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Some counties in Arkansas will have jail expansion on their ballot, here's what to know

Benton and Madison Counties have two questions on the November ballot about jail expansion.

BENTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Midterm election day is three weeks away and we want to make sure you are prepared as you head to the polls. 

Washington, Benton, and Madison counties all have jail expansion measures on the ballot. In Benton and Madison counties, the issue is split into two parts.

Ballots in both counties will have two propositions that have to do with increasing sales tax for jail expansions. In Benton County, the first question you’ll see is a 0.25% or a quarter of a cent sales tax to operate the jail. That’s equivalent to a quarter for every $100 you spend.

Benton County Judge Barry Moehring says if passed, the proposal would triple the current jail capacity.

“We don’t have the ability to pay for all of the jailers, food for inmates and doctors and mental health professionals that it will take to operate that facility. So much like other counties in Arkansas including Washington County, we need an additional revenue stream to operate that facility,” he said.

Moehring says about 25% of Benton County’s budget goes to operating the jail. This sales tax would be permanent.

“If we are going to take on a project of this size, thinking about the future, there is no way we have that kind of funding currently in our general fund, so that’s why we’ll need that additional quarter of a cent sales tax to fund it,” he said.

The other question on Benton County ballots is a 0.125% or a one-eighth of a cent sales tax to pay for the bonds the county will sell in order to build the facility. Moehring says the county can spend up to $165 million on the project. This sales tax will go away once the bonds are paid off.

“The projections right now are that it will take about 15 years to raise that money on the eighth of a cent, but I will tell you, in our region and when other big cities have done this…think of the Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, they’ve been able to pay off their bonds much sooner than the projection just due to the growth we are having,” he said.

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Moehring says by law the two questions must be separated since one is for bonds and the other for operating revenue.

The same is true in Madison County where a new jail is proposed.
Voters will decide on a permanent 1.25% sales tax to operate and maintain the jail. The other measure is for a 0.5% sales tax to sell upward of $17 million in bonds to build a jail. This tax will expire once the bonds are paid off.

The Benton County Judge says if one questions passing but not the other, that could cause issues because they can’t build a jail without having funds to operate it and vice versa.

Washington county already has a tax in place to operate its jail.
But voters will decide on a 0.25% sales tax to expand the jail. This is for a maximum of $113.5 million dollars.

For a complete guide on information that will be on the 2022 election ballot in Arkansas, click here.

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