Benton County residents question courts building

Posted: February 6, 2018 at 1 a.m.

PEA RIDGE -- County residents raised questions about a proposed new courts building at Benton County's first town hall meeting of the year.

About 50 people attended Monday's meeting, which was held at the Pea Ridge City Administration building.

Town hall meetings

Benton County officials have planned two other town hall meetings for residents. Each is scheduled to run from 6 to 8 p.m.

Feb. 12 — Hickory Creek Fire Station, 15645 Arkansas 264, Lowell

Feb. 26 — Decatur City Hall, 310 Maple Ave., Decatur

Source: Staff report

County Judge Barry Moehring began the meeting with an overview of county government and a report on the county's road work done in 2017 and the road plan for 2018. Moehring also offered information on the county's proposed $25 million courts building and other issues, invited other elected officials to speak and then opened the floor to questions and comments.

Moehring spent several minutes on the need for a new courts building. The county has proposed a new building on Second Street in downtown Bentonville that will replace the historic county courthouse, built in 1928, along with space in the old Post Office Building on Second Street and leased space on Central Avenue.

Moehring said the plans call for an 86,000-square-foot building with room for eight courtrooms. In answer to a question, Moehring said the historic courthouse will be renovated. The prosecuting attorney will use much of the space in the historic courthouse for his offices. Other offices may be housed in the building and the The main courtroom will be refurbished as a public space.

Moehring said the county doesn't have $25 million in reserves and will need to find a source of funds. He said the Quorum Court is considering a range of options including budget cuts, a sales tax or a bond issue.

Mike Clifford of Bentonville asked Moehring why Benton County has a revenue problem, citing a range of statistics on population growth, average income and tax revenue.

"Can anybody tell me where this money is being spent?" Clifford asked. Clifford said that without this information being available, he doubts the public will support the new courts building if it means paying new taxes.

Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said that while local tax revenues have increased, costs have gone up and the county's share of tax revenue has dropped as cities have grown faster and Bella Vista incorporated in 2006, further reducing the population in the unincorporated area of the county and the county's share of taxes. The county's 1 percent sales tax is divided among the county and the cities according to population.

Joel Edwards, justice of the peace for District 15, asked those attending the meeting to stay involved as the county works on the courts project. He said the location and design questions have been essentially settled but questions about funding remain.

"We're going to make some decisions soon you can have some input on," Edwards said.

Larry Kelly asked whether Benton County is involved in developing a plan for public transit. Moehring said the county has to set priorities and mass transit doesn't reach the top of the priority list today.

"It's hard to spend a lot of money on mass transit when you have the road system we do that requires a lot of attention," Moehring said.

NW News on 02/06/2018