Ben­ton County Quo­rum Court backs spe­cial sales tax, elec­tion

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS AND EVENTS - MIKE JONES [email protected]

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County’s Quo­rum Court on Nov. 20 backed a spe­cial sales tax in­crease and an elec­tion for a pro­posed $30 mil­lion courts build­ing.

Jus­tices of the peace held a third and fi­nal read­ing for a one-eighth-cent sales tax in­crease and the March elec­tion for it. Both read­ings passed. The spe­cial sales tax would be for 54 months if ap­proved by vot­ers. The county has adopted a build­ing de­sign and site on Sec­ond Street in down­town Ben­tonville.

“We are not mak­ing the de­ci­sion to in­crease taxes,” Jus­tice of the Peace Tom Allen said be­fore the read­ings were held. “The vot­ers will make that de­ci­sion.”

The plan meets all the needs spelled out af­ter hours and hours of de­bate and dis­cus­sion over the years, County Judge Barry Moehring pre­vi­ously said.

“It took a long time, and a lot of peo­ple were in­volved to get it to this point,” Moehring said af­ter the meet­ing.

Most of Ben­ton County’s cir­cuit court judges are spread among build­ings close to the down­town square and the Ju­ve­nile Ju­di­cial Cen­ter near the jail. Robin Green, John Scott and Xol­lie Dun­can are in the main court­house. Brad Kar­ren is across the street in the an­nex build­ing and Doug Schrantz is in a build­ing on Main Street. Tom Smith is at the Ju­ve­nile Ju­di­cial Cen­ter.

“There is a real need. As the county judge, I have seen that need,” Moehring said of a new courts build­ing. “Now the real work be­gins. We have a big job in front of us.”

The county will be­gin a mes­sag­ing cam­paign aimed at vot­ers start­ing early next year. Five town halls were an­nounced by Moehring on Tues­day night. The first will be held Feb. 4 at the Gravette Civic Cen­ter. Other dates in­clude Feb. 6 at NEBCO in Garfield, Feb. 11 at the Siloam Springs li­brary, Feb. 13 at Prairie Creek and Feb. 20 at the Bella Vista District Court. The town halls will start at 6 p.m. At least five other town halls will be sched­uled, said Moehring, who also will make many stops at civic group meet­ings to dis­cuss the spe­cial sales tax and elec­tion.

The Quo­rum Court also ap­proved the 2019 bud­get on Nov. 20. The $56.2 mil­lion bud­get in­cludes raises for most em­ploy­ees. A re­cent salary study re­sulted in 3 per­cent av­er­age merit raises for most em­ploy­ees. Elected of­fi­cials will be al­lowed to give up to 5 per­cent in­creases. The raises will not be for em­ploy­ees who are paid at max­i­mum lev­els. Those em­ploy­ees’ salaries will be re­viewed next year.

“It’s a good bud­get,” said Allen, who men­tioned the county will start the year with a $207,570 sur­plus. “We ad­dressed sev­eral needs. We ap­proved al­most all of the cap­i­tal re­quests.”

Sher­iff Shawn Hol­loway said his depart­ment has a good bud­get for 2019, but he said the process never ends.

“We want to be con­ser­va­tive with the way we ap­proach the bud­get,” Hol­loway said. “We’ve al­ready started to iden­tify needs for next year.”

The Quo­rum Court also held a sec­ond read­ing on a fee in­crease to house in­mates at the jail. A $10 in­crease from $50 to $60 will inch the county closer to the break-even point for hous­ing in­mates. The new fee would start Jan. 1.

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