There was a great turnout at the Benton, Arkansas Municipal Complex. At the beginning of the meeting Mr. Ellis, who conducted the meeting, surmised correctly that everyone in attendance except for city officials was against the annexation. A show of hands at the start of the meeting and not one comment in favor of the annexation proposal confirmed that. Many questions were asked, but Benton officials' attempts to answer were not satisfactory to the residents of the Salem community. Benton officials tried to charm and woo us, but we were not thrilled. Many left the meeting feeling that they still needed answers. How is Benton going to finance the annexation? How will the City of Benton support the newly annexed area when areas inside the current city limits are still in need of improvements? This report includes some information gathered following the meeting, along with some comments.
The August 12th annexation election has been canceled, and the size of the area proposed to be annexed is smaller. Much of the information on this page is still relevant though.
Why would Benton want to annex an area where the residents do not want to be in the city? GROWTH
Benton growth is nothing like the growth in Conway. Conway is growing because people are moving to Conway, and people adjoining the Conway city limits are asking to be part of the city. Wayne Cox, former Chairman of the Conway Planning Commission, says he recalls very few objections to annexations. Christie Sutherland of the Conway Planning Department says;
We think the annexation area is almost 4,000 acres based on 640 acres per section times 6 sections.
Mayor Holland, maybe you wish Benton growth were like Conway growth, but it is not -- there is no similarity whatsoever. What Benton was doing could be considered a land grab rather than growth. One resident put it mildly when he said that besides Rogers, Benton is the most political city in the state. Salem residents do not want to be part of Benton. If the Benton government is willing to exploit state law to unfairly take over people who do not welcome their advances, then what other legal loopholes will they find in the future?
At least one resident stated their intention to vote against any city official who had anything to do with the Salem area Annexation. If we are annexed, Salem residents will have little influence on Benton elections because we are few in number, and because we can only vote for the aldermen representing our ward. However, we can support candidates who are really against forced annexations, and we can hope that long-time Benton citizens will join us in trying to rid city government of those who would unfairly take what is not theirs.
Several times during the course of the meeting, Mayor Holland referred to "Benton taking" the annexation area, or "Bryant taking" it. I think this statement has a lot of truth, and I would say that "taking" is not a strong enough word. Residents of the Salem Community that would have been annexed have a small token voice in the election, but 27,300 Benton citizens can easily outvote 900 Salem Community residents. This smacks of taxation without (adequate and fair) representation. Wasn't the Boston Tea Party a protest against this sort of thing?
If a man takes a woman without her consent, that is a serious crime. If a city takes unwilling people into the city, that is legal according to Arkansas law. Is the Arkansas law that allows this constitutional?
Residents of Shady Grove, an area previously annexed into Benton, were also in attendance at the meeting and questioned why the city has not fixed their streets that have washed into ditches and yards? The ditches are so full of asphalt, dirt, and debris that the water now runs down the streets and washes what is left of the street into the yards. "WHY DOESN'T BENTON TAKE CARE OF THEIR CURRENT PROBLEMS BEFORE ADDING ANY MORE AREAS?"
Another major point brought up in the meeting was that "the Salem community already has many of the services that will be available after the annexation. WHY IS THIS AN IMPROVEMENT IF IT IS ALREADY TAKEN CARE OF?"
The Benton City Council knew that Salem residents did not want to be annexed, but in spite of that, on May 14th, the City Council voted to annex the Salem Community. Ponder and Richards were absent but everyone else voted for the annexation. Regarding the agreement between Benton and Bryant that Bryant would get the Northlake section, the council did not want to discuss that because a lawyer was dealing with that issue.
Salem residents are still asking, "Why would we want to be a part of Benton?" Benton citizens and city officials should be asking, why would we want to annex people who clearly do not want to be in the city limits?