BENTON -- It appears that the third time was the charm in Franklin County as voters overwhelmingly said "yes" Tuesday night to a 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for a new courthouse.
After being handily defeated in two prior elections, the proposal passed by a solid margin of nearly 1,100 votes. The unofficial totals were 3,945 "yes" votes to 2,873 "no" votes.
"I'm very excited and just thrilled with the outcome," said Franklin County Circuit Clerk Jim Muir.
Muir was one of several county leaders who pushed hard for the sales tax increase to pass.
"We worked really hard," he said. "We did a good job of taking it to the voters and informing them of what we're trying to do."
Muir said he believed that the voters responded to the transparency and honesty put forth by local officials in a series of public meetings and a constant stream of information via Facebook and other social media platforms.
"The people responded to that," said Muir, although he added, "The hard part may be yet to come."
"I want to make sure this is done right," he said. "We're going to continue to work hard and see that it's done right."
Muir said he thinks the referendum and a new county courthouse could be the impetus for even more positive change in Franklin County.
"I think it can be a jump-start for Franklin County," said Muir. "We've been so used to settling. I think it's going to change the mindset of the people."
Muir said he also believes the referendum could spur economic development for the county.
Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz, who won his bid for a second term Tuesday evening, praised the officials that worked to pass the referendum.
"You hear the word 'transparency' until you're worn out with it," said Kondritz, "but in this case, I think they worked at it the right way. They informed people and made them understand what was needed."
Kondritz said he accompanied county officials as they spoke to Benton business owners.
"We talked to every merchant on the square," he said, noting that of all the business owners he talked with, only one was not in favor of building a new courthouse. "They want it kept on the square."
Kondritz also said that talks with IDOT have assured that traffic flow will be maintained. "We're hoping that a lot of the work will be done at night."
As for Muir, he is reveling in what he considers a win for the people of Franklin County.
"It may be dangerous for an old man to get this excited," he joked.