County judge hosts Town Hall meeting
After presenting an overview of county government, Benton County Judge Barry Moehring fielded questions from persons present at the first Town Hall meeting of 2018 held in the court room of Pea Ridge City Hall.
Most questions centered around the proposed court house, roads and county finances.
“We appreciate everybody coming out,” Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree told the audience. “We appreciate the judge coming out and having the first one in our new facility here. We are so proud of our building here we share with the school. It’s just an awesome place.”
After the pledge of allegiance, Pea Ridge First Baptist Church pastor Al Fowler was asked to pray.
Many county officials, both elected and hired, were present including several justices of the peace. There were about 50 people, in addition to county and city employees, present.
Moehring said he hosted four Town Hall meetings last year and plans three more this year including one in Hickory Creek and one in Decatur.
Moehring said that Benton County is the second most populated county in the state and has surpassed Washington County. He said there are 1,400 miles of road in the 884 square miles of
Several area residents are planning a trip with Donny Garner of River of Faith Church of Jacket, Mo., to visit the Bible Museum in Washington, D.C.
This year’s trip will be April 2-10 with stops at the Billy Graham Library in North Carolina, Union Station, a moonlight tour of all the D.C. monuments, The Museum of the Bible, Arlington National Cemetery and The National Cathedral, then to Covington, Ky., for a day at the Creation Museum and The Ark Encounter.
The tour includes all hotels, baggage service, ticketing to all attractions and 10 meals. If 40 participants sign up, the group will travel in a new Viking Deluxe Motor Coach, for about $1,360 double occupancy. However, we can go in the older River of Faith Motor Coach with only 20 participants for about $960 double occupancy, less with three or four sharing a room.
To join the tour, contact Allen Merritt at 479-5311141 or call/text Lora Garner at 479-366-7188. the county and that about 800 of those are paved miles.
The road plan implemented last spring, according to Moehring, changed the previous way road work was addressed. He said the county contracted with a company that has assessed all the roads and video taped them showing conditions. “What we found was that 49 percent were substandard,” he said. “We shifted our priorities away from paving new to fix the current system.”
“There had been a fairly liberal use of the road budget to put down as much pavement as possible. That’s a huge maintenance issue,” Moehring said, explaining that those roads freeze and bake repeatedly causing cracks and damage exacerbated by heavy vehicle traffic from school buses and trucks. He said his plan will include paving fewer roads but bringing paved roads up to standards and putting in more robust specifications.
“We’re not putting specs into place that cause the roads to last longer. They’re more expensive to build, but they’ll last longer,” Moehring said.
He said that Sugar Creek Road is too expensive to pave but that three drainage projects have been planned, one of which has been completed, that should improve the road bed.
Moehring commended Channing Barker, county communications officer, saying she has several social media accounts through which she communicates with county residents including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Next Door.
Hal Evans, a new resident to Pea Ridge, questioned the location of the courthouse downtown saying downtown property is always more expensive. Moehring and JP Joel Jones explained the year-long debate about location of the courthouse and the contributions from the Walton Family Foundation offered to keep the courthouse in downtown Bentonville.
County resident Bill Woods said: “I’ve lived here 41 years out in county. Back when we had a big snow, we didn’t see road grader. We didn’t even know if the county had one.
“I take my hat off, they do a good job out there now,” he said, then asked about Arkansas Highway 72 from Sugar Creek saying it is too narrow.
“That’s a state highway,” Moehring told Woods. “We can’t work on that road. I don’t think it’s something the state doesn’t know. They’re in a real quandary with funding.”
Crabtree said the State Highway Department had recently completed a study of State Hwy. 72 from I49 to downtown Pea Ridge and will be presenting plans to the city soon. “We’ll be hearing plans in the next week or so. And, the county is working on It’ll Do Road.”
Moehring confirmed Crabtree’s statement.
“The mayor is right. We’re partnering with state on It’ll Do. We’re going to widen that and will have a right turn lane to make the traffic go smoother,” Moehring said.
Sue Elverston of Pea Ridge encouraged attendance at county meetings.
“My road — Blue Jay — has been fantastic. They’ve done a great job. Thank you,” Elverston concluded.
In reporting on the need for a new courthouse, Moehring said the county has proposed the new building on Second Street between A and B streets in downtown Bentonville that will replace the historic county courthouse built in 1928, along with space in the old Post Office Building on Second Street and leased space on Central Avenue.
Moehring said the plans call for an 86,000-squarefoot building with room for eight courtrooms. He said the historic courthouse will be renovated for offices for the prosecuting attorney. He also said the main courtroom in the historic building will be refurbished as a public space.
The Quorum Court is considering a range of options including budget cuts, a sales tax or a bond issue, Moehring said, adding that the county doesn’t have $25 million in reserves and will need to find a source of funds.
Mike Clifford of Bentonville asked Moehring why Benton County has a revenue problem, citing a range of statistics on population growth, average income and tax revenue.
“Can anybody tell me where this money is being spent?” Clifford asked. Clifford said that without this information being available, he doubts the public will support the new courts building if it means paying new taxes.
Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said that while local tax revenues have increased, costs have gone up and the county’s share of tax revenue has dropped as cities have grown faster and Bella Vista incorporated in 2006, further reducing the population in the unincorporated area of the county and the county’s share of taxes. The county’s 1 percent sales tax is divided among the county and the cities according to population.
Joel Edwards, justice of the peace for District 15, asked those attending the meeting to stay involved as the county works on the courts project. He said the location and design questions have been essentially settled but questions about funding remain.
“We’re going to make some decisions soon you can have some input on,” Edwards said.
Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree visited with Bill Woods before the Benton County Town Hall meeting began Monday in Pea Ridge City Hall. Woods told County Judge Barry Moehring that he had lived here “41 years out in county” and was impressed with the county Road Department snow removal on county roads compared to decades ago. “I take my hat off to them,” he said.