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Annexation passes; Bethel Heights to become part of Springdale

Annexation sparked by sewer problems by Laurinda Joenks | August 12, 2020 at 7:27 a.m.
Pat Marcy (from right), Washington County election official, assists Roberta and Richard Harris as they cast their ballots Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at the Rodeo Community Center in Springdale. Voters in Springdale and Bethel Heights went to the polls to decide whether to annex Bethel Heights into Springdale. Residents proposed the annexation to resolve the issue of Bethel Heights' failing sewer system. Check out nwaonline.com/200812Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

SPRINGDALE -- Voters were approving the annexation of Bethel Heights into Springdale at press time Tuesday.

Springdale residents living in Washington County approved the consolidation by 87%, 1,022 to 149. The Washington County Election Commission counted 26 of 28 precincts by press time, its website noted.

In Benton County, 70% of the voters approved the measure, 424 to 185, with 16 of 17 precincts counted,, according to the website of the Benton County Election Commission

Election results will take 10 days to certify, and should be finalized Aug. 21, said Ernest Cate, city attorney for Springdale.

Bethel Heights has an estimated population of 2,372 while Springdale has an estimated population of more than 81,000.

Residents proposed the annexation to resolve the issue of Bethel Heights' failing sewer system. Bethel Heights sewer customers will receive service from Springdale Water Utilities, which provides water to the town.

Susie Wright, chairman of the Our Town Bethel Heights campaign opposing the annexation, was saddened Tuesday night.

"I have to respect what the voters decided," she said.

"The citizens and the ballot box have spoken overwhelmingly that they are tired of the shenanigans of Bethel Heights city officials," said Joe Brooks, a leader in the Citizens for a Better Government group supporting the annexation. "A new chapter is about to begin showing what government means to be accountable."

Springdale's City Council on Tuesday night unanimously gave Mayor Doug Sprouse permission to spend some of that city's budget to ensure residents of Bethel Heights continue to receive city services -- things such as sewer service, police protection and mowing the city's property.

The measure was approved without a limit on money spent, Councilwoman Kathy Jaycox pointed out.

Sprouse said he and his staff were unsure when the Bethel Heights bank accounts would be transferred to Springdale. But he said the Springdale budget would be reimbursed from Bethel Heights' assets.

"If those guys are working, they need to get paid," Sprouse said of Bethel Heights employees. "We want to ensure a smooth and orderly transition and to ensure residents still receive city services."

The Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality has had Bethel Heights' two wastewater treatment plants and its former operator under investigation for more than a year after confirming a neighbor's complaint of wastewater pooling on his land.

The state has told the city to close the plants and find a new way to treat its wastewater.

Heath Ward, executive director of Springdale Water and Sewer Commission holds about $10 million in reserve for emergencies that could be used to cover the cost of repairing and eventually closing the Bethel Heights plants.

The change of provider could take about six months. Ward said the Springdale utility has a team ready to operate the Bethel Heights system and operate it lawfully during the transition.

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at joenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

Washington County poll worker Paula Hand (right) assists Jeromie Hale Ivester with her ballot and collect her individually wrapped stylus before voting Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at the Rodeo Community Center in Springdale. Voters in Springdale and Bethel Heights went to the polls to decide whether to annex Bethel Heights into Springdale. Residents proposed the annexation to resolve the issue of Bethel Heights' failing sewer system. Check out nwaonline.com/200812Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Washington County poll worker Paula Hand (right) assists Jeromie Hale Ivester with her ballot and collect her individually wrapped stylus before voting Tuesday, August 11, 2020, at the Rodeo Community Center in Springdale. Voters in Springdale and Bethel Heights went to the polls to decide whether to annex Bethel Heights into Springdale. Residents proposed the annexation to resolve the issue of Bethel Heights' failing sewer system. Check out nwaonline.com/200812Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at joenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

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