Benton County officials want building costs in budget

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 1:04 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/BEN GOFF The Benton County Courthouse on the Bentonville square.
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NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/BEN GOFF The Benton County Courthouse on the Bentonville square.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's justices of the peace agreed Thursday they need more information on the cost of the planned courts building before they can complete the 2018 budget.

The Budget Committee met immediately after the meeting of the Finance Committee to consider cuts needed to balance the projected revenue and expenses. The justices of the peace will meet again Monday to continue work on the budget.

County budget

Benton County’s justices of the peace will resume work on the 2018 budget when the Budget Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Quorum Courtroom at the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave.

Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said the Quorum Court needs to begin to set aside money to pay for the proposed building. The county is working on plans for a building to house the circuit judges, their courtrooms and related offices. The project, planned for property on Second Street just off the downtown Bentonville square, has an estimated price tag of $20 million to $25 million but the justices of the peace haven't yet settled on how to pay for the project.

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Jones said the county needs to cut its annual operating and capital costs so money will be available to finance a bond issue for the building.

"We have to cut, that's the final conclusion," Jones said. "We've either got to cut capital or personnel or both."

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and committee chairman, said finalizing the budget will not be done until the justices of the peace have some discussion of the cost of the building, election equipment, a radio system for emergency services and other questions.

"We've got to focus on the five-year plan for revenues and expenses," Allen said. "What do we need to budget for in 2018, 2019 and going forward. We have to have money for debt service obligations."

Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, said he still supports the idea of a dedicated sales tax to finance the building. Kurt Moore, justice of the peace for District 13 said a half-cent increase in the sales tax could net about $22 million in a year and the county could cover the remainder of the cost from reserve. Adams agreed.

"In my mind's eye, that's the only answer," Adams said,

The committee continued its review of projected revenue and spending requests for 2018 when the meeting began, Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said a revised estimate of revenue for 2018 would cover operating budgets and still leave about $4.7 million for other needs. The justices of the peace asked Guenther at a budget meeting Tuesday to revise the projected sales tax and property tax revenue upward, based on the 2017 collection.

County Judge Barry Moehring has said he would like to see employees receive 3 percent raises costing about $750,000. Each 1 percent raise for employees will cost about $242,000 from the general fund. A total of 21 positions being sought carried a price tag of almost $1.1 million, with the Sheriff's Office and Jail making up the biggest part. Sheriff Shawn Holloway has asked for eight field deputies, eight jailers and two transport deputies with a cost of more than $900,000.

According to Guenther's latest calculations, the county could cover 10 of the personnel requests, with seven being in the Sheriff's Office, along with a revised list of capital requests for general fund accounts and have about $425,000 in surplus revenue.

NW News on 11/03/2017