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Benton County officials OK raises for 2018

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Photographs by Ben Goff

A view of the Benton County Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015 on the Bentonville square.

BENTONVILLE — Benton County’s justices of the peace on Monday voted to give county employees at least 2 percent raises next year.

The county’s Budget Committee voted to provide employees with 2 percent cost-of-living increases and give elected officials another $242,000 to offer merit raises. The merit raises would be capped at 5 percent. The overall cost to the county would be about $727,000. The vote came as the committee continued working on the county’s 2018 budget. The Quorum Court will consider the completed budget in December.

“This is a formality we’re going through right now,” Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and chairman of the committee, said during the discussion. “We’re going to have the opportunity to take another look at this.”

The committee also recommended the addition of 10 new positions, with the Sheriff’s Office getting three deputies and the County Jail getting four jailers. Also added was a deputy public defender, a legal secretary for the Prosecuting Attorney and one juvenile probation officer.

The committee also heard an update on the proposed relocation of some county offices. County Judge Barry Moehring said the county’s Election Commission will need more space to handle the new voting equipment already approved. Moehring said 20,000 square feet of space has been located in the old Kmart building at 2115 W. Walnut St. The county has also negotiated a right of first refusal on another 17,000 square feet of space in that building.

The first phase of the plan would see the election commission and some employees from the County Clerk’s Office and the Assessor’s Office move into the 20,000 square feet of space. The courtroom and offices for Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz would move into the building at 221 S. Main St. now used by the Assessor’s Office. Moehring said the county has been told the lease on the space now used for Schrantz’s courtroom will be terminated in 2018. Also in the first phase, the space in the Benton County Rogers Office at 1428 W. Walnut St. would be modified to give more space to the Collector, Assessor and state Department of Finance and Administration space used to provide driver’s license services.

The second phase would see the move of the county’s planning and development offices from space in a county-owned building at 905 S.W. Eighth St. to the county development building on S.W. 14th St.

The third phase would see the Coroner’s Office, the Equalization Board, maintenance and related offices move from the old county jail and juvenile detention center on Central Avenue to the space at the Road Department on S.W. 14th Street. The old jail building would be demolished to provide a staging area for work on a new courts building on Second Street.

Moehring said he needed the Quorum Court’s approval before the plan can be undertaken.

“We’re not going to finalize the lease until we know this is baked into the budget,” Moehring said. The committee voted to proceed with all three phases of the facility plan.

Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said the county will have a surplus of about $500,000 if the budget as formulated remains unchanged.

“We have made a first-glance, preliminary run through,” Allen said. “I think we’re 90 percent there.”

Allen set another meeting for Nov. 27 for the Budget Committee to review the budget before sending it on to the Finance Committee on Dec. 5.

“At the end of the day, if this is what stays, we’re half a million dollars to the good,” Allen said.

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