By: Joseph Bollinger
On March 12th there will be a special election in Benton county to increase our sales tax by 1/8th cent for 4.5 years to help pay for a new $30 million court house and $5 million in renovations for the old courthouse in downtown Bentonville.
This special election could have been on the general election ballot, the second reading was in April 2018, but the third and final reading was intentionally delayed until December. The county says this was so they could educate the voters about the issue, but I was attending the quorum court the evening that they had experts come in and explain to the JPs that if they want the measure to pass, they need to have it during a special election.
The current county judge ran in 2016 on a platform of not increasing taxes, wanting to build a sensible building while continue to use our current court facilities. Unfortunately, he has done none of this. Instead, he is listening to special interest donors who want to build the courthouse downtown. During his 2016 election he raised around $20K from assorted members of the Walton family, and others associated with the Waltons.
The Walton Family Foundation will also be donating $2 million for assist with this project. While I appreciate the Waltons donating to this project, I do not not like the stipulation of this donation that requires the courthouse to be downtown.
The “downtown parking district” that is a combination of different businesses in Bentonville, including Walmart, is also offering to build a 400 spot parking garage by the courthouse. Once again, I appreciate this offer, but they are also saying this won’t be built if the courthouse is not built downtown. They are marketing heavily about if you vote for the courthouse you will get a free parking garage.
This is incorrect because of two points. First, the county will be responsible for maintenance for each reserved spot that the court will use, this will cost $85 per space per year. I was told they would reserve 100 out of the 400 spots. Another issue, and this is just speculation, is that the new 100-200 room hotel that the Waltons are building in downtown Bentonville will want and need access to this parking garage for guests and valet parking. There is not adequate parking downtown for a hotel like this, so I believe the argument of a free parking garage to be intellectually dishonest, and more than likely it would be built irregardless for this hotel.
The Libertarian party of Benton county proposed plans that would meet the needs of the county for only $15 million, this option was not even considered.
I also strongly believe that we should not be raising our taxes. Arkansas already has the 3rd highest sales tax in the USA, and also the 11th highest effective tax rate. I believe this issue is compounded due to the recent minimum wage increase that occurred in the November election. The wage increase will naturally increase the prices of goods and services, therefore increasing the amount of sales tax collected due to the increased prices. Arkansas will also have the highest effective minimum wage compared to the median income compared to any other state. I believe increasing taxes during a time of economic uncertainty is careless and should be avoided.
The tax increase is also a bad idea due to the recently announced statewide 1/2 cent sales tax extension, and a 3-cent tax increase for gas, and 6 cents for diesel.
All of these regressive taxes disproportionately affect our fixed income and lower income residents the most.
Based on the thousands of interactions I have had during this last year talking to people about this special election, I believe the good people of Benton county will show up on March 12th to vote no and tell Benton county to come back with a better, more sensible solution that won’t increase our taxes.
Joseph Bollinger is a former candidate for Justice of the Peace in Benton County. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This op-ed is solely the opinion of the author.