Lin­coln Vot­ers Choose Mayor, De­feat Tax Re­quest

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

LIN­COLN — Lin­coln City Coun­cil mem­ber Doug Hutchens will be the next mayor of Lin­coln, but he will head the city with­out the ben­e­fit of rev­enue from a new .75-per­cent sales tax.

Hutchens was elected mayor in the Nov. 6 gen­eral elec­tion with 301 votes or 56.58 per­cent, based on un­of­fi­cial re­sults from the Wash­ing­ton County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Other can­di­dates on the bal­lot were Chris Porter with 119 votes (22.37 per­cent) and Ja­son Davis with 112 votes (21.05 per­cent).

Hutchens, 47, is owner/man­ager of

R&R Truck and Trailer Inc., and has been a mem­ber of Lin­coln City Coun­cil for more than 12 years.

Vot­ers de­feated Lin­coln’s re­quest for a .75-per­cent sales tax by about 58 per­cent to 42 per­cent. Un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults show that 314 peo­ple voted against the ques­tion and 229 peo­ple voted in fa­vor of it.

Ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton County Clerk’s Of­fice, Lin­coln has 1,245 reg­is­tered vot­ers which means the city had a voter turnout of about 43 per­cent for the sales tax elec­tion.

The day after the elec­tion, Hutchens said he was happy with the re­sults of the mayor’s race and was look­ing for­ward to get­ting started. How­ever, he added he was dis­ap­pointed with the sales tax re­sults on the bal­lot.

Lin­coln City Coun­cil had pledged to use pro­ceeds from the sales tax to hire two more po­lice of­fi­cers and use any money left over to help with costs for other pri­or­i­ties, such as clean­ing up the city and code en­force­ment. The city has five of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing a chief’s po­si­tion and a school re­source of­fi­cer.

“We’re get­ting ready to start the bud­get for 2019 and will have to see what we’ll be able to do with­out those funds,” Hutchens said.

Hutchens said he would like to be able to hire at least one more po­lice of­fi­cer next year but said city staff will have to look at dif­fer­ent line items in the bud­get to de­ter­mine if funds can be re­ar­ranged.

“We’ll re-eval­u­ate our bud­get for the year and see what we can do,” Hutchens said.

Hutchens pointed out the sales tax de­feat was not a “slam dunk” and he was not sur­prised by the re­sults.

Hutchens said sev­eral fac­tors prob­a­bly af­fected the vote. For one, Mayor Rob Hulse fired the city’s po­lice chief, Brian Key, on Oct. 27. At the re­quest of the. At the re­quest of the Wash­ing­ton County Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney’s of­fice, the Arkansas State Po­lice is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Key but no in­for­ma­tion has been re­leased about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or why Key was fired as po­lice chief.

“I think part of it was the dis­rup­tion in the po­lice force,” Hutchens said.

An­other news item that oc­curred in re­cent weeks was a sug­ges­tion for the county to con­sider ask­ing vot­ers to ap­prove a new sales tax to ex­pand the county de­ten­tion cen­ter.

“It was just all bad tim­ing,” Hutchens said. “I just hate it for ev­ery­one in­volved but we’re hope­ful and we’re mov­ing for­ward.”

Vot­ers leav­ing the polling place last week gave rea­sons why they voted for the sales tax or why they op­posed it.

Those who said they voted against the tax de­clined to give their names. One man said he’s out and about at night and he does not see a lot go­ing on in the city.

“I don’t think it’s war­ranted,” the voter said.

An­other man said he thought the city was ask­ing for too much. He said he prob­a­bly would have sup­ported a smaller sales tax in­crease.

Still an­other said he op­posed it be­cause Lin­coln’s sales tax rate would be higher than Fayet­teville’s rate.

Deon Birkes, Lin­coln ath­letic di­rec­tor, said he voted for the tax.

“It’s all about im­prov­ing our town,” Birkes said. “I’m a lifer. I think it’s a great town.”

Cather­ine Cobb and her hus­band sup­ported the tax, she said, be­cause of “what it stands for.”

An­other voter, Sharon Gul­lick, said, “They need two more po­lice of­fi­cers here in Lin­coln. It’s re­ally not that much. I think it may be ben­e­fi­cial.”

Like Hutchens, Hulse also said he was dis­ap­pointed the sales tax pro­posal did not pass. He said he hopes to get feed­back from vot­ers on their con­cerns and why they didn’t sup­port the pro­posal.

“I think we def­i­nitely iden­ti­fied that this is what we needed. I feel we were trans­par­ent on why we needed it,” Hulse said. “We feel very strongly we need to in­crease our staff in the po­lice depart­ment to main­tain the health of the depart­ment and the health of the city.”

He said city of­fi­cials will look at all op­tions avail­able so see how they can help the sit­u­a­tion and help the po­lice staff.

As mayor, Hutchens said his pri­or­i­ties will be to re­build the po­lice depart­ment and help po­lice morale, start work­ing on goals that are in the city’s fu­ture land use plan and mas­ter street plan and to con­tinue with a ma­jor project for a new wa­ter stor­age tank.

Hutchens

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