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story.lead_photo.caption NWADG/BEN GOFF Benton County Court Building

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.

General News on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Benton County Quorum Court backs special sales tax, election

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