County eyes new voting machines
Commission head: Governor to release money for equipment
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.