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Court endorses tax incentive program for expansion at Weyerhaeuser, issues $5K grant to Bussey-Sharman RFD

by J.D. Bailey on 08/03/21

A multi-million dollar capital improvement project at one of Columbia County’s largest employers may soon be underway thanks to a resolution passed this week by the Columbia County Quorum Court. On Monday, the local governing body unanimously endorsed a tax break initiative for the Weyerhaeuser Company that could help bring 10 new jobs and a major expansion to the company’s Emerson plant.

The move, which now gives the timber, land, and forest products company the ability to pursue an Arkansas sales tax refund initiative, was needed for the project to advance. The application process is now out of the county’s hands and will be completed at the state level. If approved by the Arkansas Economic Development Committee, the deal will help facilitate a $10.7 million investment into Weyerhaeuser’s Emerson plant, as well as $500,000 in annual worker salaries added in the near future.

Currently, the Columbia County facility employs about 250 people, according to the company’s Facebook page. The business specializes in plywood and veneer manufacturing. If the new project goes through, the Emerson property hopes to expand its finish goods warehouse and press section in the plant, according to Columbia County Judge Denny Foster.

“The addition is worth $10,500,000, plus they have to buy $100,000 in concrete and pay $160,000 for a new forklift,” he said. “That brings to the total investment to $10,760,000 -- plus the 10 new jobs.”

To advance the project, the Quorum Court on Monday was tasked with giving its blessing so the company can move forward in its application process. The tax incentive is part of the state’s Tax Back Program, which issues sales tax collections on certain purchases back to a business. The law falls under the Arkansas Consolidation Incentive Act of 2003, and all costs for the project must be incurred over the next four years.

If approved, Weyerhaeuser would receive refunds on the bulk of the sales and use taxes it pays for material costs during the capital improvement project. That also means that the county would not collect its typical share of local taxes on the refunded amounts.

The taxes will be issued back to the company through the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, according to state code.

“The sales and use tax credit may be applied against the company’s state sales and use tax liability as reported on its monthly sale and use tax report in the calendar year following the calendar year of expenditure,” says Act 182 of the Consolidated Incentive Act of 2003.

Monday’s approval was the first time the program has been endorsed by the county government in nearly a decade, according to Columbia County Judge Denny Foster.

“The last time it was used was 2013 or 2014,” the county official said. “I believe Southern Aluminum used the program.”

Aside from the local government endorsement, a business must also meet certain financial requirements to be eligible for the sales tax refund program. These requirements include a minimum investment of $100,000 into the company locally, as well as meeting job incentive thresholds and clearly identifying the intent of the project.

There are some limitations, however, to the program’s refunds. Sales tax amounts, according to the law, cannot be issued for routine operating expenses; or replacement purchases for items already bought for the project; or licensed motor vehicles purchased during the project; or routine repair and maintenance expenses that don’t result in new construction or expansion of the business. Refunds also cannot be issued for sales tax collections typically dedicated to the state’s Education Adequacy Fund and its Conservation Tax Fund.

After Monday’s endorsement by the county, the remaining application process must finish at the state level. And although the refund incentive has not yet been processed there, it is expected to go through, according to the county judge.

“It looks like they will be approved, but I can’t answer that for sure yet,” he said.


In other Quorum Court news: 

- A $5,000 community grant for the Bussey-Sharman Rural Fire Department was unanimously approved by the Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday. The grant funds will aid in a water tank purchase for the Bussey-Sharman RFD brush truck. The new equipment will help the Taylor area fire agency carry more flame retardant and lead to greater fire suppression capabilities, according to the grant request letter.

- Exploratory discussions may soon begin among the Quorum Court over the funding of a new jail and detention center in Columbia County. The current facility is in need of major repairs, with no end in sight, according to local JPs. The building has multiple leaks and plumbing problems, as well as foundational issues. A $500,000 roof replacement is also needed, which will only serve as a “Band-Aid” to a larger problem, according to Court.

There was no set date for the upcoming discussions, but the Quorum Court’s Building Committee and Jail Committee would likely handle discussions on the issue. According to County Judge Denny Foster, a move to build a new jail would likely “need to go to the people” for a new tax proposal vote. Multiple members of the county government, including Foster, stated Monday that a tax vote for a new detention center may not be popular among Columbia County voters at the current time.

County clerk’s office gets boost for Census redistricting, Central Dispatch pay increase tabled, grants affect county office and Free Hope Community

by J.D. Bailey on 07/13/21

In what was a brief, but impactful meeting of the Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday, a number of resolutions and funding measures were approved that directly affect two county government offices. In another item of business, a vote was tabled that could have increased employee pay at the county’s 9-1-1 Central Dispatch office.

HOURS INCREASE AT COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

An equipment sale of former Columbia County Sheriff’s Office vehicles has led to a part-time deputy clerk at the Columbia County Clerk’s office being converted into a full-time worker ahead of a hectic U.S. Census information update project.

Approved unanimously Monday by all 10 of the present quorum court members, the appropriation ordinance directed that $22,225 of a recent $55,225 auction for three retired CCSO vehicles be applied to the county clerk’s staffing budget. The move will increase salary expenses, Social Security and health insurance matching, and noncontributory retirement, according to the ordinance. 

When asked why the pay issue needed to be addressed now, instead of next year, Columbia County Clerk Tammy Wiltz said the additional employee hours are desperately needed, thanks to recent U.S. Census guidelines from the federal government's Executive Branch.

“At the end of March, it was brought to our attention that the current Presidential administration has changed the deadline for getting the information to us for the Census redistricting -- from June 30 until Oct. 31,” she said. “That means we originally had six months to do it, and now we’re down to two months, so we’re in need of all hands on deck.”

The U.S. Census not only tabulates the nation's population count, but it also re-draws voting districts every ten years. By delaying the release of the federal information to the states, and subsequently counties within the states, the compacted schedule puts a crunch on local county clerks across the country.

“I didn’t anticipate this happening last year,” Wiltz added.

The clerk’s office during its entry of new Census data will also be responsible for verifying voter rolls by confirming that all 14,000 registered voters in Columbia County are still active.

“All of this is happening at once,” Wiltz said. “The earliest we’re going to get our new (Census) information is October.”

Wiltz and her staff have until the end of the year -- only about two months, if the federal information is issued in late October -- to complete the county’s redistricting efforts, according to the Arkansas Constitution.


CENTRAL DISPATCH WAGE INCREASE TABLED

A vote on an ordinance that would have increased Columbia County’s 9-1-1 Central Dispatch operating fund by $36,646 was tabled for further discussion on Monday. As part of the measure, the funds would have been used to hire an additional 9-1-1 dispatcher, as well as increase pay in the department to $13 per hour for entry-level employees, $13.75 per hour for basic-level certified workers, $14.51 for advanced-level certified staffers, and $17.28 per hour for 9-1-1 supervisors. The wage figures, according to the tabled ordinance, would have increased Central Dispatch employee pay by an hourly rate of $2.02.

Further details on the matter were not addressed Monday, but JP Anette Pate, who also chairs the Columbia County Quorum Court Finance Committee, said she wished to delay voting on the issue until the county’s annual budget meetings held near the end of each calendar year.

“I don’t know that we have put our most thoughtful process into this,” she said.

Columbia County Judge Denny Foster responded by saying: “There has been a lot of discussion outside (the quorum court) on that.”

Records from a specially-held July 1 quorum court meeting show that Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, Magnolia Police Chief Todd Dew, and 9-1-1 Central Dispatch Supervisor Brandy Sanner all spoke on the pay raise issue with county officials. After their discussion, a motion was made to place the measure up for a potential vote -- a vote that did not take place this week, due to the tabling of the ordinance.


In other Quorum Court news: 

- A measure was passed Monday directing Columbia County Judge Denny Foster to apply for a $33,546 Association of Arkansas Counties Automated Records System Fund grant to purchase new computer tech at the Columbia County Circuit Clerk’s office. According to a letter from Columbia County Circuit Clerk Angela Keith to county officials, the grant is designed to aid her department in purchasing seven new PCs for staff workstations, four new computers for public access stations, and a new server. The grant would also help the department invest in all necessary software for the project.

The computers currently in use at the circuit clerk’s office are on their last legs, according to Keith.

“I believe in being frugal and working with what I have available until the wheels fall off," her letter to county officials said. “I am praying that it all holds together until then.”


- A rural county aid grant was approved for capital improvements at the Free Hope Community Center. The amount of the funding is $5,000, according to a letter sent to County Judge Denny Foster from the Free Hope Civic League. The measure will help remodel classroom floors and replace windows at the building, the organization stated.

County clerk’s office gets boost for Census redistricting, Central Dispatch pay increase tabled, grants affect county office and Free Hope Community

by J.D. Bailey on 07/13/21

In what was a brief, but impactful meeting of the Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday, a number of resolutions and funding measures were approved that directly affect two county government offices. In another item of business, a vote was tabled that could have increased employee pay at the county’s 9-1-1 Central Dispatch office.

HOURS INCREASE AT COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

An equipment sale of former Columbia County Sheriff’s Office vehicles has led to a part-time deputy clerk at the Columbia County Clerk’s office being converted into a full-time worker ahead of a hectic U.S. Census information update project.

Approved unanimously Monday by all 10 of the present quorum court members, the appropriation ordinance directed that $22,225 of a recent $55,225 auction for three retired CCSO vehicles be applied to the county clerk’s staffing budget. The move will increase salary expenses, Social Security and health insurance matching, and noncontributory retirement, according to the ordinance. 

When asked why the pay issue needed to be addressed now, instead of next year, Columbia County Clerk Tammy Wiltz said the additional employee hours are desperately needed, thanks to recent U.S. Census guidelines from the federal government's Executive Branch.

“At the end of March, it was brought to our attention that the current Presidential administration has changed the deadline for getting the information to us for the Census redistricting -- from June 30 until Oct. 31,” she said. “That means we originally had six months to do it, and now we’re down to two months, so we’re in need of all hands on deck.”

The U.S. Census not only tabulates the nation's population count, but it also re-draws voting districts every ten years. By delaying the release of the federal information to the states, and subsequently counties within the states, the compacted schedule puts a crunch on local county clerks across the country.

“I didn’t anticipate this happening last year,” Wiltz added.

The clerk’s office during its entry of new Census data will also be responsible for verifying voter rolls by confirming that all 14,000 registered voters in Columbia County are still active.

“All of this is happening at once,” Wiltz said. “The earliest we’re going to get our new (Census) information is October.”

Wiltz and her staff have until the end of the year -- only about two months, if the federal information is issued in late October -- to complete the county’s redistricting efforts, according to the Arkansas Constitution.


CENTRAL DISPATCH WAGE INCREASE TABLED

A vote on an ordinance that would have increased Columbia County’s 9-1-1 Central Dispatch operating fund by $36,646 was tabled for further discussion on Monday. As part of the measure, the funds would have been used to hire an additional 9-1-1 dispatcher, as well as increase pay in the department to $13 per hour for entry-level employees, $13.75 per hour for basic-level certified workers, $14.51 for advanced-level certified staffers, and $17.28 per hour for 9-1-1 supervisors. The wage figures, according to the tabled ordinance, would have increased Central Dispatch employee pay by an hourly rate of $2.02.

Further details on the matter were not addressed Monday, but JP Anette Pate, who also chairs the Columbia County Quorum Court Finance Committee, said she wished to delay voting on the issue until the county’s annual budget meetings held near the end of each calendar year.

“I don’t know that we have put our most thoughtful process into this,” she said.

Columbia County Judge Denny Foster responded by saying: “There has been a lot of discussion outside (the quorum court) on that.”

Records from a specially-held July 1 quorum court meeting show that Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, Magnolia Police Chief Todd Dew, and 9-1-1 Central Dispatch Supervisor Brandy Sanner all spoke on the pay raise issue with county officials. After their discussion, a motion was made to place the measure up for a potential vote -- a vote that did not take place this week, due to the tabling of the ordinance.


In other Quorum Court news: 

- A measure was passed Monday directing Columbia County Judge Denny Foster to apply for a $33,546 Association of Arkansas Counties Automated Records System Fund grant to purchase new computer tech at the Columbia County Circuit Clerk’s office. According to a letter from Columbia County Circuit Clerk Angela Keith to county officials, the grant is designed to aid her department in purchasing seven new PCs for staff workstations, four new computers for public access stations, and a new server. The grant would also help the department invest in all necessary software for the project.

The computers currently in use at the circuit clerk’s office are on their last legs, according to Keith.

“I believe in being frugal and working with what I have available until the wheels fall off," her letter to county officials said. “I am praying that it all holds together until then.”


- A rural county aid grant was approved for capital improvements at the Free Hope Community Center. The amount of the funding is $5,000, according to a letter sent to County Judge Denny Foster from the Free Hope Civic League. The measure will help remodel classroom floors and replace windows at the building, the organization stated.

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