Ben­ton County moves ahead with court project

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS -

By Tom Sis­som tsis­

BENTONVILLE — The hir­ing of a con­struc­tion man­ager and bond con­sul­tant for the courts build­ing project is close, Ben­ton County of­fi­cials said.

The county re­ceived eight re­sponses for the con­struc­tion man­age­ment work and three ap­pli­cants for the bond coun­sel work, County Judge Barry Moehring said.

The con­struc­tion man­age­ment ap­pli­cants will be nar­rowed to three and face-to-face in­ter­views then will be held, Moehring said. The county will re­view the three bond coun­sel ap­pli­cants and choose one. The firms are the Rose Law Firm of Lit­tle Rock; Fri­day, El­dredge & Clark of Lit­tle Rock; and Mitchell/Wil­liams of Rogers.

“These guys are all pretty well known and we don’t be­lieve an in­ter­view process is re­quired,” Moehring said of the bond coun­sel ap­pli­cants.

De­sign work is un­der­way and adding a con­struc­tion man­age­ment firm and bond coun­sel will help the process, Moehring said.

“With the ad­di­tions, we’ll be nar­row­ing in on costs and fi­nanc­ing op­tions,” he said. “Be­fore too long it won’t just be de­sign con­cepts, it’ll be price tags on the de­signs or on dif­fer­ent

With the ad­di­tions, we’ll be nar­row­ing in on costs and fi­nanc­ing op­tions. Be­fore too long it won’t just be de­sign con­cepts, it’ll be price tags on the de­signs or on dif­fer­ent parts of them and fi­nanc­ing op­tions.” — Barry Moehring, Ben­ton County judge

parts of them and fi­nanc­ing op­tions.”

Dis­cus­sion on a new courts build­ing has gone on for years. Early stud­ies iden­ti­fied pos­si­ble sites down­town and another on county land near the Ben­ton County Jail on South­west 14th Street. The Quo­rum Court voted ear­lier this year to keep the courts down­town.

Hight-Jack­son As­so­ciates was hired to do ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign work. The Na­tional Cen­ter for State Courts from Den­ver will pro­vide court­room de­sign. The Hight-Jack­son con­tract is for $122,500, plus ad­di­tional costs, for phase I. NCSC will be paid $135,000, plus costs. The two firms worked on an ini­tial new courts build­ing study that was pre­sented in 2014. That study and a sec­ond one com­mis­sioned by the county will be used as a ba­sis for new de­sign work, Moehring said. Build­ing de­signs likely will take the rest of the year to com­plete, Moehring said.

Cir­cuit Judge Doug Schrantz rep­re­sents the county’s six cir­cuit judges on the project. Schrantz dis­cussed the sta­tus of the work with Moehring on Thurs­day, af­ter Moehring met with Hight-Jack­son and NCSC.

“It’s still pretty vague, pre­lim­i­nary,” Schrantz said. “What they’ve got now is still mostly conceptual, like the draw­ings we’ve seen be­fore, with blocks of space.”

The cir­cuit judges are still weigh­ing the same is­sues they al­ways have been con­cerned with — safety, func­tion­al­ity and long-term ad­e­quacy, Schrantz said.

“All we’re in­ter­ested in is build­ing it right,” he said.

Pat Adams, jus­tice of the peace, said he looks for­ward to hear­ing from the bond coun­sel the county chooses. Moehring has said his goal is to fi­nance the project from the county’s re­serve and ex­ist­ing rev­enue, with no tax in­crease or new tax. Adams said he is skep­ti­cal of that ap­proach. He fa­vors a short-term, ded­i­cated sales tax in­crease, most likely with a one-year sun­set pro­vi­sion.

“If we take ex­ist­ing rev­enue, we’re go­ing to be pulling money out of the gen­eral fund and tak­ing away funds from the Road Depart­ment, the Sher­iff’s Of­fice, the County Clerk, Col­lec­tor and Asses­sor,” Adams said. “Ev­ery depart­ment is go­ing to take a lot of hits if we have to ser­vice a bond is­sue. In my mind, we’re a debt-free county and we need to stay that way if at all pos­si­ble. With a sales tax, some of the money will come from tourism and the rest will come from peo­ple across the county, in the cities and in the rural ar­eas. If we have a 20- or 30-year bond is­sue, where’s the money go­ing to come from? If it’s strictly on the rural part of the county, there’s no way I’m go­ing to sup­port it.”

Tom Allen, jus­tice of the peace and chair­man of the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, hopes the project will move faster once the county hires a con­struc­tion man­age­ment firm and bond coun­sel. Allen wants a fi­nanc­ing plan ready by the end of the year.

“I guess I’d say I’m ner­vously con­fi­dent in where we are,” Allen said. “This has been go­ing on for a long time and I’d like to see it move a lit­tle bit faster, but this may be as fast as gov­ern­ment can move. For my com­fort level, we need to kick it into a higher gear. I’m not sure what the de­sign will be by the end of the year, but I do be­lieve we’ll have a rec­om­men­da­tion on how to fi­nance it.”

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