Voters back tax initiatives for Benton, Bryant

By Wayne Bryan Published November 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Benton Mayor David Mattingly proposed tax increases and extensions during the second Benton Forum, held last summer. Those measures were approved by voters at the polls on Tuesday.

SALINE COUNTY — Voters in Benton extended the city’s 1.5 percent sales tax and also approved a half-cent sales tax to support the city’s public-safety efforts and a half-cent tax to develop a community center.

Also on Tuesday night, Bryant voters allowed city officials to re-purpose bonds approved in 2006 to be used to replace two fire substations by building new ones in new locations.

In Benton, Mayor David Mattingly said he was not surprised that voters extended the sales

taxes used for many of the city’s programs, but he was surprised that voters approved the extension at almost 71 percent to 29 percent. The measure passed with 2,337 votes for the extension and 963 opposed, according to election officials for Saline County.

The city taxes would have sunset in 2016 had the extension not been approved.

“This is the fundamental revenue source that we had for the city,” Mattingly said. “We put it out there three years before it was going to sunset for that reason. The chances of taxes being approved were unknown under the current anti-tax environment. The government shutdown didn’t help, even if it was national, not local.”

Mattingly said he was not aware of any organized opposition to the bill other than those opposed to all taxes.

Benton voters also passed a half-cent sales tax that would generate about $2.5 million a year for public safety. The voters supported the tax increase 71.65 percent to 28.35 percent that will fund new employees, equipment and vehicles. Mayor Mattingly called the public safety vote a “good comeback story.” Mattingly led a campaign to increase taxes for fire and police services in Benton in 2009 that was defeated. At that time, he said, voters questioned the city’s accountability.

Mattingly made an issue of the fact that the city’s Insurance Services Office rating could be improved, reducing insurance premiums for city property owners as a result of increased fire and police protection.

Another half-cent tax measure will fund improvement to Holland Park, making it possible to include a softball complex and a soccer complex. However, the centerpiece of the campaign was about a proposed community center for Benton.

“A community center has been on the top of the citizens’ wish list for years,” Mattingly said. “I kept hearing, ‘But we just built one,’ but that was an event center for networking Benton businesses and bringing people to town. That is different than a community center.”

When the mayor first called for the tax votes during a Benton Forum this summer, he said he wanted a community center where Benton High School could hold its graduations for the next 10 years. The statement was met with applause.

While a proposed graduation site was popular, the mayor said, a community center could be so much more.

“Graduation is a one-time-a-year event,” he said. “But if we can have one-time-a-year events every week, we are going to bring more people into the city, and they will buy gas and eat and stay overnight, and that will be good for the economy.”

The mayor said the community center would be big enough for regional high school competitions and sporting events. In addition, the center would also be the home for the Benton Boys & Girls Club and the city’s senior center, much in the same way they are currently housed in the Center at Bishop Park in Bryant.

Gary James, executive director of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the election results were exciting.

“It’s like being on a ball team, and we just had another good game,” he said, pointing out that the results follow closely the opening of the new Benton Event Center. “It is great to have momentum to bring Benton forward. For the voters to say ‘yes’ at the ballot box, with margins from 63 percent up to 73 percent, it means all the community is working in the same direction.”

In Bryant on Tuesday night, the voters approved a plan to use bond funds to replace two fire stations by building new ones in other locations. The 0.375 percent sales-and-use tax had first been approved by voters in 2006.

Bryant Fire Chief J.P. Jordan said he had hoped for a larger turnout, but he was glad the measure passed.

“It’s good that people saw the need to get the ball rolling by replacing two old stations,” he said. “If we had not been able to do that, we would be just further and further behind.”

Chief Jordan said the construction could start in 2014.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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