si­ble raises.” We’ve done that in the past and not been able to meet it and it gets very emo­tional for some peo­ple. Start­ing with a zero per­cent in­crease sets a tone that we haven’t de­cided yet. I think we should set raises at zero per­cent and see where we come out.”

Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace for District 7, agreed with Allen.

“I’m al­ways in fa­vor of ap­ples to ap­ples,” Jones said. “No capital added in au­to­mat­i­cally. No raises added in au­to­mat­i­cally. No op­er­a­tions added in au­to­mat­i­cally.”

The jus­tices of the peace said they want to look at the cost of a new courts build­ing early in the bud­get process. County Judge Barry Moehring said the de­sign team work­ing on the courts build­ing projects will be able to pro­vide an es­ti­mate or a range of costs dur­ing the bud­get process but couldn’t say when.

Jones said the Bud­get Com­mit­tee can work with a range of po­ten­tial costs so the jus­tice of the peace can start to look at set­ting aside money from the re­serve, pos­si­ble bond op­tions and other fund­ing op­tions.

“I like hav­ing that as early as pos­si­ble,” Jones said. “We need to know that we need to set aside this much money.”

Allen said the Bud­get Com­mit­tee will work with Moehring on the time of a meet­ing to fo­cus on the courts dis­cus­sion.

We’ll give you plenty of time to get your ducks in a row so we can have an in­tel­li­gent dis­cus­sion,” Allen said.

The com­mit­tee also ap­proved ear­mark­ing $15,000 for the am­bu­lance ser­vice op­er­a­tion of the North­east Ben­ton County Fire Depart­ment. The depart­ment was al­lot­ted $94,000 in 2017 to pay for a sec­ond am­bu­lance in the district but Kara Funk, board pres­i­dent, said the cost has been higher than an­tic­i­pated. Funk said the depart­ment was able to hire more part-time em­ploy­ees to op­er­ate the am­bu­lance and it was manned and op­er­a­tional more than the board an­tic­i­pated. She said the district wants to keep the sec­ond am­bu­lance avail­able at least four days a week through the end of the year.

“Those three days that sec­ond am­bu­lance is not in ser­vice, if the first am­bu­lance is out we have to call our backup, which is Pea Ridge or Rogers,” Funk said.

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