State of the City

February 9, 2021

It is both an honor and privilege to present the State of the City to you tonight. This presentation is required by Arkansas code to be given by the Mayors of first-class cities to City Council within the first 90 days each year.    

I would like to start by asking you to join me in a moment of silence to recognize all those that have been affected by COVID-19 and social unrest throughout the past year.  

As a City, the challenges of 2020 have compelled us to lead with a sense of compassion, flexibility, and a commitment to serve the public through any circumstance. As I present this evening we find ourselves hopeful with the start of vaccine distribution, strong economic activity and recovery in the City, and an overwhelming sense of community and perseverance that demonstrates the “can do” attitude that defines our Community.  Although 2020 has been extremely challenging in many ways it has most assuredly revealed the State of the City of Bentonville is stronger than ever and we as a community rise to every occasion with compassion and resiliency. Over the past year I have been ever reminded of the quote “If it were easy, it would have been done.” 

As a city staff, we have faced many challenges this year and I want to begin by recognizing all city employees for everything they have done to make sure the day-to-day services of the city have continued with little to no interruption…all while growing at an unprecedented rate. Adjusting to a pandemic was and continues to be challenging, but our employees have gone above and beyond.  Most notable, we created and executed a pandemic plan. We transitioned our work meetings to online.   We embraced technology to insure workflow continued and public input meetings could be conducted.  We even took strides to provide more public input than is required in many instances and did so all while adhering to CDC guidelines for safe in-person and online choices for the public to participate. We also reconfigured work areas and crews to comply with CDC guidelines and insure a safe environment for our employees.  We made sure the public saw little to no interruption with public services.  Our city staff rose to the occasion and became even more productive. They did not waiver to provide services to our citizens and continue to support and grow our economy. 

We came together to assist the community with over 4,000 gallons of milk handed out to our residents with the help of our staff and a partnership with Borden. 

We assisted Pedal it Forward and the Bentonville Fraternal Order of Police in giving over 100 bicycles to kids in need, which was a particularly beneficial item to give them during a pandemic and something healthy for them to do. The look on their faces when receiving a free bicycle and helmet was truly unforgettable.  In the midst of a pandemic, for the first time in our City’s history, we now see large building cranes in our downtown area as economic development continues to be strong and we work to find creative ways to help our restaurants continue to do business with outside parklets. 

We witnessed civil unrest and protest, all while we grew stronger. We launched Bentonville Together with listen, learn and lead steps to help make our city more welcoming and bring a greater awareness of mutual respect among our staff and community members. 

At this time last year, I announced the Spirit of Bentonville award for citizens. This award honors Bentonville residents, like many of you, who serve to advance the Bentonville Community by embodying our City’s welcoming culture, goals, and overarching dedication to enriching the lives of all those who live, work, and play in Bentonville. I am pleased to report that even in the midst of a pandemic we have honored 5 community members with this recognition.   Please join me in congratulating Officer Christopher Gravley, Ms. Dana Jackson, Mr. Jason Jenkins, Ms. Mary Nell Plumlee, and Ms. Joy Bolding for giving selflessly of themselves to the Bentonville community and for making a positive difference during these very challenging days.  Tonight I am honored to recognize Ms. Wylene Cohagan with the Spirit of Bentonville Award.  Mrs. Wylene recently celebrated her 85th birthday and she exemplifies the Spirit of Bentonville award in every way.  In 1972, she was the Ecumenical Chairman of the Bentonville Methodist Church when she asked her Pastor if she could invite other church members to a meeting to discuss community needs.  Ecumenical Friends held rummage sales and other fundraising events to raise needed monies and other donations for the disadvantaged.  From this, on April 29, 1976, Helping Hands Thrift store opened in the historic Massey Hotel building located at 121 West Central.  Today, Helping Hands is a non-profit organization operated as a partnership of 18 churches from throughout Benton County.  In addition to the thrift store located at 320 Airport Road, Helping Hands operates one of the largest food pantries in NW Arkansas providing food to more than 900 families each month.  Happy Birthday Mrs. Wylene!  Thank you for showcasing the Spirit of Bentonville and taking an idea to do good in your community, making it a reality, and continuing to support it’s success for over 45 years.  I look forward to receiving many more Spirit of Bentonville nominees and continuing to honor those in our community who go above and beyond to give back.    

In September 2020, I received a handwritten note from one of our senior citizen residents bragging on the excellent customer service that she received from one of our Electric Department employees. This sparked the idea of expanding the Spirit of Bentonville award to include an Employee category.  I am honored to say that we have recognized several City of Bentonville employees during the last quarter of 2020 due to my personally receiving notification from community members about these employees going above and beyond and making the residents' lives better as a result of coming in contact with our team.  Those employees are Daniel Ponthieux in our Electric Department, Meredith Park in our Parks and Recreation Department, Hunter Patton from our Street Department, and 4 employees from our Water Utilities Department, Loran Shipman, Amanda Hamilton, Dylan Fulkerson, and Chris Delahoy.   Please join me in congratulating all of these recipients.  Again,  I look forward to recognizing many more City employees in 2021.  
 At this time last year, I also announced the creation of the Mayor’s Youth Council. The purpose of this new group is to provide a conduit for youth to voice to city leadership, help promote civic engagement, foster an understanding of how municipal government works, and hear and offer solutions to real-world city issues. I am happy to announce that we had 12 students successfully complete this program in 2020, in spite of the pandemic, and having to pivot from in-person meetings to meetings via zoom. They were presented with certificates of completion at our December City Council meeting.  We currently have 12 students participating in the Mayor’s Youth Council in 2021.  

In addition to the Mayor’s Youth Council, the Mayor’s Community Council began in 2020. This group appointed and directed by the Mayor is designed to bring the community together to discuss and work toward building a closer and more connected City.  A strong community celebrates mutual respect, integrity, diversity, and fairness. Eight Bentonville residents participated and completed this new initiative in 2020 and were recognized with certificates of completion at the December 2020 City Council meeting.  Thank you to these 8 individuals for completing this inaugural class and enduring through the pivot from in-person to virtual presentations during the pandemic. We have 16 individuals (4 from each ward) that are participating in this program in 2021.

Bentonville continues to be recognized as a top destination for regional, national and worldwide travelers.  This year City leaders added to their destination claims by staking Bentonville as the  “The Mountain Biking Capital of the World.” Bentonville has become the cultural hot spot in the Heartland.  We are very appreciative of private entities that have invested in our City and offer such amazing amenities as the world-renowned Crystal Bridges Museum, Museum of Native American History, newly opened in 2020 contemporary art space in The Momentary, the Scott Family Amazeum children’s museum and, of course, the Walmart Museum. We are also thankful for the City’s partnership with Visit Bentonville in promoting our City.  We recognize our hotels and restaurants have been particularly affected by COVID-19. We encourage the support of these outlets and look forward to continued economic recovery in our business community.

Under the scope of another City partner, Downtown Bentonville, Inc., our community was able to see the ever-popular Saturday Farmer’s Market be one of the only markets in our area to successfully open in 2020. They took extraordinary care to keep the environment safe and we certainly appreciate their efforts to keep our Downtown flourishing in challenging times.     

With recognition by the U.S. Census Bureau of Bentonville as the 5th fastest growing large city in the United States in May 2020, it is evident people don’t just want to visit Bentonville, they want to call Bentonville home.  We continue to see announcements of a variety of new housing options and businesses along with an inspiring entrepreneurial spirit, a focus on expansive trail systems, and beautiful trees and natural open spaces for all to enjoy.   Bentonville continues to garner awards and recognition as one of the best places in the United States to live, work, and play.  

City Staff

Bentonville is managed by an extraordinarily professional team.  The City’s senior staff leads 530 full-time employees and 96 part-time employees.   Our team is dedicated to providing taxpayers with an “exceeds expectations” return on their investment in city government. We also continue to invest in the accreditation and training to insure our employees have the most up-to-date skills and knowledge base needed to fulfill the City’s Mission to preserve, promote and sustain the excellent quality of life within our city. And in partnership with the Community, we pledge to deliver municipal services in a professional, personal and responsive manner for all.


Sales Tax Receipts

I am pleased to tell you tonight Bentonville enjoyed another great year for sales tax with our per penny amount eclipsing $16 million for the first time.  Bentonville’s 2020 sales tax receipts increased by 9.3% compared to 2019 collections.  This increase was impressive given the economic climate around the pandemic, but we think it shows our continuing population growth and the resiliency of our local workforce and economy.


Communication / Economic Development

Providing transparent, consistent, and timely communication remained a top priority in 2020. In September 2019, we launched Bentonville311. This online application allows citizens a single point of contact for non-emergency concerns in 21 categories.  To date, we have received over 2,000 citizen service concerns and have completed 1,918 of these requests with the remaining in process. In 2020, we issued over 100 press releases, produced 105 informational videos, began hosting a virtual coffee with the Mayor and in one of our biggest tasks we transitioned technology to offer meetings in a virtual platform. Our social media platform continues to grow and we have over 10,000 followers online and a reach of over 71,000. This has been an effective communication tool to provide community information and highlight achievements and events within our departments. A concentrated effort has been made to improve customer service for economic development.  23 new commercial projects were planned with over 571 thousand square feet of commercial development. Relationships have been built with Bentonville developers to increase communication and make the process to build and invest in Bentonville easier. Efforts to recruit business to Bentonville and provide workshops and training for minority and women-owned business is a continued focus. Our staff also serves on several workforce development groups to help maintain and recruit talent to our City.

Utility Billing

The Utility Billing team managed the collection and administration of almost $91 million (almost $38 million from credit card payments) and more than 27,622 accounts. The department fielded 61,366 calls; with 13,354 calls coming in from the automated IVR system.  238,231 bills were printed and mailed and 84,774 bills were sent paperless.  The utility department adjusted and continued to maintain operations through COVID-19.  

The office staff was split into two teams -- billing and customer service, and each team was located in separate facilities. The department instituted procedures that minimized contact between staff, including Meter staff, and instituted a formal suspension of disconnections of service for delinquencies and collection of late fees until July. Additionally, a longer-term payment extension process for customers was implemented to pay out delinquent bills from when period delinquencies were suspended. The department also started an Online Bank Direct program, which intercepts payments made through many bank online bill pay systems allowing the payment to arrive electronically rather than a paper check, eliminating the manual payment entry. The effort to continue to expand the paperless billing initiative resulted in 1.2% fewer bills being printed and mailed, even though active accounts grew by 3.69%. An additional billing representative position was successfully filled. The Meter Department managed manual reading of meters, which increased from 91,498 in 2019 to 146,586 in 2020.

Electric Department

In 2020, the Electric Department implemented the Text Power program, where residents are able to report a power outage via text feature on their mobile phones.  Approximately 41,000 texts were sent.  The department installed 833 new electric meters, including 51 new net meters for solar installations, permitted numerous residential/commercial solar installations, continued to coordinate with Walmart concerning solutions for powering the new campus, completed Priority 1 fiber design, conducted a 10-year system master plan, and cost of service analysis. The department continued upgrading street lights to LED and hired a contractor to assist with change-outs, and assisted  Kingfisher, OK and Blackwell, OK with rebuilds after the ice storm around Oklahoma City. Training for the newly established Utility Board for the City of Bentonville was also completed.  

The Bentonville Electric Utility Department (BEUD) currently operates and maintains 9 substations, 1 switching station, a little over 16 miles of transmission line, over 900 miles of distribution line, almost 5,000 street lights, and at the most recent count, 26,275 electric accounts.  BEUD is also responsible for maintaining a 10’ clear zone from the overhead electric lines.  This involves tree trimming and tree removal for any vegetation that falls within this zone.  As part of this vegetation management, BEUD has a tree replacement program so that if a tree is removed and the ratepayer would like a replacement, a voucher will be provided.  All of this together has allowed BEUD to maintain a 99.9999% reliability rate with a growing electric infrastructure need. The Department is also working to install underground wire when the safety, reliability, and cost are optimal for ratepayers.

Public Works

Water

Bentonville’s water utility staff remains steadfast in assuring the citizens, businesses, and guests we serve that quality plans are developed, proper water and wastewater infrastructure is installed and that the future of the water utilities has a solid foundation for generations to come.  

A Water Rate Analysis was performed and a financial plan was developed to make sure the water utility will be financially stable in future years.  A lot of time has been spent by various team members determining the issues and developing a plan to improve the communication of our network of devices. Thank you to everyone that has taken on new roles to remedy this issue.  

The average amount of water purchased daily was almost 12,346,000 gallons, with the highest day reaching 17,482,000 gallons.   Over 4 miles of new water line and over 2 miles of new sewer line were installed during 2020. 11,349 utility locates took place in 2020.  Over 6,700 work orders pertaining to the water system, sanitary sewer system, and water meter maintenance system were completed in 2020. A little over 21 miles of sewer main was video inspected and almost 1.5 million feet (approximately 280 miles) of sewer main was hydro-cleaned.  In conjunction with ARDOT’s BB0903 project, approximately 900’ of water line was relocated.  In 2020, the Nomad Sewer Main Extension project began adding over 9,000 linear feet of sewer main which will allow us to better serve additional growth in the southwest part of town.  This project should be completed in 2021.  Over 9.5 miles of offsite easements along our sanitary sewer mains were cleared and made accessible.  The Department managed a Cross-Connection Control program that includes almost 6,000 backflow devices.  SUEZ contractors, through a multi-year agreement were on site to wash out and clean the elevated 1-million-gallon water tank on Hwy 102 and the 3-million-gallon ground storage tank on I Street. The water utility service department collaborated with the GIS department to improve the accuracy of the water and sewer systems shown on our GIS site, and as a result the GIS map is more accurate today than a year ago. 

Wastewater Treatment 

The rebranding of the Wastewater Treatment operations to the Water Resource Recovery Facility took place in 2020.  The new name better describes our purpose to recover the world’s most precious resource used by the citizens of Bentonville and return it back to nature in a condition to promote the environment that we all appreciate in our community.  Due to a partnership, we started a project this year that has been a goal for a long time.  We are starting to collect data within our wastewater collection system that will provide us capacity information. The lack of or excess capacity will allow us to better plan for needed upgrades or improvements within our collection system.   This information will be vital as we plan for the future and additional growth.  The roofing on the various facility buildings was replaced with 20 year guaranteed material, and parts are onsite for upgrading the plant grit chamber scheduled for July 2021 installation.  Plans for a plant upgrade are in the planning phase.  Plans for a new composting method are moving along. An in-vessel composting unit will be on site early this year for a compatibility test.  This process, when completed will reduce odors, produce compost in a more timely manner and reduce the carbon footprint by eliminating the Scarab windrow turner.   The Wastewater Team continued maintenance to ensure compliance and safe and efficient operations.

Public Works Maintenance 

The public works maintenance team creates much of the clean, professional, and appealing appearance witnessed throughout the City.  Many of the kind remarks we receive from visitors regarding the cleanliness of our City can be attributed to the daily work of this team. COVID-19 brought extra daily demands on this team, as they are important front-line workers and are charged with daily disinfection of our City facilities to keep our employees and citizens safe in all of our public spaces.  

The Department continued to work on their project to convert all city facilities from fluorescent and incandescent lighting to LED. This Department maintains over 9,000 headstones at our City cemetery, does 35 miles of mowing and edging located in right-of-way throughout the City, is responsible for over 3,500 make-a-difference trees planted in City right of way, and performs mowing, janitorial, and general maintenance on public facilities throughout the City.  

Transportation

The City’s Transportation team has worked very hard this past year to continue serving the citizens by improving and maintaining the transportation infrastructure network.  A main focus of 2020 was the revision of the Master Street Plan.  The Master Street Plan was passed by City Council on January 12, 2021. Airport, Street, and Engineering have continued to work through both developments and capital projects.

The Transportation Department’s completed capital projects in 2020 include the widening of SW I Street. Southbound lanes were widened from a single travel lane to a dual southbound travel lane. The single-lane bridge on Town Vu Road was replaced with a box culvert structure wide enough to accept two travel lanes and a future trail. The overlay contracts administrated through the Street Department completed a total of 6.58 miles of both asphalt overlay and asphalt preservation throughout the City. 

The street department repaired over 300 street cuts, cleaned 2 miles of drainage ditches, completed 2.6 miles of street crack sealing, added 2 new traffic signals, and 1 set of pedestrian crosswalk signals. They placed a little over 3,000 gallons of salt brine for pre-treatment of the streets and 1,800 cubic yards of salt on roadways for ice removal. The Street Department works hard to maintain and prioritize over 600 traffic lane miles of roads,  200 miles of sidewalks, 77 miles of open ditches, and 123 miles of enclosed storm drains throughout the City.  

Engineering

The engineering department is tasked with providing advice and technical expertise to assist elected officials, planning commission, public agencies, and citizens in understanding key issues and prioritizing projects. Additionally, they review development plans, maintain design and construction specifications, conduct field inspections, and insure all work conforms to City codes to provide quality developments and growth consistent with our long-term commitment to economic vitality and environmental sustainability.  

The engineering department accepted 57 projects as complete and oversaw construction of $9 million in donated assets during 2020. They supported the Street Department on sidewalk improvements, street improvements, and drainage projects. They completed Phase 1 of the City-Wide Drainage Study, supported the preparation of the Master Street Plan, completed the Watertower Road and Battlefield Drainage Studies, supported the revised flood mapping for Little Osage Creek Tributary II and partnered with private developers to start implementation of regional detention ponds.  

Municipal Airport

In 2020 at the Bentonville Municipal Airport, a part-time Wildlife Control Officer and goose dog were added. The construction of the NE taxiway extension was completed and the design of the SE taxiway extension was completed.  Also completed in 2020, was the hangar infrastructure improvement to the west side of the Airport, and the construction of the Runway 18 Turnaround.

Police Department

Public safety is always a primary concern for our City. Overall, 2020 was consistent with previous years as there were no trends in criminal activity that should be cause for concern or impact the very safe community in which we live. 

In 2020, the Bentonville police department dispatch center received 69,239 – dispatch calls for police service and handled a total of 76,464 calls with police and fire service calls combined.

The Police Department added 1 Lieutenant’s position to the Administrative Division. They continued building repurposing efforts with the setup of a new Lieutenant’s office in the former Dispatch center, and the setup of a new Patrol Briefing Room. Additionally, they completed the setup of a new computer forensics lab with budgeted furnishings.  

With the support and approval by City Council, the Police Department initiated and implementted a Body Worn Camera Program and Policy. Additionally, they upgraded and replaced Mobile Dispatch Terminals in patrol cars and upgraded the Digiticket citation system.   The Police Bike Team provided daily security on our city trail system and in our Downtown area. The Department filled the Animal Services Supervisor position, and assisted in City Animal Shelter planning. They made employee training and development a priority. 

In preparation for the bond initiative announcement in 2021, the department worked towards a new city wide P25 compatible radio system and began plans for an Outdoor Shooting Range and Simulation Training Center.   

Fully staffed for 2020, our police department had 84 sworn officers and 35 professional staff members, comprising a total department with 119 full-time members. Two Police Officers and one professional staff member, an Administrative Technician/Reserve Officer, were added in the 2020 budget. The Administrative Technician position created a safety enhancing partnership among the police department, the district court and the airport with responsibilities to include those of a bailiff and goose dog handler.    

Please join me in giving our fire department, our police department, and all those who have been on the front line of COVID-19 responses a huge round of applause and thank you.  

Fire Department

In 2020, we added 14 new firefighter positions. There were 12,698 service calls with a 5% increase over 2019. The most notables - 65% increase in bike trail Calls for Service, a 13% decrease for Motor Vehicle Accident Calls for Service and a 21.8% increase in Calls for Service for Districts 6 and 7.  There were 146 structure fires in the city, with one fire-related death. 

The Bentonville Fire Department received the fire truck that was ordered in 2019, and certified it as an Advanced Life Support (ALS) fire truck through the Arkansas Department of Health and placed the first ALS engine into service.  Additionally, another fire truck was ordered and was certified as an ALS fire truck through the Arkansas Department of Health.  Specifications were established for replacing the aerial truck, and new specifications were developed for two new ambulances and they were ordered. 

A new pre-paramedic academy was established to prepare EMT’s that wish to advance to paramedic status.  

In preparation for the bond initiative announced in early 2021, the fire department participated in identifying the direction of the new city radio system and developed plans for a training center.  

The Fire Department had 2 structures donated to them that were used for live-fire training in 2020, along with an 18 unit apartment complex and the Decision Point building to do general fire/rescue training in.  The department completed 46,299 hours of training during 2020 of which almost 75% (33,774 hours) was specifically done in fire training.  Other categories were leadership, EMS, Rescue, and HazMat. This was an increase of 19.4% in training over 2019.

The Building Department was combined with the Fire Marshal’s Division creating the new, Building and Fire Safety Division.  This merge promotes greater efficiency and greatly reduces duplication of work for permitting and inspections.  This merge also allows for cross-training and workforce adjustments to meet short-term workload needs. The Building and Fire Division saw a 2.6% increase in building permits, 11% increase in permit fees, and 14% increase in permit value at over $529 million dollars.

Legal Department

In 2020, the City of Bentonville Legal Department handled 2,733 new criminal and traffic cases in Bentonville District Court.  The casework of criminal and traffic cases include arraignment, discovery, negotiation with defendants and defense counsel, plea hearings, case preparation and trials.  The department continued the preparation of numerous ordinances and resolutions, review of hundreds of criminal cases for probable cause while providing legal and prosecution support for criminal investigations, prepared or reviewed all City contracts and negotiated land transactions.  The Legal Department consulted regularly with all City departments to provide guidance and risk management on many complex matters.

This year the department created a new program for the City of Bentonville.   The Bentonville Pre-Arrest Diversion Program aims to provide Bentonville Police Officers the discretion to divert individuals who commit certain eligible low-level misdemeanor offenses from the criminal justice system and to provide these individuals with accountability, appropriate programming that addresses any therapeutic needs and to provide information about the collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement. This program also offers individuals the ability to give back to their community by providing required community service as part of the program’s completion.  

The goal is to increase community safety and well-being by offering earlier and direct access to intervention and information that reduces the likelihood of recidivism and allow law enforcement to prioritize more pressing public safety issues. The Legal Department seeks to help its citizens in the best way possible which works to better the community.

Parks & Recreation

COVID-19 sidelined many of our Bentonville Parks and Recreation’s community programs and patrons in 2020. However, we were still able to operate safe programs and facilities for our community for most of the year. This includes offering one of the only youth baseball and softball programs in Northwest Arkansas as well as the only youth soccer program. Even during the pandemic, we were still able to serve over 80,000 participants in our programs and outdoor facilities and 151,000 patrons at the Bentonville Community Center in a safe and positive way.

While COVID-19 may have negatively impacted program and facility participation, it had the opposite effect on our outdoor public spaces and trails. The pandemic brought more people outdoors in 2020 than any year in recent history, a trend that was seen worldwide. Bentonville was no exception. Our trail system saw a 73% increase in users over the course of the year which resulted in more than 3.5 million people walking, running, or cycling on a public trail in 2020. Open greenspace, trails, and public parks became even more important this year and we anticipate this trend to continue moving forward.

The All American Trail was extended on both its north and south points to connect Lawrence Plaza to the Slaughter Pen Trail system. This extension allows riders to stay on soft surface trail the entire distance from Downtown which provides a better experience for the rider as well as a safer system for other pedestrians on the hard surface trails adjacent to it. This trail was made possible by our partnership with the NWA Trailblazers. A trail counter was also installed in March 2020, and since that date, we have seen an average of 600 trail users per day.

In spring 2019, a renovation project started at Lake Bentonville to expand the existing lake, add new fishing docks, replace the old play structure, and build a new pavilion and walkways. In October  2020, Lake Bentonville reopened to the public and immediately saw great community engagement. This project, funded by the Walton Family Foundation, will connect Lake Bentonville to the new Osage Park that will offer the citizens of Bentonville adventure-based recreational opportunities in a 45-acre, urban park setting.

The Memorial Park Baseball fields were upgraded from sod and dirt to synthetic turf in 2020.  All nine baseball and softball fields at the complex now have turf infields which allows for less league disruptions due to weather events, as well as reduces the amount of maintenance time and money needed to keep up the fields. Memorial Park has now become an even more desired tournament location for traveling teams and events.

Finally, Parks and Recreation completed and Council approved the master plans for The Quilt of Parks and the 8th Street Gateway Park. These plans will shape the character of Bentonville and will offer dynamic play, leisure, and cultural experience for our citizens and visitors for generations.

Library

In 2020, Bentonville Public Library (BPL) responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic in various ways to protect the health and safety of staff and patrons, as well as help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our community. BPL closed to the public March 16; essential staff worked from home and on-site as conditions allowed during the public closure. Librarians developed and implemented a comprehensive plan for phased services with specific protocols for staff workflows and patron use. Facility modifications were made; public spaces and staff work areas were adapted to make the Library a safe, yet still welcoming place.  BPL completed several property maintenance projects, repainted all metal fixtures and exterior furniture and sealed the veranda during the closure.  On June 9, BPL reopened its facility to the public in a phased capacity with established protocols. The Library developed several new convenient options for patrons, such as:  self-service pickup and returns on the front veranda, Xpress Bags and online library card registration, as well as ‘Stories Online with BPL’ and other virtual programs. The Library also expanded its Overdrive e-book collection, added Access Videos as a new streaming service and introduced Binge Box videos for checkout. 

Bentonville Public Library was a designated site for Bentonville Schools’ and Aramark’s Summer Feeding DriveThru Program during the spring and summer months. Bentonville Public Library’s Summer Reading Club was a virtual program this year with readers logging hours through a new program provided by the Arkansas State Library with CARES Act funding made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

 BPL’s Tech Card program continues into its seventh year and began a new streamlined service approach for Bentonville School students which significantly reduced material cost. The Walmart ROC Team provided Volunteerism Always Pays (VAP) grant funds to the Bentonville Library Foundation to sponsor this year’s tech card program. 

The existing library property and facility were purchased for $1.00 by the City of Bentonville from the Bentonville Library Foundation to streamline property ownership and simplify options for the Library’s future expansion. BPL contracted with MSR Design to launch a Needs Assessment study to assess the need for expansion that aligns with population growth, school enrollment and City development. The study includes several public engagement techniques to gather a wide cross-section of public opinions. In the fall, more than 800 survey responses were collected online, with meetings and workshops attended by over 200 people, both in-person and virtually. To complement BPL’s plan for growth, the Bentonville Library Foundation conveyed additional property to the City of Bentonville and the City for $1.00 and the City purchased an adjacent parcel, securing land suitable for the Library’s future expansion.  

Planning and Building Services

The current Planning division of the Community Development Department is the first stop for most development activity.  The projects submitted to this division serve as an indicator for future construction levels and workload for other departments. Based on the number of projects submitted, construction levels are likely to be at an all-time high in 2021.

The Planning Department processed 365 projects, up 46% from 250 in 2019. This is the highest number of items coming through the department in ten years. These items include preliminary and final plats, large scale developments, property line adjustments, lot splits, rezonings, conditional uses, variances and waivers. Nearly 42% of all items are zoning-related and the remaining 58% are development items. 

Planning Commission reviewed 76 rezoning requests, an increase of 77% over the previous year; also the highest number in ten years. Planning Commission saw three and a half times the number of conditional uses from the previous year. The Board of Adjustment reviewed eight more variances than in 2019, up 32%.

Planning Commission approved nine preliminary plats with 419 lots and approved six final plats with 267 lots. They also approved 75 large-scale developments, up 23% from 2019. Lot splits and property line adjustments were up 16% from 2019. 

Planning Commission approved seven residential preliminary plats, totaling 409 lots, and five final plats, totaling 185 lots. A total of 673 multi-family residential units were approved in 11 large scale development projects. Planning Commission approved 23 commercial projects, down 28% from 2019. These projects included medical facilities, tire repair, offices and retail. The Planning Department also processed 20 outdoor vendor permits and 180 sign permits. Code Enforcement conducted over 1,000 property maintenance inspections, responded to over 200 cases in Bentonville 311 and managed almost 500 total cases during 2020. 

Staff uses certificate of occupancy data to estimate the population. Bentonville’s current population estimate is 54,819, an increase of 3.7% from 2019. Based on this estimate, nearly 2,000 new residents have moved into Bentonville in 2020.

Amendments to the city’s zoning and development codes have become necessary with Bentonville’s fast-paced development and changing development types. These amendments eliminate conflicts within the code, use clearer language, and address current development trends. In 2020, planning presented nine code amendments. Two of those were major updates to the Zoning Code and Land Development Code. The remaining seven were related to specific issues, including noise, group homes, detention ponds, accessory structures, performance bonds, run-off mitigation, and outdoor dining in public parking spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Comprehensive Planning Division of Community Development has worked on dozens of projects to improve Bentonville and implement the Bentonville Community Plan, including tree planting, landscaping, public art, and neighborhood organizing. 

The city gave away 870 trees to Bentonville residents during two events: The Spring Tree Giveaway on April 18 and the Fall Tree Giveaway on October 24. The giveaways were made possible by the city’s Tree and Landscape Advisory Committee, the Bentonville Parks Conservancy, Steuart Walton, and the Walton Family Foundation

Bentonville was recognized as a Tree City USA for the 22nd consecutive year by spending at least $2 per capita on tree-related expenditures and having an active tree board. The Arbor Day celebration was canceled due to COVID-19.

The Tree and Landscape Advisory Committee awarded four Residential Landscaping of the Month Awards. The award recognizes residents who have improved and maintained the exterior landscaping of their homes.

The city’s Adopt-A-Street program provides litter removal supplies to groups that pick up litter along assigned city streets. In 2020, the program had five active Adopt-A-Street groups, made up of approximately 60 volunteers, which donated nearly 100 hours of their time to improve the appearance of our city streets. 

To supplement the Adopt-A-Street program, the city organized a city-wide Clean the Streets Day volunteer event, engaging approximately 63 volunteers who picked up litter at 14 locations throughout Bentonville. 

The Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) had an active year installing and selecting artwork. During the summer, the Committee issued a Call for NWA Artists to support the local art community during the COVID-19 pandemic. They selected two pieces totaling $14,050 that will be installed early in 2021. The first is a permanent sculpture and landscape display by Jonathan Perodinthat that will be located at Lake Bentonville Park. The second is a temporary fabric and poem piece by Danielle Hatch and Traci Rae Manos to be installed at Train Station Park this spring. They also approved several proposals from other organizations placed at locations in city parks and trails.  

The Great Neighborhoods Partnership Program has seven neighborhood partners. Earlier this year, the Neighborhood Advisory Committee was formed. This committee includes one member from each registered neighborhood partner and meets monthly. The goal of this committee is to work together with City staff to develop solutions to issues pertinent to neighborhoods. In December, the Great Neighborhoods Program held a Holiday Decorating Contest, open to all neighborhoods or areas within Bentonville.

Bentonville offers transportation assistance for low-income, elderly and disabled Bentonville residents by supplementing the costs associated with taxi and Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) fares. The program has 131 total riders, with 15 new riders welcomed to the program this year. In 2020, a total of 10,188 punches were redeemed, amounting to $20,376 in transportation assistance. 

Comprehensive Planning also works to educate and inform residents about important issues and provide opportunities for public engagement.

2020 was the year of the decennial U.S. Census and Comprehensive Planning worked with the city’s Complete Count Committee to insure everyone living in Bentonville was counted. Much effort was put in through multiple opportunities to notify residents of the importance of being counted to insure a complete count was accomplished.  

To further our initiative for open and transparent communication, the City hosted a series of meetings for each of the City’s four wards over the course of the year. City Council members, city staff and I engaged residents in a conversation about public safety, property maintenance, community programs, and initiatives. The meetings provide an opportunity to meet the Mayor, your Council Representatives, key city staff, hear about current and future City initiated projects, ask questions, and learn about community resources.

Closing Comments

As I close the State of the City tonight, I want you to know I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve the City of Bentonville.   I along with all City Departments have high expectations for 2021 and it will take all of us working together to accomplish these goals.  As this report has conveyed, despite all of the challenges our City and our Nation have faced over the past year, Bentonville is strong and poised to grow.   We are a community that loves our neighbors and works hard to make sure the quality of life is high for all.  Thank you to our City Council for your support, listening to all sides of an issue, and doing the research and work of governing and serving our community. I look forward to continued thoughtful discussion, creativity, and your sharing of ideas as we work to move Bentonville forward.  In addition, to my Monday morning Community Leaders group, “Thank You”.  I have come to realize not many cities have the type of communication and partnerships we have here.  Without the support and collaboration of Community Leaders and the willingness of private citizens and businesses to work together, we would not be able to make the strides we have in our City’s overall quality of life. 

And, last but certainly not least I want to say thank you to our citizens! Thank you to neighbors who have checked in on each other, residents who have donated to help families in need, our teachers, our healthcare workers, all essential workers, business owners, and all who have continued to serve and adapt to changing guidelines as the pandemic has evolved to insure the safety of all. Thank you for listening, learning, and leading with compassion. Thank you for not just providing words, but for acting in love and caring for your neighbor.  I have seen and heard your acts of kindness and been constantly reminded of the bible verse that tells us to never grow weary of doing good. 

In closing let me say, I want to echo some of my words from last year…I truly love this City and the people here and I know you do too!  We value our residents and are committed to creating ways for all to connect to our City.   I ask that you join with me, city staff, City Council, and area community and business groups to get involved and make a difference in your Bentonville.  You can join volunteer groups or choose to serve on City appointed boards.  You can start a Strong Neighborhood Program, go through the Citizen’s Police Academy, get involved with our coming Animal Shelter, or volunteer at our Public Library or Parks and Recreation Department.  Contact my office and let me know of someone you think exemplifies the Spirit of Bentonville Award.  I encourage you to be engaged and help others to serve.  Find a place you can make a difference!

Over the past year, I have had many heartfelt conversations in my office, over coffee, in community input sessions and the overwhelming theme I have experienced was a sincere desire to feel connected to our City and welcomed in our community.  Tonight, I ask that you help us launch a City-Wide initiative to Get to Know Your Neighbor.  Over the next year I want you to create your own Get To Know Your Neighbor programs in the organizations you are involved with, your neighborhood associations, your apartment complex, your place of business.  I want to hear from all of you and I expect a call to say Mayor here’s what I’m doing to connect and care for my neighbors.  Make a commitment to make a connection and check on at least one new neighbor or co-worker this year.  I firmly believe the future of Bentonville lies in the hardworking and compassionate people of this community…Let's all commit to checking on our neighbor, celebrate their successes, work through the challenges, and reach goals together as we strive to make Bentonville the Best Place in America to live, work, and play!   

Earlier tonight you witnessed the City Council approve bringing a bond extension to the voters that would enable us to meet future needs and anticipated growth to move our City forward.   Their approval gives the opportunity for us to present these projects to the public over the next few months to earn support on April 13.

We, all of us together, are a City of hope, compassion, innovation, and opportunity because of all of you who make a difference in a truly wonderful City we are fortunate to call our home.  

Thank you all ~ may God continue to bless Bentonville, Northwest Arkansas, and the United States of America!

Mayor Stephanie Orman
City of Bentonville