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Crunch time for opposition of ‘wet’ Benton County

story by Tabatha Gardner
tgardner@thecitywire.com

BENTONVILLE — Motorists traveling east and west through Centerton on Arkansas 102 get a little bit of advice from the First Baptist Church of Centerton during their commute.

The church's billboard carries a simple message: "Wet. Not Wise." The sign also lists several statistics for potential voters. Pastor Stuart Bell said the sign is his attempt to arm voters with a few facts before they head to the polls Nov. 6.

"Folks are making their case for making (Benton County) a wet county based on the economics of tie issue," Bell said, "I think its only fair to warn them."

The statistics Bell refers to are posted for all to see on his church's billboard. They are based on 2008 crime reports from the Arkansas Crime Information Center. Some of those statistics state there is 299% more robberies and 97% more thefts in wet counties than in dry.

Others state that citizens of wet counties are 96% more likely to become a victim of a violent crime than those who live in dry counties.

"That's a pretty stiff price," Bell said, adding that the question voters need to ask themselves before casting ballots is, "is the convenience of a person picking up a 6-pack of beer at the local Kum-n-Go  worth the endangerment of people on out streets and highways?"

John Gore agrees with Bell and is the spokesperson of a group organized against Benton County becoming wet.

The group, Citizens United to Preserve Benton County, is dedicated to making sure voters are armed with the facts before heading to the polls, Gore said.

"We want people to look at the stats, look at where we got them and make an informed decision," Gore said.

Gore previously said the group hopes to raise $35,000. All of the money raised by Citizens United to Preserve Benton County is being used to let voters know the crime statistics of wet counties. The group filed the application with the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Oct. 20. A report of detailed funding has not yet been filed.

The group which started at the end of September has purchased ads on Facebook and on local radio stations with the money it has raised thus far, Gore said.

Gore would not say how much money the group has raised to date.

Marshall Ney, spokesperson for the group Keep Dollars in Benton County said previously that they are pleased voters will have the opportunity to decide whether or not Benton County remains dry. 

According to reports filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission this group has raised $599,000 and spent $588,455 as of Oct. 15.

Keep Dollars in Benton County used a large portion of these funds gathering the necessary signatures to place the measure on November's ballot. The pro "wet Benton County" organization has also been working for several months to increase voter awareness. The group recently mailed a flyer to many voters in Benton County. It's title: "Vote for Revenue."

The flyer notes that the approximate economic impact of becoming a wet Benton County is $22 million. City sales tax from retail alcohol sales will be approximately $1.4 million and property taxes from the new liquor stores will range from $120,000 to $160,000.

Ney said previously he is confident Benton County will be voted wet based on Keep Dollars in Benton County's successful signature campaign.

"Our main priority between now and election day is to encourage all Benton County residents to vote," Ney said.

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Bell said his goal is the same.

"We still have a say. We can still make our community different," Bell said. "How could anyone justify even one of these lives for the convenience of buying beer at a local gas station."

Bell and Gore referred to the battle of a wet or dry Benton County as a David vs. Goliath situation. The men may be right.

The Facebook page for Citizens United to Preserve Benton County had just 43 likes as of Sunday evening compared to Keep Dollars in Benton County's 1,841 likes.

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