VILONIA — When the work is complete, Arkansas should have one of the best highway systems in the country, said Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, addressing the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce banquet held Saturday night.

Bennett served as the keynote speaker for the event. He thanked the voters in Vilonia as well as the rest of the state who supported Issue I on the November election ballot which now will allow a temporary one-half-cent sales tax, effective July 1, 2013, to go to highway construction.

"This temporary, half-cent sales tax will support a $1.8 billion highway program," Bennett said. The program will allow the continued construction of four-lane highways to connect all four corners of the state and widening existing highways to help ease congestion — all within the next 10 years, he said. Focusing on Faulkner County and the Vilonia area, Bennett said the widening I-40 to six lanes between Little Rock and Conway and the widening Highway 67 to six lanes from Jacksonville to Cabot will be completed. Also, he said the widening of Highway 64 from Vilonia to Beebe will be done.

The tax will provide an estimated $700 million in turn back revenue for cities and counties, Bennett added. Faulkner County will receive about $8.5 million with Vilonia receiving about $700,000 in city turn back funds, he offered.

Held in the high school cafeteria, candelabras and white tablecloths covered the 20 or more tables serving the 200 or so in attendance. The menu included beef brisket and pork loin.

Most attendees were dressed casual. The exception was a table with filled with Vilonia High School students wearing formals and tuxedos. A limousine waited outside. One of the students, Colton Johnson, was in attendance to receive an award. He was named as Youth of the Year. Chamber board member Johnny Reed presented the award saying Johnson was nominated by a teacher based on his leadership abilities.

Other awards presented included:

Citizen of the Year — Sue Gallahar, posthumously. Her husband, Doug, and two daughters Kim Wilson and Christy Cupp and son, Chip Gallahar accepted the award. Presented by Debbie Townsend, chamber board, she talked about Gallahar’s dedication to the city and her involvement in many endeavors. Gallahar was also recognized for her work on the Museum of Veterans and Military History.

School Employee of the Year — Gary Lambert. Chamber representative Shelia Pruett made the presentation saying that Lambert is dedicated to the Vilonia School District. He has been an educator for 40 years serving the past 9 years in Vilonia as assistant superintendent.

Volunteer of Year — Linda Hicks. Presented by Jackie Fowlkes, chamber board, she recognized Hicks for her work on the Museum of Veterans and Military History.

City Employee of the Year — Steve Austin. It was said Austin is known by the community as a "true public servant" serving on the police department as well as a volunteer at many community functions. He was also recognized for serving as unit commander of a new reserve unit.

Business of the Year — Centennial Bank. Centennial Bank was started in Faulkner County but, now, has branches across the state, said chamber president Charlie Weaver. Bank employees Sheila Pruett and Susan Cole accepted the award on behalf of the bank.

Non Profit of the Year — Vilonia K-Life. Begun in 2012, the organization provides a religious-based mentoring service for youth.

Concluding the event, the board of directors and officers for 2013 was announced including Charlie Weaver, president; Dave Bowling, vice-president; Kim Hankins, secretary and Sharon Woodward, treasurer. The board of directors includes Fred Fowlkes, Jackie Fowlkes, Joe Maxwell, Sheila Pruett, Johnny Reed, Brandyn Richards and Debbie Townsend.