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Magnolia City Council finalizes sale of former Home Health property for $70K

by J.D. Bailey on 11/23/21

The Magnolia City Council on Monday approved the following measures: 

- A warranty deed sale of the former Magnolia Regional Medical Center property at 833 N. Washington Street was unanimously passed Monday by the Magnolia City Council. The purchase price was $70,0000. 

The former home of W.C. Blewster, who previously served as the president of First National Bank in Magnolia, is now set to be renovated and become an office property for local Edward D. Jones financial advisor Laura Crowell. The new owner of the building was the highest bidder for the property after a three-week public bid window offered by the Magnolia City Council. According to the approval ordinance, no bid reached the appraised value of the property, 

Alderman Steve Crowell, who is the spouse of the new owner of the property, abstained from voting on the matter and was not present during previous Council discussions on the issue. 

- Sarah Williams was unanimously approved to the Magnolia Regional Health System Board of Directors. MRHS is the official name of Magnolia’s nonprofit status hospital. The facility was formed in 2019 as a 501(c)(3) entity that was separate from the city government. The Magnolia City Council, as part of the agreement, can still appoint board members to the hospital. 

- Tameika Maxwell was unanimously approved to the Magnolia Housing Authority Commission. Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann said she was recommended by Jan Hutcheson, executive director of the Magnolia Housing Authority. 

In other City of Magnolia News: 

- Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann recommended that all city water customers wrap and insulate their pipes now ahead of the winter season to prevent cold-weather pipe bursts.

- The mayor noted that citizens pay attention to doorstep packages and do not leave them unattended during the holiday shopping season. 

- The mayor stated that the city will turn off municipal water irrigation lines for free for the winter, but customers must call Magnolia Utilities office to do so. If the city does not turn off the lines, then customers will still be charged an irrigation fee, according to the mayor. 

Magnolia Mayor offers city services as Boys and Girls Club requests extra $15K in annual funding

by J.D. Bailey on 11/23/21

With the city government's budgetary process entering its final stages for next year, representatives from the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club were on hand at Monday’s Magnolia City Council gathering to request an extra $15,000 in the city’s annual contribution to the local youth organization.

Although the Boys and Girls Club is an independent nonprofit, Magnolia municipal budgets for years have included a $35,000 annual donation to the organization. The funding, according to Magnolia Alderman Jamie Waller, functions as a contracted community benefit of sorts for vital local youth and after-school activities that otherwise would not exist.

“This is an absolutely essential service that the city needs,” said the Magnolia Ward III representative. “… We’ve got to keep the Boys and Girls Club going.”

But the contribution rate to the organization has remained the same throughout the life of the deal with the city -- estimated to be around three decades by some officials -- and now, the new executives of the nonprofit are asking the Magnolia City Council for a boost in funding. The extra financial assets, according to Boys and Girls Club directors, would help remedy some long-standing facility, logistical, and program goals at its 1600 Hollensworth Street facility.

“Things are good at the Club but there are also areas where we can improve and areas that we need some help,” said Deneisa Jamerson, executive director of the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club, as she addressed the City Council on Monday.

The local Boys and Girls Club is mostly known for providing youth athletic leagues and recreational activities. According to Chris Ludwig, sports and facilities director at the Club, the organization last year saw nearly 300 youth baseball and softball participants, and this year, as numbers are expected to grow, youth basketball membership is already at 115, while there are well over 100 youth flag football participants at the Boys and Girls Club. Volleyball, according to Ludwig, is also an extremely strong female sport.

The Club, however, offers far more than just evening ballgames and summer sports leagues. The organization’s enrollment programs serve as a free-of-charge, supervised hub for nearly 170 kids every day -- and the number is growing. The Boys and Girls Club’s after-school activities include not only recreational activities, but they also offer tutoring, computer learning, life skills, mentoring, and a no-cost, USDA-approved food option for any youth in the community.

“It does not matter if you are a member or not,” said Jamerson. “Any child, from age zero to 18, can walk through our doors during feeding hours and get a meal free of charge.”

Getting to the Boys and Girls Club, though, has sometimes been an issue. Although school children from around the district are carried to East Side Elementary every weekday during the academic year, they are still required to walk hundreds of yards down the street to the Boys and Girls Club facility – no matter the weather conditions.

“We’d love to get a bus so we could pick up the kids to prevent them from having to walk through the rain and the cold,” said Jamerson.

The Boys and Girls Club is also now partnering with Central Arkansas Development Council (CADC) as a site for local commodities distributions.

“We had distribution Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week,” Jamerson added. “We had a lot of people come through the Club for that.”

The executive noted that her goal is to grow its CADC and SAU Tech Adult Education Center partnerships and help boost parental life skills as well.

“We would love to be able to offer a place for the community to be able to get everything,” Jamerson added. “Yes, we are a youth service organization, but if we can’t help the whole family – then we can’t help that child.”

Alderman Steve Nipper on Monday commended the Boys and Girls Club for its efforts and noted the importance of good parenting and the lack of basic adult skills among some in Magnolia.

“We hear that these parents need life skills,” said Nipper as he addressed the B&GC executives. “They need to learn how to cook and how to buy food. The public schools did that years ago, but that is needed – badly.”

Facilities at the Boys and Girls Club are also an issue. Although the organization recently wrapped up a capital campaign that raised over $300,000, it still fell short some $200,000 of its half-a-million-dollar goal to reinvigorate and remedy the infrastructure issues at the Hollensworth Street property. According to Jamerson, the bulk of the campaign funds raised went into new roofing at the main Club building, as well as a much-needed new playing surface in the gymnasium. Once those two key issues were addressed, there was not much left over to focus on other needs.

According to Ludwig, the Boys and Girls Club property still requires a functioning security camera system, drainage fixes at the ballfields, and a solution for the windows and doors that barely keep the weather out, or barely work at all.

“There’s nobody really to do a lot of this work,” he said. “It’s tough to find somebody here local. It’s tough to find carpenters or someone to come in and get the work done. There are just not a lot of them. It’s tough.”

To aid in the Boys and Girls Club’s issues, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday offered up as many city services as he could. He suggested that the organization call Magnolia Building Inspector David Nelson for its door and window issues, and Magnolia Police Department Chief Todd Dew for its security camera issues. He also told the Club executives to contact Magnolia Street Department Superintendent Jerry Lewis for its field drainage issues, and offered Deputy City Clerk Judy Hayes for art supply and paper purchasing deals. The city leader lastly suggested that Club officials meet with Magnolia Public Schools Superintendent John Ward for a deal on a school bus to use for picking up kids from East Side Elementary and shuttling them down to the Boys and Girls Club’s facility.

“If the city is partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, and this Council is OK that our employees work with them, then they can continue to do their job, and we can help them get the best price and best bang for their buck,” said the mayor.

Vann also noted that the city can help in the contractor bidding process for skilled laborers. 

“You’ll have to run it and you get the final say, but we’ll help you open doors and get you those bids that you can’t get right now,” the city leader added. 

The Council also suggested that Boys and Girls Club executives contact Magnolia Schools for deals on computers.

“We can’t help you with all of it, but that’s a good start right there,” Vann said.

Although the services offered to the Boys and Girls Club by the city are substantial, the Magnolia City Council Finance Committee, which is made up of the sitting Council members, will still need to vote whether or not to include the additional $15,000 contribution in the city’s 2022 municipal budget. The funding measure looks to have a decent chance of approval, but Vann cautioned if a $50,000 annual donation is adopted, it may not always be available in years to come and that regular city department budgets will always come first.

“We did cut taxes (this year), and that is my worry,” he said referring to the elimination of the 1 mill city millage that was passed in October. “… The budget will stand (the increase) this year, but it may not be there in years to come.”

No date has been set yet for the final Magnolia City Council Finance Committee meeting, but city officials said Monday that the meeting will take place sometime in December, before its regular meeting on Dec. 27.  

City cuts millage tax, purchases new police cruiser amid vehicle shortage

by J.D. Bailey on 10/26/21

Magnolia property owners are set to receive a bit of tax relief next year, after the Magnolia City Council on Monday passed a measure eliminating the city’s 1.5-mill general fund tax for the year 2022.

The financial levy, which passed unanimously by present Magnolia City Council members Larry Talley, Jeff White, Tia Wesson, Jamie Waller, Steve Nipper and James Jefferson, came after Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann informed the board that the city no longer required the additional 1.5-mill tax to bolster the city’s general revenue fund.

“We told the voters many years ago that when we didn’t need it, we wouldn’t take it,” he said about the general fund millage. “That means 1.5 mills is coming down off the (city) property tax for next year. We are lowering taxes in the city of Magnolia.”

The tax applies to real and personal property owned in Magnolia and is separate from local school district and county millages. As part of Monday’s tax approvals for next year, the Council also levied millage rates for Magnolia Fire and Police Department pension funds. The rates remained the same at 1 mill for Fire pensions and 1 mill for Police pensions, for a total of 2 mills.

With the elimination of the general fund millage next, the city’s total millage rate for 2022 will be down from the current rate of 3.5 mills.

A mill is a rate used to calculate taxes owed on real and personal property owned by a taxpayer. One mill is equal to one-thousandths of a dollar. By eliminating the 1.5-mill City General Fund millage, Magnolia property owners’ annual tax bills should decrease next year.

For example, a taxpayer who owns $100,000 in assessed property will see a cut to their city taxes by $150 annually.

The city’s 1.5-mill general fund millage had been on the books since 2019. The tax was levied to help bolster the city’s revenues and increase local police salaries. A 2018 city budget proposal hoped to generate an estimated $70,000 in total raises for 22 MPD officers, as well as clerical staff and other employees officers within the agency.

But as the city’s finances have recently improved, the extra millage is no longer needed, according to the mayor.

“It appears that we’re OK with cash-on-hand,” he said.

Since last year, even amid the coronavirus pandemic, the city has been financially healthy. In March, during his annual State of the City address, the mayor stated that city tax revenues were up 7% (about $800,000) over the previous year, and that a contributing factor was thought to be the state’s legislative changes to online shopping sales tax collections that took effect in July 2020. Previous to the Arkansas statutory changes, many online retailers such as Amazon and eBay were often exempt from local sales collections.

The changes have helped see an increase in local tax revenues, but the mayor did say Monday that it has been a “good year”, but that some months were “a tick down.”

Monday’s vote to elimination the 1.5 mill tax, however, is not necessarily permanent. The tax can still be re-levied for 2023, or any year after that -- should the city council vote as such. According to the mayor, however, the city intends to keep the general fund millage off the books for as long as possible.

“We’ve always said that if we find ourself in the position where we have to call for (the general fund millage) back, that we would,” he added. “…If the world comes to an end, we can make it until it’s time to re-levy that millage.”

In other Magnolia government news:

- The Magnolia City Council on Monday approved the purchase of a new Dodge Durango SUV for the Magnolia Police Department. The cost for the vehicle is about $30,300, according to Mayor Parnell Vann, and will be used to replace a Ram truck police cruiser that was recently sidelines with motor problems.

The city was lucky to be able to purchase any new vehicle at all, according to the mayor. In a typical year, the city would buy at least two new police vehicles to phase out old units in the fleet, but, with mass material shortages and supply chain breakdowns and backlogs, the city was initially slated to receive no new MPD vehicles. The new Durango, however, was acquired after Landers Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM reached out to the city.

“There will not be any more trucks or cars available this year,” said Vann.

The mayor said he’d like to buy more equipment for the city in upcoming 2022 budget talks, but that there simply isn’t the inventory available right now to do so.

“There is not a lot out there right now that we can buy,” he said.

The city official noted that he was told that past production levels for vehicles will not return until mid-2023 -- and that timeline is contingent upon no further supply chain problems or shortages.

“They’re just not making stuff right now,” he added.

- The Magnolia Utilities Water and Wastewater audit for the year 2020 was reviewed by independent water auditor Pete Parks of Parks & Company PLC in El Dorado.

The CPA noted that the city’s water audit found no significant deficiencies and praised the city’s Treasurer, Kim Newell, for her financial work for the city, but he did critique the utility service’s “segregation of duties” and asked that high-level city officials have more oversight in the Water and Wastewater Departments to prevent employee fraud and possible misappropriation of grant funds.

- Two interlocal agreement measures were passed by the Magnolia City Council Monday to finalize a joint-agreement with the city of Magnolia and Columbia County for the recently-purchased Columbia County Rescue truck. The vehicle, which cost an estimated $185,000, is operated around-the-clock by the Magnolia Fire Department and is used during rescues and extractions of car accident victims. The truck contains Jaws of Life devices, as well as on-board flame retardant and rescue equipment.

As part of the agreement, the city of Magnolia was absolved from its part in funding the local 9-1-1 emergency dispatch service, but is responsible for staffing, insuring, and maintaining the new rescue vehicle. As part of the agreement, the city and the county governments also split the cost of the truck’s purchase.