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Franklin County voter turnout among region's highest


  • Don Storey is the only incumbent member of the Benton City Council.

    Don Storey is the only incumbent member of the Benton City Council.
    Courtesy of Don Storey

  • Benton businessman Lee Messersmith will be a new face on the city council.

    Benton businessman Lee Messersmith will be a new face on the city council.
    Courtesy of Lee Messersmith/Facebook

  • Ian Zane Perkins

    Ian Zane Perkins

  • Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz will return for a second term.

    Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz will return for a second term.
    Courtesy of Fred Kondritz/Facebook

  • Cathy Garavalia will be the sole female on the Benton City Council.

    Cathy Garavalia will be the sole female on the Benton City Council.
    Courtesy of Cathy Garavalia/Facebook

 
BY HOLLY KEE
Staff Writer
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 4/10/2019 9:35 AM

Franklin County had one of the highest voter turnouts in the area in last week's municipal elections, where 26 percent of the county voters turned out, presumably to voice their opinion on the sales tax increase to fund a new courthouse.

After being handily defeated in two prior elections, the proposal passed by a solid margin of nearly 1,100 votes.

The Benton City Council will have a nearly new look after last week's municipal election.

In contested city races, incumbent Mayor Fred Kondritz easily won re-election, defeating challenger Roy Simpkins 784 to 479.

"I'm humbled," said Kondritz.

"A lot of times, incumbents do get reelected. I feel fortunate."

Kondritz is looking forward to the next four years as a period of growth with the passing of the sales tax referendum and a new courthouse coming to the Benton Public Square.

"There's a lot of things that could and will be good," he said. "The courthouse will be a great place."

Kondritz will lead a council filled with nearly all new faces.

Incumbent Don Storey took 49 percent of the vote to retain his seat for another four years.

"I'm the only incumbent outside of Fred," he said. "I don't know these people that well, I don't know their goals or what they're wanting, but I think we can work together. I really do."

For his goals, Storey has a lot of plans including adding another full time resource officer at the grade school and possibly hiring more police officers.

"Money is short," he said, "but there is a lot to do."

Storey would also like to add a half dozen firemen or on-call paid positions to prevent a single fireman from having to answer solo during certain shifts.

He also wants to see improvements in the fire station and get police body cameras up and going.

"We will have to have a new pumper truck in about four years," he added.

The way he figures it, this term will give him just enough time to accomplish his goals.

"I will not run again in four years," he said.

Businessman Lee Messersmith edged Story by 11 votes (668-657) to claim the top spot of the four seats.

Messersmith said he moved back to Benton about nine years ago.

"For me, it seemed that city government was making decisions but was not owning those decisions," he said. "They were not including the citizens in how decisions are made."

Messersmith said he felt the time was right to jump in and be a part of the future of Benton. "With the majority of the council advanced in years and at the end of their terms, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to come back in and try to rebuild that trust."

Messersmith said he is excited for an opportunity to help renew the city by rebuilding the relationship between government and the public.

Cathy Garavalia is a relative newcomer to Benton, moving in about four years ago. This is her first foray into politics.

"What motivated me was being involved," she said.

Garavalia could add the word "involved" to her name, as she has become a familiar figure around town in her work with the garden club, the Franklin Hospital Auxiliary, and several community committees.

"If you measure being a 'Bentonite' by service hours, I'm in," she said, dressed as Carmen Miranda complete with fruit on her head as she returned from the Auxiliary scholarship dinner. "When I'm working on something I call my children, who are spread out in several states, and tell them that I'm in the middle of a Hallmark movie."

Garavalia said she wants the best for Benton and is willing to do what it takes to move the city forward. "I'll roll up my sleeves and work with everyone else."

The fourth spot on the council was narrowly grabbed by Ian Zane Perkins, who edged out John D. Mohr by eight votes, 481-473.

"I'm probably the youngest member ever elected," said Perkins, who is 35. "I'm like a shiny new vehicle. I have a lot of miles to spend and I'm going to spend them in my town."

Perkins said the new courthouse should be a boost for a rebirth of the downtown. "It will be a team effort," he said, "but working together with the community we can do that. Benton's best years are yet to come."

Voters elected four members to the Benton High School District 103 board. Mark Dyel, Shane Cockrum, Kenny Irvin and Mitchell Bennett will each serve a four-year term.