Radio system, coaching amenities a part of the Bentonville bond concern

BENTONVILLE – The city wants to replace an aging radio system and add training facilities for police and fire departments as part of a bond issue.

In a special election on April 13, residents will be asked to approve bonds worth up to $ 266 million by extending a 1% city sales tax. The proposed bond includes $ 6.6 million for the new radio system, $ 3.9 million for the fire department training facility, and $ 1.6 million for the police training facility.

Debbie Griffin, director of urban relations and economic development, said she had not heard of any organized opposition to the bond issue.

According to the city, the new radio system would improve interoperations and enable communication with several agencies on a shared radio channel. The current system was bought in 2006, said Police Captain John Hubbard.

The police department received 69,239 service calls and handled 76,464 calls with police and fire department calls in 2020, Mayor Stephanie Orman said in her state address for the city.

The new wireless technology would improve coverage in schools, hospitals, local businesses and across the city, according to a city website devoted to bond issuance.

“Our current system is having communication issues in large buildings such as the Walmart Home Office, some of our schools and areas on the north end of town due to terrain issues,” said Hubbard.

A needs assessment conducted by Tulsa Consulting Services in December found the radio equipment to be outdated, discontinued, and infrastructure in disrepair. The assessment recommends a new system that includes mobile and portable radios, shipping consoles, tower locations, communication towers, training and maintenance.

The fire brigade and police are now using communication technologies that, according to the city, no longer allow first responders to communicate with local, regional and state authorities.

The new wireless technology would also enable a partnership with the Arkansas Wireless Information Network. The nationwide system allows the emergency services to work on the same radio channels in an emergency or when traveling through Arkansas, according to the city.

Interoperability means employees in different cities, counties, states and agencies in those countries can communicate with each other over the air during major events like a tornado or even a soccer game, Hubbard said.

Benton County launched its new radio system earlier this year. The system cost $ 3.75 million.

In terms of training structures, Bentonville is the only city in northwest Arkansas without its own training facilities for emergency personnel, according to the city.

A five-story fire training / fire building would increase the safety of firefighters during training, provide flexibility and consistency in training, meet legal standards, and reduce environmental impact, the city said. The facility would also provide the ability to train personnel on high risk, low frequency events and improve the safety of the firefighter during fire training.

“Structural firefighting is a high risk, low frequency event,” said deputy chief executive Kevin Boydston. “Conducting live brand training in an acquired structure is one of the most resource-intensive training exercises we conduct.”

According to the city, smoke would be generated using a theater smoke system that complies with the Environmental Protection Agency and has no harmful effects on the environment or fire departments.

The fire department had donated two structures to be used for live fire training in 2020, along with an 18-unit apartment complex and the Decision Point building to conduct general fire / rescue training, Orman said in their state address.

The department completed 46,299 hours of training in 2020, nearly 75% of which was specifically in fire training, she said. The department has 102 firefighters working three shifts, Boydston said.

The police offer internal training in a training room. Training typically consists of lessons such as interview technique, continuing education and employee development, said Chief Jon Simpson.

The department uses the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Springdale, the Rogers Police Department range, or the Benton County range for gun training or any outdoor training. Bentonville also reaches the Washington County sheriff’s office and often rents time in local private areas, Simpson said.

The department has 84 certified officers, Simpson said.

The police training facility would include a virtual de-escalation and strength training training simulator, a live outdoor area, a dog training area, and a training building that houses range equipment. It would also be used as a training area for bomb squads / special reaction teams. The bombing unit covers northwest Arkansas and Missouri.

The simulator cultivates communication, reduces reaction time, induces physiological responses, and works with many less lethal options that are typically not allowed in a live-fire area, Simpson said. Each scenario has multiple branching options that unfold based on the training objectives and the decisions made by the officer, Simpson said.

In addition, officers will be involved in an ongoing training program that will keep a record of the number of hours each officer spends on this training. These include topics such as routine patrols, traffic stops, disruptions, contact with local residents, awareness of autism, mental illness, hostage situations and de-escalation techniques. The simulator allows up to three officers to use it at the same time and consists of five screens with 4k technology, Simpson said.

The 100 yard outdoor range would be built on 20 acres that the city owns.

Eighty percent of the city’s 1% sales tax revenue goes toward loan repayments and 20 percent goes into ongoing capital requirements. Jake Harper, city director for finance and administration, said the city would maintain the same ratio if sales tax were extended.

The 1% sales tax would expire in 2046 if extended. The tax brings in about $ 15 million a year.

Desiree Beaver looks at information while on duty at the Bentonville Police Department communications center on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. A new radio system for the department is part of a $ 266 million bond that residents will vote on April 13th. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Flip Putthoff)

Amanda Aristondo (left) and Kiersten Hayes (both cq) go through data while on duty at the Bentonville Police Department communications center on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. A new radio system for the department is part of a $ 266 million bond that residents will vote on April 13th. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Flip Putthoff)

A dispatcher works at the Bentonville Police Department communications center on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Flip Putthoff)

The April 13 bond issue includes $ 6.6 million for a new Bentonville Police Department radio system. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Flip Putthoff)

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The city has a website dedicated to bond issuance. It can be found at

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