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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.

Magnolia city inspector details unsightly property removal in city, lists over 40 addresses currently on his radar for cleanup or demolition

by J.D. Bailey on 04/26/22

After a local citizen’s efforts to bring awareness to numerous unkempt and dilapidated properties around the city last month, Magnolia City Inspector David Nelson on Monday issued an in-depth presentation to the Magnolia City Council on the state of the city’s structural removal efforts.

The municipal official began his informative session by thanking the concerned citizen for taking over 30 photographs of unsightly properties and stated just how important it is for local leaders and the public to learn more about the status of eyesore addresses in the community. The building inspector, however, did not sugar-coat his statements. He noted that the city contains dozens of addresses currently in disrepair -- and that he is well aware of all of them.

“There is not a shortage of dilapidated structures in town,” said Nelson. "They're all over the place."

Since 2011, the building inspector stated that the city has cleaned up between 150 and 175 structures. These efforts include the razing of Fredrick Circle in 2020, which included 10 broken-down residential homes, as well as the demolition of the crumbling shopping center at E. Main Street’s Fountain Plaza that same year.

But that has not been enough. The city inspector stated Monday that at least 100 more structures could likely be condemned or removed, but the process is not as simple as bulldozing over a property at will.

“It’s just not that easy,” he noted. "It takes a lot of time."

On Monday, Nelson issued a list of addresses that his office is currently attempting to either clean up or remove. A total of 12 structures are already on the city removal list, according to the inspector, and letters have been sent to over 40 property owners in just the past month. These addresses include the following:

  • 520 West Ross
  • 617 Calhoun
  • 904 South Vine
  • 1115 Patton
  • 512 Smith
  • 616 Jeanette
  • 903 Jeanette
  • 201 South Height
  • 409 Cedar
  • 417 West Ross
  • 702 West Calhoun
  • 200 South Jackson
  • 200 South Washington
  • 202/204 South Washington
  • 810 Elm
  • 521 Peace
  • 1316 Mallard
  • 622 Peace
  • 1102#B West Greene
  • 308 West North
  • 320 Davis
  • 1214 Greene
  • 706 Doris
  • 705 North Dudney
  • 818 Peach
  • 1323 Dewberry
  • 1323 Blackberry
  • 815 Laura
  • 3 McArthur Circle
  • 6 McArthur Circle
  • 9 McArthur Circle
  • 11 McArthur Circle
  • 1514 Blackberry
  • 220 King
  • 321 Sylvia
  • 213 Leila
  • 815 West Monroe
  • 815 West Greene
  • 815 North Height
  • 804 McNeil
  • 1517 McCray
  • 1403 McCray

“The easy ones are out of the way,” said Nelson on Monday. “From this point forward -- and really for the past three years -- it’s getting more and more complicated.”

Tracking down the actual owner of an abandoned or unsightly property is also part of the problem. Oftentimes, the listed owner is an extended family member who acquired the home through a relative’s death, and resides nowhere near Magnolia and never intends to do anything about the address.

“They couldn’t care less about the city,” Nelson added. “... It’s a nightmare getting to who actually owns the home and who actually needs to be talked to.”

As the city inspector explained Monday, the steps to remove a dilapidated home are not swift. The process begins by tracking down the titleholder, then a notification is issued by mail. Once the letter has been sent, the city inspector then hopes to work with the owners before moving on to more expensive steps. He noted that this is by far the easiest course of action to take.

“If they will talk to me and agree to pay what the city charges -- which is not outrageous -- we can make a better deal than if we have to go through the certified process,” said the city official.

If that does not work, the process proceeds to more official and costly avenues. The steps include issuing a certified notice to the property owner, as well as placing a legal notice in the local newspaper. These steps alone equal more than $600, according to Nelson.

“Right off the bat your bill just went up," he said, "if we have to go that avenue."

If that does not work, another letter is sent informing the owner he has 30 days to make a move, or the city inspector will bring the matter before the Magnolia City Council for condemnation. Upon the passage of the action, another certified letter is sent and newspaper notice issued, which costs an additional $600 or more. The notices will state that action must be taken within 30 days or the city will be forced to demolish the structure.

This practice, according to Nelson, has resulted in numerous homes being torn down, and a few liens being placed on properties. These steps, however, are always last resorts.  

“We don’t want to put a lien on your property," he said. "We don’t want to tear down your house. But we will if we have to."

The city inspector also noted that, while some homes may need to be removed, if someone is currenlty residing in the structure, the city will not force them out of their dwelling.

“If somebody is living there, I’m just not going to touch it,” he said. “We’re just not going to do that.”

Unsightly properties purchased out of delinquent tax auctions are in the cross-hairs of the city inspector as well.

“If you buy one of the properties that have received letters, I’m going to know you’re the new owner, and I’m going to be coming after you,” he added. “…It’s going to cost you more money in the end if you don’t try to work with us.”

The city is willing to work with property owners, but Nelson stated he and his office will no longer accept small clean-up efforts to extend the removal process. He also noted that he hopes local inspection code ordinances can be updated to help expedite the process in the future.

The city official also requested that citizens help aid the city in tracking down property owners that may reside out of the area, and to try to convince them to expedite the process as much as possible, for the sake of Magnolia.

“We are working on this, but we need everyone's help,” he said. “… We just want to clean the town up.”

The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
May 14, 2022!