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A sales tax increase in Benton County will be on the November ballot

Benton County voters will get to decide at the polls in November whether to pay more sales tax to cover the cost of a jail expansion and more.

BENTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Justices of the peace approved not one but two ordinances on Aug. 25th.

One is an eighth-cent temporary sales tax that would cover the cost of the jail expansion and expire once the bonds have been paid and a quarter-cent permanent sales tax that would pay for a new sheriff’s office, a mental health facility, and about 1,200 beds. In total, the expansion is projected to cost $240 million dollars.

“If we don’t have the jail….if we don’t have an adequate jail space then we don’t have enough deterrent for basically criminal behavior and so that’s why it’s really important that we expand our jail,” said Benton County judge Barry Moehring.

Residents argue if the expansion is necessary. But the Benton county judge says it’s important the county jail expands because the population in Benton county is growing each year.

“So that’s why we put it on the ballot… we want voters to have their say on whether or not we move forward with this,” said Moehring.

To put this into perspective, if you spend $100 at the store, the proposed tax increases will cost you an extra 38 cents.

Justice of Peace Joseph Bollinger says there is a need for the expansion but the timing is not right.

“I’m not against the jail expansion per se…I think there’s definitely a need there and I don’t think many people are arguing about the legitimacy of the expansion what most people are arguing about the timing of the expansion and I’m voting against it because of the timing….I don’t feel we should be raising taxes at a time where people can barely pay rent,” explained Bollinger. 

Former Benton county judge Jon Comstock doesn’t think the jail should be expanded. He says pre-trial services are another solution.

“500 of the folks that are in jail right now… of the 700 bed approximately are pre-trial detainees which means they haven’t been convicted of a crime and like I said the only reason they’re in jail right now is because of poverty,” said Comstock.

County officials say the expansion would take about three years to complete .. but only if voters approve both sales tax measures.

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