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OPINION | NWA EDITORIAL: Power of the penny

Bentonville voters have a chance to invest by NWA Democrat-Gazette | April 6, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

An election gets under way in Bentonville today with early voting and election day a week later. What's on the ballot has a hefty price tag at $266 million, but in the context of Bentonville's growth and capacity to better handle it, it's a small price to pay.

In fact, residents and visitors to Bentonville are already paying it. We recommend they keep it up.

What's we're talking about is a 1% tax charge on sales that helps fund capital projects. Voters approved the tax in 2003 and again in 2007. In 2021, city officials say it's time to reinvigorate the power of that penny with a new collection of projects.

Voters will face nine questions on the ballot.

First things first: Voters who support any of the seven capital projects -- whether just one or all seven -- must first vote for questions 1 and 2, which allow for the extension of the sales tax and the pay off of an outstanding $23 million from the 2007 bond issue.

If voters reject those first two questions, the list of projects become moot. But it doesn't mean the sales tax ends immediately. It's scheduled to expire in 2032. If extended, it will expire in 2046 or sooner.

Voters should recognize the need to continue investing in Bentonville and vote for questions 1 and 2 to fund this smorgasbord of projects on the ballot: $173.5 million for streets; $32.75 million for parks; $19.75 million for drainage projects; $6.6 million for a new municipal radio system; Library, $4.97 million; $3.9 million for fire protection; and $1.65 million for police.

These are exactly the kinds of needed projects for a community with a bright future ahead of it.

City officials sought resident feedback and crafted plans for transportation, recreation and other issues. Consider the parks question: Adding parks and trails west of Walton Boulevard is a key focus because, according to parks officials, 58 percent of residents live west of that major street, but only 8 percent of park lands were in that area when the Play Bentonville Plan was completed in 2017. This bond issue begins to address the city's needs with a nearly 100-acre 8th Street Gateway Park and development of Bentonville Commons as a plaza/activity space plus work on ball fields and new water features at the Melvin Ford Aquatic Center.

Drainage is never a sexy topic, but the need for it is a reality in a rapidly growing city. Money in the bond issue would fund 25 projects to reduce flooding and improve drainage.

Like other communities in Northwest Arkansas, Bentonville plans to replace an aging radio system as well as provide new training structures and facilities for firefighters and police. Such training increases safety and better outcomes for everyone.

And last but not least, the city will expand and improve its 38,500-square-foot library with a 6,400-square-foot addition and renovation of another 10,000 square feet.

Early voting begins today and continues through Monday (excluding the weekend) at the Benton County Clerk's Office.

We simply can't imagine a city like Bentonville, growing in so many ways, moving into its future without infrastructure and other investments that permit municipal services to keep pace in serving the needs of residents and businesses. Bonds and sales tax extensions are several other Northwest Arkansas cities have already gotten work underway. There's no reason Bentonville should not join them.

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What’s the point?

We recommend a favorable vote for Bentonville’s proposal of capital projects in seven areas funded with an existing sales tax.

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