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Damascus gets to keep splitting its boundaries between two counties for now

Who knew that a bill less than a page long and quietly filed in the waning days of Arkansas’s 94th General Assembly had such a boozy story behind it? Apparently not the bill’s sponsor.

To make matters even weirder, the bill died the day after it was introduced.

House Bill 1846 aimed to make all of tiny Damascus, population not quite 400, part of Van Buren County. The town, which sits along U.S. 65 on the way to Branson, now is  split between Van Buren and Faulkner counties.

But Rep. Stephen Meeks, a Republican from nearby Greenbrier, said this afternoon that the bill is “pretty much dead.”

“I’m not going to run it. It’s not going to happen,” Meeks said.

Meeks said he was sponsoring the bill because Steve Goode, a former Faulkner County justice of the peace, had come to him about safety concerns. When residents call for emergency help, for example, there are concerns about whether the right county is being called and will respond accordingly, Meeks said. That issue could cause delays and be dangerous, he said.

But Meeks said he has since realized that Damascus residents need more input and there’s just not time to get that with the legislative session ending this week. Meeks also said he’s no longer sure if just stating a border change in a state law adequately addresses the situation.

Another likely wrinkle, or hiccup if you will, lay in another reason Goode wants the town located solely in Van Buren County. Simply put, Van Buren County is wet; Faulkner County is dry. Goode can sell alcohol in his store in Clinton in Van Buren County but can’t sell it in the dry part of Damascus and makes less money there as a result.

According to Beau Wilcox, the city attorney for Damascus, Goode spoke to the town’s City Council recently and talked about his grocery stores.

Wilcox said the city of Damascus was not taking sides on the issue.

Meeks, a conservative Republican and a Baptist known for his worries about obscene library books, said he and Goode didn’t didn’t discuss the alcohol angle — a statement Goode confirmed.

“If it [the bill] was strictly for the alcohol issue, I would not touch this with a 10-foot pole,” Meeks said today. The only reason Goode discussed in their conversation was the safety one, Meeks said.

“I would not do it to help someone sell alcohol because I am generally opposed to alcohol,” Meeks said.

Goode said he had understood that 911 calls sometimes go to the wrong county, and the wrong county responds to emergencies. Safety is “absolutely an issue here,” he said. But Goode said he was not denying that he had also been concerned about the wet-dry issue.

In a statement issued before we learned that Meeks had given up on the bill, Wilcox said, “The City of Damascus takes no official position on the proposed measure that would move the Faulkner-Van Buren County line through legislative action.

“The overriding desire of all city officials is for the electorate to be as informed and involved as possible, especially given that this issue is not subject to voter approval. There are considerable arguments for and against such a measure, which the city fully respects and understands. The City of Damascus simply encourages its residents and registered voters to participate to the extent they wish, and possible under the law, by contacting their legislators,” Wilcox added.

Goode is a former administrator of Regulation for Tobacco, Alcohol, Medical Marijuana and Racing.

Source: Ark Times