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story.lead_photo.caption The west side of the Benton County Courthouse. - Photo by Flip Putthoff

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials may seek professional help to discern voters' attitudes about a planned courts building and how to pay for it.

The Quorum Court, at its Jan. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting, waived competitive bidding requirements if the county chooses to hire someone for the project.

Courts building

County Judge Moehring will present an update on Benton County’s proposed courts building to the Quorum Court’s Finance Committee at 6 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville

Source: Staff report

County Judge Barry Moehring said he wants information on the public's overall awareness of the problems with the county's court facilities and voters' perception of different ways of paying for the proposed $25 million courts building.

The project would survey residents 18 and older, from cities and unincorporated areas, if approved. The county has asked for proposals with a cost not to exceed $50,000.

The county has been working on a courts building for several years. Plans call for a building on Second Street in downtown Bentonville. The justices of the peace have discussed funding options such as cutting the budget to cover the cost of a bond issue; using fines, fees and forfeitures or other revenue to back a bond issue; and a dedicated sales tax with a sunset provision to cover the cost of the project.

Early studies identified sites downtown and another near the Benton County Jail on Southwest 14th Street in Bentonville. The Quorum Court last year decided to keep the courts downtown. The most recent concept showed a four-story building with about 86,000 square feet of space on the Second Street site.

Plans show eight courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms and judges' chambers with additional space for the circuit clerk, county clerk and other related offices. The county now has six circuit court judges with five housed in the downtown area and the sixth at the juvenile justice center on Melissa Drive.

Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, has favored a 1-cent sales tax to pay for the courts building. A recent presentation to the Quorum Court indicated a 1-cent sales tax would raise enough money to pay for the building in six months. Adams said his "one-and-done" sales tax proposal has support from people he talks to, which he said he considers a more reliable source of information on voters' attitudes and opinions than a survey.

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"You can get a poll to say anything you want it to," Adams said.

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4, said he hasn't been contacted by anyone and has had just one discussion on the building when he raised the subject himself. Allen said the person he explained the project to supported the courts building and said the county should cut its budget to pay for it rather than raise taxes.

Susan Anglin, justice of the peace for District 9, said she had a single exchange on Facebook with a constituent. Anglin said she was asked some questions about the project at a recent meeting of the Benton County Farm Bureau board, but the board took no stand.

Springdale didn't pay for exclusive opinion polling or market research when deciding whether to ask voters to approve a $200 million bond issue, Mayor Doug Sprouse said. Residents will vote on a $200 million bond issue Feb. 13 that would pay for projects in five areas.

"We've known for years that in 2018 we would probably be going to a bond issue election," Sprouse said. "We've presented ideas and discussed them at City Council meetings. We've had some public meetings on the criminal justice portion. We had some public input sessions on parks. For us it was more that we knew each of these issues needed attention. The streets are the biggest part of it, and that's a 'no-brainer.' It's been a yearslong process."

Jacob Faught has lived in Benton County, near Gentry, for the past 13 years. Faught recently announced he'll run for the District 12 seat on the Quorum Court as a Libertarian candidate. The seat is now held by Adriane Carr.

Faught questioned the county paying for a public opinion survey to gather information on how to pay for a courts building.

"That's the taxpayers' money," he said. "That's the bottom line. It's all the taxpayers' money."

Faught said he thinks officials can easily be reached by concerned residents who want to offer their views. He said cutting the budget to pay for the project should be the first option.

"I think we all know government is wasteful; any size government has waste," Faught said. "It should always be in the forefront of any government official's mind 'Where can we find waste?' That should be the way to pay for any needed new services."

NW News on 01/22/2018

Print Headline: County eyes opinion poll on courts building

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