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Magnolia adds 1 new food truck license, bringing total to 6; Mayor, Council discuss infrastructure projects

by J.D. Bailey on 05/24/22

The Magnolia City Council met Monday to discuss business for the month of May. The topics included the following:

MOBILE FOOD VENDOR LICENSE

The Magnolia City Council voted unanimously to add one new mobile food vendor license for the general public to pursue. The motion will now bring the total number of permits allowed within the city limits to six.

The move was made to help accommodate for potential new food businesses in Magnolia.

“We’ve got more vendors than we’ve got permits right now,” said Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann.

Currently, the licenses are all occupied. The vendors are thought to include Hachi Hachi Japanese Grill, Crayton’s BBQ Express, Lee’s Cajun Boilers, King and Queen Wingz, and Avalanche Shaved Ice, according to city officials.

The resolution passed Monday was actually a variation on the original language in the item before the Council. At first, a resolution was read that would have added three new vendor licenses (eight total), but after a lengthy discussion on the matter, the number of total permits was only increased by one -- from five to six. The move came after Magnolia Alderman Jamie Waller noted that he wished to gather information from local restaurant owners before expanding the number too high.

“I think we should have at least a period there for them to comment on this,” the city official said. “I want to keep them happy, too.”

The initial city ordinance passed in 2016 established the number of mobile food vendor licenses at five. Until Monday, no further action had been taken on the matter to address the limit on local food trucks.

The licenses are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, and they are permitted every quarter, according to the city clerk’s office.

On Monday, it was stated that at least one new mobile food vendor was ready to buy a license, which would again cap out the total amount of occupied licenses available in the city. If the Council wishes to raise the number next month, it can still do so with a simple majority vote from the aldermen.

Discussions also took place Monday to add a punishment clause in the food truck ordinance in attempt to rid the city of unlicensed mobile food vendors, but no action on the matter was taken. The issue, however, could again be brought up at the June meeting of the Magnolia City Council, according to discussions on Monday. The fine amount for unlicensed vendors was proposed at $350 for first offenders, but that figure could be increased. 

As it sits now, food trucks can be located anywhere within the city limits. But, according to the mayor, the city is looking into setting up a designated farmers market and mobile food vendor area near downtown Magnolia, but nothing is official. He stated in March that South Jackson Street could be a good area for the setup, but a better location is possibly on the horizon.

VINE STREET SIDEWALK GRANT

A federal TAPS (Transportation Alternatives Program) Grant was approved by the Council for application on Monday. The grant, which was also applied for unsuccessfully last year, would see the construction of sidewalks along South Vine Street -- from West Main on the north end to School Street on the south end of the project.

“We’re going to try (the application) another time,” said Andy Franks, civil engineer for A.L. Franks Engineering on Monday.

If approved, the grant would supply 80% of the funding, while the city would only be on the hook for 20% of the costs involved.

WATER MITIGATION POND AT FORMER PITTMAN PROPERTY

A low bid of $440,323 was accepted by the Council Monday to fund the construction of a water mitigation pond at the city’s recently-purchased 12-acre property that borders North Dudney and East Columbia Street in Magnolia. The centrally-located area, which was bought by the city via its economic development fund in March for $263,000, was the former longtime home of Pittman Garden Center.

A mitigation pond, or stormwater detention basin, is often used by municipalities to aid in storm drainage and prevent flooding in an area. The new basin will be constructed on the lower elevation, eastern side of the property, according to Franks.

The low bid was submitted by Mac’s General Contractors, Inc., of El Dorado. The other two bids, according to Franks came in at $523,000 and $549,000.

As of Monday, the city still did not own the former Pittman property. The sale was expected to be completed by the end of April, but Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann stated this week that the city has yet to take ownership of the acreage, due to the final stages of land surveying and legal closing procedures.

With ownership of the land expected soon by the city, the Council voted to accept the low bid for the mitigation pond. Construction on the basin, however, cannot begin until the municipality takes full control of the two lots in the deal.

Ideally, according to Franks, the pond should be dug out during the summer months – when rainy and wet weather will likely least affect the project.

In total, the project is contracted to take 45 days or less, weather cooperating.

“If inclement weather arises, (the contractor) will get time extensions,” said Franks.


SPLASH PAD UPDATE

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann stated Monday that he has met with a development firm about the construction of a splash pad and dog-skate park at East Side Park, but that he has not been impressed with what was offered for the money so far.

“I was expecting more splash pad, more skate park, more dog park than we got for the money,” he said. “… It just didn’t wow us, and if they don’t want to wow us, then we’ll keep looking.”

In March, after being denied twice in three years for state parks grant fund to help make the local project a reality, the city and the Magnolia A&P Commission earlier this year combined efforts to put $600,000 toward the build.


In other City Council news: 


- A resolution was passed Monday to apply for future sewage infrastructure assistance from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

“This is for the city to be in position for ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds when they become available,” said Andy Franks of A.L. Franks Engineering. “The resolution was part of the application packet.”

The federal infrastructure funds passed down to the state are expected to be available this summer, according to the engineer.

New solid waste contract talks begin in Columbia County

by J.D. Bailey on 05/03/22

With Columbia County’s current solid waste provider contract coming to an end next summer, the Quorum Court's Solid Waste Committee met this week to discuss preliminary negotiation matters for its next longterm garbage and recycling collection deal.

The county currently contracts with GFL Environmental Inc., a Canadian-based waste provider that acquired Waste Corporation of Arkansas (WCA) in 2020. Columbia County’s relationship with WCA-GFL Environmental dates back to at least 2015, when the county signed a three-year deal with the company. In 2018, the Columbia County Quorum Court voted to extend the contract another five years, or until July 31, 2023.

The only other bidder during the last contract negotiation phase was Get Rid of It of America. The El Dorado-based waste company had previously contracted with Columbia County, but, in 2018, numerous justices of the peace brought up recurring truck and transportation problems they had experienced with their prior association with Get Rid of It, and the court elected to stay with WCA.

As it sits now, Columbia County pays just over $187,000 per month to GFL Environmental for its solid waste services. The figure includes a base fee of $172,000, plus applicable taxes. The agreement includes service details for the collection, recycling, transportation, and disposal of residential solid waste throughout the county. In these services, GFL Environmental transports most solid waste pickup to its landfill in El Dorado and moves recyclable goods to Abilities Unlimited Recycle Center near W. University Street in Magnolia. The contractor also provides some brush pickup services and maintains a fleet of heavy vehicles for its services. 

On Monday, representatives from GFL Environmental were on hand to discuss any preliminary issues with Columbia County officials. GFL Government Contract Manager Mickey Stumbaugh, a former mayor of Cabot and retired Little Rock police officer, stated that he felt his company still provided the county with quality service and that the current route supervisor position was stable. 

“I certainly appreciate the opportunity to service this county and the cities within it,” said Stumbaugh. “I think we do a great job, and we’ve got the landfill right there in El Dorado. Whatever the county decides, I would just as that we can be put on notice.”

Although the discussions Monday were only preliminary in nature, one issue with the contractor was addressed. JP Rick Waller specifically asked Stumbaugh why and how county solid waste containers were being destroyed during pickups. The local official noted that he has witnessed waste disposal trucks crushing the cans when they are grappled, and when a bin breaks, Columbia County has to foot the repair or replacement bill. 

“Those are not cheap,” Waller said. “… I think that’s something that we need to negotiate.

The cost to fully replace a solid waste canister is around $56, according to the county.

Columbia County Judge Denny Foster added his thoughts on the matter as well.

“That is something that we’re going to have to look at to try to build into the next contract,” he said.

Stumbaugh stated that the matter is likely due to a faulty hydraulic setting on the truck, but that is still no excuse.

“That’s something that can be addressed with the drivers,” he said.

The solid waste rep also noted that truck drivers are not easy to find, especially since GFl Enviromental requires a clean background and commercial driver’s license certification.

“It’s very difficult to find someone to pass a drug screening, much less apply for a job these days,” Stumbaugh added.

Waller did say, however, that he has had nothing but good experiences with most GFL Environmental employees. 

JP Oliver Thomas, the Quorum Court’s Solid Waste Committee chairman, was not as complimentary on Monday of the county’s solid waste provider. The local representative stated that he would be open to all options going forward, and did not sound as if he wished to contract with GFL Environmental again. The justice of the peace also felt there would be no shortage of solid waste disposal contractors to interview and research for the county’s next potential deal.

“There are at least 1,000 facilities that we can contact, and we will do that,” said Thomas. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

If the Columbia County Quorum Court decides not to re-enter into a contract with GFL Environmental, it must inform the solid waste provider of the its intentions 90 days prior to the end of the deal, per the current agreement.

“We have 11 months to ride this (contract) out,” said JP Oliver Thomas, chairman of the Columbia County Quorum Court Solid Waste Committee. “For this kind of money, there’s got to be somebody else out there who can give you (services) for that.”

Although no official date was set for the next meeting of the Columbia County Quorum Court’s Solid Waste Committee to discuss contract negotiations, officials indicated that another gathering would likely be set for the coming weeks.

Columbia County recognizes Juneteenth as paid holiday, library gets small grant, CCSO still seeking jailers

by J.D. Bailey on 05/03/22

A new paid holiday has now been added to the Columbia County government calendar.

With unanimous approval Monday by the Columbia County Quorum Court, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, will now be observed annually as a paid county holiday. 

“Beginning in June of 2022, Juneteenth National Independence Day, which falls on June 19 of each year, is hereby declared to be an observed holiday and employee benefit of the county,” said the Columbia County Ordinance passed Monday.

If June 19 ever falls on the weekend, Columbia County government offices will close in recognition of Juneteenth either on the Friday prior to the holiday (if the day occurs on a Saturday), or the following Monday (if the holiday lands on a Sunday). 

The commemorative day was installed as a federal holiday June 17, 2021, after the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, and many local governments have followed since the Congressional legislation was approved.

Juneteenth is a widely regarded a symbolic day to celebrate and recognize the end of slavery in the United States. The state of Arkansas has officially observed June 19 as holiday since 2005, but the day was not added to the federal calendar until June 2021.

In Columbia County, Juneteenth has been celebrated for decades. The holiday in Magnolia typically features a parade, a treasure hunt, a festival at South Side Park and more.

With the addition of Juneteenth, Columbia County now observes 13 paid holiday dates every year. These days include the following:

    • New Year’s Day, Jan. 1
    • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, third Monday in January
    • President’s Day, third Monday in February
    • Good Friday, Friday preceding Easter
    • Memorial Day, last Monday in May
    • Juneteenth, June 19
    • Independence Day, July 4
    • Labor Day, first Monday in September
    • Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11
    • Thanksgiving Day and following day, fourth Thursday and Friday in November
    • Christmas Eve, Dec. 24
    • Christmas Day, Dec. 25

The term Juneteenth is a combination of the words “June” and “teen,” to signify the date when some 250,000 slaves were freed in Texas on June 19, 1865.

Many people also associate Juneteenth with the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect Jan. 1, 1863. The executive decree by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln granted freedom to all enslaved people in the Confederacy, but the document did not widely apply to Southern areas since the rebel states were at war with the United States at the time and had already declared secession from the Union in 1861. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the actual date of the Juneteenth holiday derives from an event in Galveston Bay, Texas, which occurred more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.

“Not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free,” said the NMAAHC history of Juneteenth. “Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control.”

On June 19, 1865, a group of 2,000 Union troops, led by U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, entered Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that slavery had been outlawed and that all slaves were to be freed. By that time, the American Civil War had already been over for two months, but since news traveled slow in an era with no rapid communication systems and many slaves in Confederate-held areas did not know of the announcement, the word of freedom was delayed.

“As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later (than the Emancipation Proclamation),” the NMAAHC history of Juneteenth added.

Juneteenth can also be linked to the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. It states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

With Texas’ linkage to the event, The Lone Star State in 1980 was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. Once Texas approved the move, more states were spurred on to recognize June 19 as a holiday. In the following years -- before it gained federal recognition in 2021 -- some 35 states would observe Juneteenth in an official capacity. Since the passage of the federal holiday act last year, virtually all U.S. states now recognize the holiday, and local governments around the country are following suit.




In other Columbia County News: 

- The Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday passed an appropriation ordinance accepting a $1,496 grant for the Columbia County Library. The grant, according to the motion, was issued through the Arkansas Public Libraries grant fund. The award will be used for “information access, institutional capacity, targeted audiences, and enhanced technology,” according to the ordinance.



- The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is still seeking to hire three male jailers at the Columbia County Detention Center in Magnolia. The vacancies were first reported last month by JP Rick Waller, who chairs the Columbia County Quorum Court’s Jail Committee. The county representative stated Monday that the positions are still open and available.

“We’re still looking, but we can’t find them yet,” he said.

Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe stated in April that county jailer pay begins at around $32,000 per year. Potential job applicants may call 870-234-5331 for more information on the position.


- The Columbia County Rescue truck responded to six incidents in April. Of those events, three occurred in the city of Magnolia, while three occurred outside the city in the county, according to JP Russell Thomas. The rescue vehicle is staffed by the Magnolia Fire Department.

The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
November 19,  2022!