KZHE News Blog
by J.D. Bailey on 03/29/22
At his annual State of the City address on Monday, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann had plenty of good news – especially financially – but he also had plenty of strong messages for those who wish to harm or assault local first responders.
Out of the gate, the city leader noted that local sales tax revenues in 2021 were up 5.8%, or $126,000, over 2020. That means that the financial health of the city is as strong as it has been in recent memory, especially when considering the 7% sales tax revenue increase in 2020, making for a boost of nearly 13% over 2019’s tax generation. The cause of the revenue uptick, according to the mayor, is all about local spending.
“While I cannot say for certain, I am confident this increase is due to shopping local and receiving sales tax from online purchases,” said the mayor during his address.
The state of Arkansas began collecting sales taxes on online purchases in July 2020. The rule, according to the mayor, has seemed to benefit the city greatly.
Because of such revenue increases, the Magnolia City Council in 2021 elected to cut its local 1-mill millage that had been applied to city property tax bills since 2019.
K-9 OFFICERS TO COMBAT MPD ASSAULTS
Once the update on the city's financial health was issued, the mayor’s tone quickly turned more stern as the local leader did not hold back his feelings on the criminal violence and repeat offenders that continue to put local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.
The mayor stated Monday that he has had enough of the physical abuse the city’s police officers encounter on a routine basis and that he has implemented a new strategy to combat this: the introduction of two new K-9 cops named Bret and Roger to the streets of Magnolia.
“I’ve read too many reports lately where our officers have been assaulted by the public,” said the mayor. “I’ve watched too many videos where our officers encounter irate citizens. … We’re no longer going to chase you. We’re no longer to fight you. If you want to fight us, you’re going to fight officer Bret and officer Roger. I’m sorry, but that’s what they’re here for.”
One of the two new K-9 officers was on hand Monday. The mayor presented him to the Magnolia City Council and a host of guests at City Hall’s meeting complex.
“I just wanted you all to meet him,” said Vann as he introduced MPD K-9 Officer Bret. “He’s ready to go to work.”
The newest K-9 patrol officers are Belgian Malinois breeds. Sometimes called a Belgian Shepherd, these medium-sized canines are widely considered the most effective, versatile, and trainable working dogs for high-stress situations. The breed, which originated as a herder in Western Europe, is used by police departments and military units across the world, including at the highest levels of the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command. A highly-trained Belgian Malinois was even on hand during the U.S. Navy SEAL raid of Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound that resulted in the killing of the international terrorist.
According to the American Kennel Club, the breed is known for its confidence, intelligence, and work ethic, and thrives in challenging environments. The canines are also extremely protective, territorial, and reserved around strangers, but they can also form strong bonds with their owners and can be easily trained in anti-personnel tactics.
“I hope we don’t have to use (the K-9 officers), but we’re dealing with the same people all the time,” Vann added.
The new K-9 officers did not and will not cost Magnolia a dime. They were paid for using a state grant, and they will be fed with dog food donated by S&S Home Center in Magnolia, according to the mayor. Their health will also be looked after at no charge by the Franks-Hayes Animal Hospital, located along Hwy. 82 West in Magnolia.
The two K-9 officers will be on patrol 24 hours per day in Magnolia, according to the mayor. The dogs will operate on day-night shifts.
The local police department has utilized K-9 officers in the past, but the new officers represent a sea-change in the city's approach to crime.
“If you want to attack our officers, you’re going to be introduced to Bret and Roger,” said Vann. “I’m tired of reading those reports and people complaining about getting tased. Now, they’re going to get something different.”
The city leader noted that the move to add additional canine presence was made to both prevent Magnolia police agents from harm, as well as entice new officers to come on board.
“If I’m not going to protect you as an officer, then why would you want to come work for us?” the mayor added.
The city is currently seeking to hire multiple new full-time MPD officers. The agency’s starting annual salary is $40,000, and it’s offering temporary housing and help with moving expenses for certified new hires, according to the mayor. Minorities and women are strongly encouraged to apply. For more information, potential applicants may call 870-234-3767.
The mayor stated that MPD operated last year with a three- to five-officer shortage. The agency also responded to 4,312 incidents in 2021.
LOOSE SOUTHERN BORDER AFFECTS MAGNOLIA
In his speech Monday, the mayor had some strong words for the institutions that handle the security and strictness of the southern U.S. border with Mexico. Although it may be hundreds of miles from southwest Arkansas, the lax standards at the 3,100-mile crossing still have ramifications on local drug flows into Magnolia.
“Until the federal government gets a handle on the southern border -- where most of the drugs come from -- we will continue to have these issues,” said Vann.
The porous U.S.-Mexico border situation was not just speculation on the mayor’s part. He noted that Magnolia Police Department officials can directly link many of the narcotics found in Magnolia back to south-of-the-border production.
“We have drugs in evidence right now that we can trace back to Mexico,” he added.
In all, 70% of Magnolia’s crimes are drug-related, according to the mayor, and 98% of them are caused by repeat offenders.
“We deal with the same people over and over again,” said Vann.
The city official also stated similar sentiments last year. He said Monday that he hopes the new K-9 presence will help the entire department.
“They’re young dogs,” said the mayor. “We’ve been lenient in the past, and
CITY FIRST RESPONSE INFRASTRUCTURE
It wasn’t all negative news Monday for Magnolia’s emergency services. As part of his address, Vann highlighted the Magnolia Police Department’s new headquarters at the Harvey Couch Business Park. The project, which was years in the making and cost the city only around $900,000, was completed last year at the former SAU Tech Welding Academy. The city does not owe any debt on the conversion project, according to the mayor.
The large building now allows for all the amenities a police department could ask for, including a workout gym, training rooms, and plenty of space for parking and offices. According to the mayor, multiple agencies now use the headquarters for police education and training sessions. Many of the furnishings and expenses were to make the project a reality was provided by local companies and citizens.
“I want to thank Southern Aluminum, Farmers Bank, and the late Greg Bennett for their assistance and donations for this project,” said Vann. “This was a goal dating back to 2011.”
With the new headquarters, the former main police hub on N. Jackson Street in Magnolia has been converted into a sub-station.
On another positive note, Magnolia first responders hosted their most well-attended Halloween safety event ever in 2021, and MPD’s Christmas Shop With a Cop saw its largest attendance as well, according to the mayor.
The addition of a $185,000 rescue truck project with the government of Columbia County has also seen more city emergency personnel active in the community. The new vehicle was delivered last summer and is retrofitted with flame retardant and cordless Jaws of Life cutters and spreaders to help extract victims of vehicle accidents. The new truck, according to the mayor, accompanies local first responders to car accidents throughout the county. It is staffed by Magnolia Fire Department firemen. In total, the local agency now has five trained EMTs and a paramedic. Two more EMTs are currently being trained, according to the mayor.
In all, Magnolia Fire Department responded to 185 incidents in 2021.
CITY DEPARTMENT UPDATES
The mayor also issued updates and statistics on all other city departments. They include the following:
Street Department: The Magnolia Street Department built a new shop in 2021 and purchased a new backhoe and dump truck. The funds to pay for these projects originated from the sale of street millings that were given to the city when the state turned over control of Main Street and Vine Street in 2019, as well as the sale of older equipment.
The Magnolia Street Department earns additional funds by maintaining the Magnolia Regional Airport and the Harvey Couch Business Park.
Potential property buyers are encouraged to call City Inspector David Nelson’s office at 870-234-6767 before purchasing any parcels to be aware of any zoning property laws.
City Inspector: The Magnolia City Inspector’s office issued over $4 million in 2021 and cleaned up seven dilapidated structures in the city limits. The office also secured land for the extension of Renfroe Street in Ward I.
Sidewalk projects on N. Jackson Street and along Columbia Street to High School Drive were both funded using 80-20 state grants.
Magnolia Utilities: Phase one of the city’s major water main line replacement project was completed in 2021, and phase two of the infrastructure plan will begin soon in the areas of W. Union, W. North, S. Jackson, and Verda Streets. The project is being partially funded by federal coronavirus relief aid. The project is replacing corroded old cast-iron lines with new, non-reactive mains.
Magnolia water bills are now available by email. Water loss was down to 9% in 2021. The common loss amount is 15%. Magnolia Water had no Arkansas Department of Health violations in 2021.
Magnolia Parks: East Side Park is in the pre-stages of a new splash pad and dog park project. The park also received new playground equipment in 2021.
Magnolia Municipal Airport: The facility received new metal for the community hangar in 2021. The interior was also renovated thanks to numerous donations.
Magnolia Economic Development: The city unveiled new official logos earlier this year as part of a recent rebranding campaign. In total, 35,000 square feet of properties were sold for commercial use in 2021.
A contract was renewed for the second of a three-year partnership with Retail Strategies Company for real estate and marketing analysis.
Local buildings and properties are continually marketed through Entergy’s Site Selection and Arkansas Economic Development Council websites.
Columbia County is in the process of becoming an ACT Work Ready Community. This is an initiative from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
MAGNOLIA GOALS FOR 2022-23
In closing his address Monday evening, the mayor included a short rundown of his goals for the next two years. They include the following:
- Eat at Whataburger beginning March 31
- Purchase of new street paving equipment
- Hire experienced Magnolia Police officers
- Complete the East Side splash pad and dog park
- Help the former Pittman Nursery property on N. Dudney and the Fountain Plaza property on E. Main be developed
- Replace or rehab Magnolia’s outdated manhole covers
As he closed his remarks Monday, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann stated that 2021 was one of the toughest personal years he had ever experienced. He stated that he lost his father and a friend, Pastor Tommy Ellis just two weeks later were extremely difficult.
"These men had a big role in me sitting here tonight," he said during the final remarks of his Magnolia State of the City address.
The mayor's final statement offered words of encouragement for the citizens of Magnolia and thanks to the local municipal employees.
"I want to thank the city employees for the great job they do every day," he said. " ... God bless you, and God bless Magnolia."
by J.D. Bailey on 03/29/22
The Magnolia City Council on Monday unanimously passed a set of resolutions to apply for and accept a $300,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Council. The funds will be used to help maintain the Sterling Lacy Water Water Purification Plant in Magnolia.
According to Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann, the city did not necessarily ask for the funds, but the state is issuing them anyway as part of it’s coronavirus recovery efforts. The grant monies were sent to the state as part of the federal government's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Once received, the funds can only be used for local infrastructure needs, according to the mayor.
“It can be used for housing, water, or drainage,” said Vann. “We chose to use it for water. That’s why (the state) gave it to us.”
The Sterling Lacy treatment plant provides clean drinking water to about 40% of Columbia County residents. The West Greene Street facility is responsible for converting water from Lake Columbia into clean and drinkable water for most water customers in Magnolia and throughout many small municipalities in the county.
The grant funds will be used on new valves and maintenance expenses at the plant, according to Vann. The facility has also reduced the number of chemicals used at the water facility and in Magnolia’s local water wells, the mayor noted.
As part of the grant procedure, a public hearing was held on Monday before the Magnolia City Council voted to apply for and approve the matter. During the short hearing, no public comments were made.
When the issue went before the Council during its monthly gathering, two resolutions -- one for fair housing and one for grant application itself -- completed the formalities of the funding measure.
“One hundred percent of the money will go to the Sterling Lacy plant,” the mayor added. “And we’ve got to spend it when we get it.”
FERTILIZER PRODUCT SALES
Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday also announced that the city’s wastewater department is currently selling soil enhancement contents from the 48 metric tons of bio-solids produced in 2021 at the Magnolia Wastewater Department. The contents can be used to aid the health of farmland, according to the city leader, and is being sold at a low cost compared to commercially produced products.
“All you farmers, if you’re tired of paying those high prices for fertilizer, you might want to call Russell Thomas at the Wastewater Department,” said the mayor. “We’ll sell you 2,500 pounds at $100. It has everything but lime.”
The city official stated that waste products are “a good supplement for fertilizer.”
To contact Magnolia Wastewater call department supervisor Russell Thomas at 870-234-1694.
In other Magnolia City Council news:
- Shannon Hair, who is running for Columbia County Assessor, spoke briefly to the Magnolia City Council on Monday. The Magnolia native currently works in the assessor’s office and is running as a Republican candidate. The current Columbia County assessor, Voyles Martin, cannot run for the office in the 2022 election cycle since she was appointed by the Columbia County Quorum Court in 2020 to fill the void left by the previous assessor, Sandra Cawyer, who resigned midway through her term to take a position with the state.
- A resolution was passed Monday to retroactively address an issue that was flagged in the 2020 legislative audit of the City of Magnolia. The issue dealt with a Christmas lighting contract from 2019 that was awarded by the Magnolia Advertising and Promotional Commission to Magnolia Alderman Steve Crowell. The current city councilman fulfilled his contract with the local board, and no criminal malfeasance took place, according to Magnolia City Attorney Mike Boyd, but the matter was flagged due to rules barring a city government official from being awarded a city contract for over $2,500 annually, without first getting approval by the Magnolia City Council.
Monday’s resolution addressed and retroactively remedied the issue, according to Boyd, and now clears up any audit issues.
by J.D. Bailey on 03/08/22
The Columbia County government received a bit of good news Monday after an insurance claim netted thousands of dollars in payout proceeds to cover the cost of a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) patrol cruiser that was recently permanently sidelined. The only problem now -- finding a new replacement vehicle amid a multi-year automobile inventory shortage.
According to an appropriation ordinance passed this week by the Columbia County Quorum Court, the county on Feb. 28 deposited $28,615 from the Association of Arkansas Counties to cover the replacement cost of a 2017 Dodge Ram pickup. The CCSO vehicle, according to Columbia County Judge Denny Foster, was a total loss due to a recent accident. The motion passed Monday increased the county’s total revenue for replacement vehicles to $65,000, which will hopefully cover the purchase costs for two new CCSO cruisers. Of those monies, only $58,000, or 90%, can be appropriated.
Besides the recently totaled patrol cruiser, the sheriff’s office is also still awaiting a replacement unit that was approved last year, but, due to low inventory, one has still not been found.
“You can’t buy a new vehicle right now,” said the county judge on Monday.
So what does that mean for Columbia County? According to Foster, the sheriff’s office will have to look to the used market to fill the void.
“(The patrol unit) won’t be new,” he added. “They canceled that contract last Friday.”
But, as basic economics of supply-and-demand apply to the entire auto sector, prices on used cars and trucks aren’t much better than new ones nowadays.
According to a February report from financial publication Forbes, the average cost of a used car in the U.S. has surged 45% from early 2021, making the common cost now almost $26,000.
The supply crunch and cost problems are not only affecting Columbia County. Last month, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann said the city was having similar problems finding municipal replacement vehicles, and that new stock may not even be available for purchase until 2024.
“They told me no Fords … no Dodges for two years, and they’re going up $8,000,” the city official said on Feb. 28.
The auto shortage has been ongoing for almost two years now, but semi-conductor shortages, which control most modern car electronics systems, including everything from Bluetooth phone integration to automatic comfort controls and gauge-cluster readouts, are the primary cause of the crisis, according to most reports.
The shortage has also created the ultimate seller's market, but with no inventory, county and municipal fleets are having an inordinate time finding vehicles to replace their fleets.
Because of this, auto sales across the country have sagged.
A recent sales report from car reviewer and rating agency J.D. Power somewhat backs up the auto executive’s fears. According to the firm’s February report, total new retail and non-retail vehicle auto sales were down 11.1% from the same time last year. That equates to about 1.7 million fewer units sold than in February 2021, the report said.
“With retail inventory on pace to finish a fourth consecutive month below 900,000 units and ninth consecutive month below one million units, the new-vehicle supply situation is not displaying signs of near-term improvement,” the auto rating firm said last month.
But the low sales are not lowering costs. The average price for a new car is now more than $45,000 -- the highest ever -- and specialty pickups like a Dodge Ram, which CCSO now uses for its fleet due to their longterm durability over sedans, are harder to find. In fact, according to reports, around 80% of consumers are now paying above the sticker price for a new car.
This has made Foster even more hesitant that a vehicle will be found at a reasonable price in the future. Between the $58,000 appropriated Monday for two new patrol unit purchases, that leaves $29,000 for each new pickup -- an amount that used to be somewhat reasonable, but may no longer be attainable.
“We’ll just have to find one we can afford,” he said.