Benton County officials OK new voting machines

Posted: October 4, 2017 at 1:04 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Voters form a line out of the doors Wednesday during early voting at the Benton County Clerk’s office in Rogers. Voter turnout has been high since Monday according to county staff.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's justices of the peace agreed Tuesday to pay $2.25 million for new voting equipment.

The Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the proposal for the voting machines to the Committee of the Whole at that panel's meeting, set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

County budget

Benton County’s justices of the peace will resume work on the 2018 budget when the budget committee meets at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville.

Source: Staff report

Tom Allen, justice of the peace and chairman of the Finance Committee, said the county needs to resolve the question quickly. He said the prospect of obtaining state money to buy the equipment has disappeared, but the state is still offering to pay for maintenance agreements on any equipment bought now.

That assistance might not be available if the county delays buying half of the equipment, as was once considered. Kim Dennison, election coordinator, said the cost to the county could be as much as $600,000 over 10 years if the state doesn't pay for all of the maintenance contracts.

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"We have a $2.25 million question before us," Allen said. "If we buy only some we may not be able to get the warranty paid from the state."

Allen said the county could pay for the equipment at one time or finance the purchase over five years. He said his preference is to finance the purchase, leaving the county's $15 million reserve available for the courts building and other needs. Mike McKenzie, justice of the peace, agreed with Allen.

"I don't want to put us in a position where we don't have money to move forward with the courts building," McKenzie said. "That's a true, long-term capital project. I would be for the financing option."

The panel also heard a brief report on funding options for the new courts building from Shep Russell, with Friday, Eldridge & Clark, bond counsel on the project. Russell told the justices of the peace the source of money to pay off the bonds determines what type of bonds the county issues.

One type of bonds are authorized under Amendment 78, Russell said. Those bonds must be repaid from "general revenues of the county," don't require a public vote and must be repaid within five years. Bonds paid from a tax requires a public vote but avoid the five-year restriction. Russell said this is the most common type of bond financing used by Arkansas counties. The third option is revenue bonds paid by money "not derived from taxes," Russell said. Those bonds are most commonly repaid from fees, fines, court costs and restitution ordered in district courts and circuit courts.

Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said the county takes in about $1.5 million annually for the general fund from those sources.

"We believe that can support a bond issue," Allen said. "I think this is the easiest way because we don't have the time constraints of having to go through an election."

Joel Jones, justice of the peace, pointed out paying for bonds from revenue means the Quorum Court will have to take that money away from other county services.

"We're already using this in the budget, right?" Jones said. "If we pledge this for the bonds we'd have to take it out of the budget."

Pat Adams, justice of the peace, said he doesn't want the county to go into debt for the courts building project. Adams said he favors a one-cent sales tax with a one year sunset provision.

"I have issues with committing the county to a 15-year, 20-year or 30-year debt," Adams said. "It's a risk. Are we willing to cut our county services for 30 years?"

NW News on 10/04/2017