C.W. Lewis, taxes focus of press conference

Benton Parks Department and UALR-Benton Center have joined forces to breathe life back into C.W. Lewis Stadium.

The partnership was announced by Benton Mayor David Mattingly at a press conference this morning.

Additionally, Mattingly announced plans for a phased-in reduction of personal property taxes during the next three years, the location of a police/fire substation on Arkansas 5 near Alcoa Road and an agreement with Saline County to use the CodeRED system currently in place.

Speaking about C.W. Lewis Stadium prior to the conference, Mattingly said, "We have the opportunity with the parks department to use the stadium for various groups in the city."

An agreement has been reached with UALR to use the stadium at an annual rate of $1 per year for the next three years.

As part of the agreement, the Benton Parks Department will assume maintenance of the stadium to include mowing, cleaning, lights and water.

"We will makes sure the power is on, the water is flowing and the field is kept in condition for use by any group that wishes to use the stadium," Mattingly said.

The agreement calls for the Benton Parks Department to be responsible for scheduling the use of the stadium just as it does for Tyndall Park and Bernard Holland Park.

"We will not schedule events or usage of the stadium for Sunday or Wednesday," Mattingly said.
A joint parking agreement with First Baptist Church adjacent to the stadium has been reached, Mattingly said.

He noted that a portion of the stadium parking lot is owned by the church.

"Rather than letting the stadium sit unused, adding the venue to one of the parks department options, even on a short-term basis, makes good sense for the city and the residents," the mayor said.

Several groups, including soccer programs, have been approached regarding use of the stadium, he noted.

On another matter, Mattingly also reviewed a plan to reduce personal property taxes in the city. Benton residents are currently assessed 4.5 mills. Of that total, 4.1 mills is from personal property tax and .4 mills goes toward the fire pension fund for the city.

Mattingly's proposal would reduce the personal property rate to 3.9 mills while simultaneously increasing the fire pension fund rate to .6 mills. The increase in the rate dedicated to the pension fund is needed to help stabilize the fund, the mayor noted.

Since 2009 the fire pension fund has seen an asset drop from $2.2 million to $1.8 million. Mattingly said that among the items being closely monitored are unfunded liabilities, and he noted that pension funds are typically in this situation across the country as many firefighters reach retirement age.

Pensions are retirement plans paid 100 percent by the municipality and are declining in numbers as programs switch to defined contribution plans that require the employee to contribute a portion of their pay.

Without an injection of funds, Mattingly says there are two ways to increase assets in the fund. One approach is to see an increase in the rate of return in the fund; the other is to infuse an increase of capital.

"The pension currently invests in a money market fund," he said. "With the 18 to 20 percent loss in market value the fund has experienced since 2009, increasing the millage rate from .4 to .6 is expected to extend the life of the fund to 12 years."

Mattingly proposes the change in personal property millage drop to 3 mills for property assessed in 2015 and paid in 2016. If city tax collections continue to increase as projected, Mattingly will propose additional decreases of the personal property millage to 1.5 mills assessed on property in 2016, paid in 2017 and a final elimination of the tax for property assessed in 2017.

In other announcements, Mattingly said the CodeRED emergency announcement program with Saline County will be available for Benton residents at no cost to the city.

The CodeRED program sends messages and telephone calls to residents who have signed up for the services when severe weather or other emergency announcements affect the area. Residents may sign up for the service by visiting the Benton website, www.bentonar.org, and clicking on the CodeRED link.

A planned public safety substation for the area near Alcoa Road and Arkansas 5 is in the planning stages and the final location will be announced soon. The substation will include space for fire equipment and personnel as well as police officers.

By building the substation, the city of Benton can apply for an ISO rating review and city officials are confident that it will bring about a lowering of the city's ISO rating.

The ISO rating is used by some insurance companies to set homeowner and commercial property insurance rates.