County judge hosts Town Hall meet­ing

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - FRONT PAGE - AN­NETTE BEARD

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.

TIMES pho­to­graph by An­nette Beard

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.

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