Officials with the group working to let voters decide if Benton County should become “wet” announced that they turned in more than 56,000 signatures to the County Clerk’s office on Thursday.
The ad hoc group, Keep Dollars in Benton County, has been canvassing since mid-February in hopes of gathering the 41,171 signatures required to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If approved, the measure would legalize retail alcohol sales in Benton County.
It’s now up to the Benton County Clerk’s office to verify that at least 41,171 valid signatures were submitted.
“We can’t thank our petitioners and our volunteers enough,” said Marshall Ney, a spokesman with the group and an attorney with Mitchell Williams Law Firm in Rogers. “They have worked tirelessly, especially in these last couple of months, to ensure that we have enough signatures to get this important issue on the ballot. We are hopeful that Benton County residents will finally have the opportunity to have their say on an issue that affects the economic growth of our community.”
Initial funding for the petition drive came from Steuart and Tom Walton, grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton.
“As natives of this area, both my brother Tom and I are passionate about doing what we can to help Benton County and the whole region continue to thrive and develop,” said Steuart Walton in February. “We respect, of course, that there are differing points of view on this issue, but that is all the more reason to take this to the voters and to give our democratic process an opportunity to work.”
Arkansas Times reports that the two have so far reported spending $330,000 on the effort, with E-Z Mart, Kum and Go and Casey General Store also contributing notable amounts.
Press release from Keep Dollars in Benton County
BENTON COUNTY, ARK. (JULY 12, 2012) – Members of the Keep Dollars in Benton County group turned in more than 56,000 signatures to the Benton County County Clerk’s office today. The group has worked over the past five months to secure enough signatures from Benton County voters to put up for vote Nov. 6, 2012, whether or not retail alcohol sales should be legal in Benton County. The County Clerk’s office will now go through a process of validating the signatures to determine if 38 percent of registered voters in Benton County have signed a legal petition confirming their desire to bring the matter to a vote.
According to the Benton County County Clerk’s office, 38 percent of registered voters as of June 1, 2012, is 41,171 – the number of valid signatures needed to put the wet/dry issue on the ballot.
Voters in Benton County haven’t had the opportunity to vote on whether or not the county should be “wet” or “dry” since the mid 1940s when voters were last heard on this issue, said group spokesman Marshall Ney, an attorney with the Mitchell Williams Law Firm in Rogers. Since that time, when the population of Benton County was approximately 38,000, much has changed in the county with today’s population at 220,000 and growing, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“We have worked hard through the use of a professional firm, National Ballot Access (NBA), and our many volunteers to gather enough signatures to get this issue on the ballot,” Ney said. “Based on our own internal review, we are confident that we have the necessary signatures, but, ultimately, it’s up to the County Clerk to determine if we have the necessary signatures to place this on the November ballot.”
Over the past five months, Keep Dollars in Benton County petitioners and volunteers have gathered signatures at community events, Drive Up Sign Up special signing events and door-to-door.
“We can’t thank our petitioners and our volunteers enough,” Ney said. They have worked tirelessly, especially in these last couple of months, to ensure that we have enough signatures to get this important issue on the ballot. We are hopeful that Benton County residents will finally have the opportunity to have their say on an issue that affects the economic growth of our community.”
Keep Dollars in Benton County is committed to moving the county to a “wet” county because of the many economic advantages, Ney said. According to an economic impact study from the University of Arkansas’ Center for Business and Economic Research, converting Benton County from dry to wet would be an approximately $33 million total annual economic impact.
“Based on the study, there is no question that there are real and significant economic benefits that would accrue to Benton County if retail alcohol sales were legal,” said Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research. “This potential economic impact would include additional sales and property taxes for the county and its individual cities, the creation of new jobs and businesses, and indirect economic benefits resulting from all this new activity as well.”
The full study is available on the Center’s website: http://cber.uark.edu/
For more information on Keep Dollars in Benton County and how to donate to the group, visit http://www.KeepDollarsInBentonCounty.com.