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Special Election: Three Issues Key to Future Growth for Benton Voters

Voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
BENTON, AR (TalkBusiness) - The city of Benton, Arkansas is quickly becoming an economic power in central Arkansas with its population growth of over 40% since 2000. According to Government census data, there were 22,000 residents in 2000 and 30,600 in 2012. In the midst of this growth, the city of Benton has already approved two successful ballot initiatives to improve the city: a school millage campaign and funding for the Benton Event Center.

The school millage increase, passed by voters, rebuilt and updated a number of local schools. As a result of this investment by the community, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report ranked Benton’s public school system as one of the best in Arkansas and the United States.

Additionally, the Event Center, which opened October 1st, has already attracted thousands of people to Benton. A $9 million hotel facility recently broke ground adjacent to the event center and the economic impact of this one project will be significant by the end of its first year.

“I am very proud of our city and its improvements. The bottom line is communication, and all of the groups involved are working together, which is the key to our success thus far,” said Gary James, CEO of the Benton Chamber of Commerce.

However, the growth and change in Benton has come with an array of challenges – costly challenges.

“Almost a year ago, Mayor David Mattingly came to me and several other business leaders with a plan to address some of the long-term financial needs of the city and a plan for the future. He asked us to help get it [the initiative] implemented and we agreed to help,” said Terry Benham, Chairman of both the GoBenton organization and the campaign effort to pass an upcoming three-prong ballot initiative.

He says these local initiatives are necessary to help the city get the facilities needed to meet population growth demands.

“This issue is important because visitors to our city pay this tax as well, which is why a focus on tourism is so important,” Benham said.

The pending initiative consists of three separate issues. Voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject any or all three measures.

Issue One renews the current 1.5-cent sales tax that funds city operations. Voter approval of Issue One will provide long-term budget funding stability. Absent passage, the current 1.5-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.

Issue Two adds a half-cent sales tax to provide additional public safety infrastructure for Benton’s continued growth. This includes additional resources for fire, police and other emergency services. James indicated that some of these new funds will be used for added security in the city’s schools.

“In light of recent events around the world, keeping our kids safe is a top priority. This means adding more police and safety equipment in the schools,” he said.

Issue Three adds a half-cent sales tax to fund a major economic development project in Benton called Riverside Park. Inside the park development will be an aquatics center, a new Senior Adult Center, a new Boys & Girls Club, a soccer and softball complex, and a major event center called “The River Center.” This initiative, if approved by voters, will provide a significant number of jobs, create an activity center in one central location, and will be easily accessible for tourists.

According to Benham, the initiative has widespread support within the community.

“This isn’t a tax decision. This is a business decision. This investment into Benton is supported by our coalition, the Benton Chamber, Benton Police and Firefighters, the City of Benton, and several other civic organizations. It’s a great plan and something I hope the people of Benton make a priority to pass,” he said. “These issues are critical to Benton becoming an economic competitor. If everything passes, we will still have a lower tax rate than our closest neighbors. That means we gain the ability to compete economically while maintaining our competitive tax advantage over our neighbors.”

The special election is to be held on November 12, 2013.

Editor’s note: Kara Billingsley is the author of this story, which will also appear in the November/December issue of the magazine edition of Talk Business Arkansas.
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