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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials will consider hiring a market research firm to gauge voter support for the county's proposed courts building, but some justices of the peace expressed doubts about the need for the polling work.

"I'm not fond of this resolution," Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, said at Thursday's Quorum Court meeting.

Voting machines

Benton County’s justices of the peace approved an ordinance Thursday to pay about $2.5 million for new voting equipment. The voting machines are expected to be in use for the May 22 party primary election.

Source: Staff report

The justices of the peace were discussed and ultimately approved a resolution declaring market research a professional service which would allow County Judge Barry Moehring to consider requests for qualifications without the need for putting the work up for bids. Adams and Bob Bland, justice of the peace for District 11, voted against the resolution. Moehring said he will bring a report on the responses to the county's RFQ to the Feb. 6 Finance Committee meeting.

Adams said he thinks the county can gather information from voters through town hall meetings and in director contacts between justices of the peace and their constituents, something he says he is already doing.

Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said those kinds of personal contacts won't give the county the kind of information the officials need to make decisions on the courts building and how to pay for it. He said the county could avoid the cost of an election, or paying for bond counsel or bond underwriters if the survey indicates voters are too strongly against paying for the project in ways that would require those things.

"Even if we were all to go out and walk our districts for an hour a day we wouldn't hit all of our districts," Jones said. "Town halls are only going to get a tiny, tiny bit of the districts. If this turns out to be $50,000 and the voters say 'No way,' we've spent some money but we've saved more money. It's useful information."

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The county has been working on a courts building for several years. The most recent concept shows a four-story building with about 86,000 square feet of space on a site on Northeast Second Street in Bentonville.

Plans call for 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.

The building on Second Street has an estimated cost of $25 million. The Quorum Court has said as much as $5 million of the cost could be covered with money from the county's $13 million unappropriated reserve fund. The justices of the peace have discussed funding options for the remaining $22 million that include cutting the existing county budget; using fines, fees and forfeitures or other revenue; and a dedicated sales tax.

The idea of polling voters on the courts project was also criticized by Mike Kalagias of Rogers during the public comment period of Thursday's meeting. Kalagias, with the Libertarian Party, said the county's elected officials should be more in tune with voters, suggesting the county make use of town halls, social media and other methods of gathering voter input.

"I think it's a sign of a pretty huge failure that our elected officials would have to pay someone $50,000 to tell them what their opinions are," he said "There are ways to do surveys that would cost little or nothing."

Moehring said he will bring a report on the responses he receives to the Finance Committee for discussion. In answer to a question from Joel Edwards, justice of the peace from District 15, Moehring said, the Quorum Court will still have a vote on whether to proceed with the research.

NW News on 01/26/2018

Print Headline: County to consider courts building survey

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