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KZHE News Blog

IMPORTANT CENSUS INFO: In-person count begins week of Aug. 11

by J.D. Bailey on 07/28/20

The U.S. Census Bureau’s door-to-door count process will begin the week of Aug. 11 in Magnolia and Columbia County. The in-person count effort will attempt to count any households that have not already submitted their census information.

Postcards are being sent this week as a reminder of the upcoming count. Postcards will not be sent to households that have already submitted information to the Census Bureau.

Advertising and social media marketing for the census count in Magnolia and Columbia County will continue throughout the counting process. Census workers will still attempt to count everyone in the city and county, no matter their immigration or citizenship status.

How to verify U.S. Census Bureau Employees: 
  • Workers will be identified by an I.D. badge that includes their name, photo, a U.S. Dept. of Commerce watermark, and expiration date.
  • Workers will carry an official U.S. Census Bureau bag and laptop or smartphone with a census logo.
  • Workers are only instructed to work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Council approves $2.28M bid to fix city water lines, $585K bid to remodel new police station

by J.D. Bailey on 07/28/20

Council approves $2.28M bid to fix city water lines, $585K bid to remodel new police station

The Magnolia City Council on Monday voted unanimously to accept a $2,289,902 million bid to replace aged cast-iron water lines with new, non-corrosive main lines throughout the central, northern, and western portions of Magnolia. The winning bid was issued by RBIS LLC of Texarkana, Texas.

The bid was recommended by Andy Franks, owner of A.L. Franks Engineering, who has spearheaded the city's water line replacement project. 

The winning bid was the lowest submission by over a million dollars. The only other competing bid came from the northeast Arkansas-based Krypton Developments at $3,699,979.46.

“Obviously, they weren’t as interested as RBIS,” said Franks.

The winning bid was within $30,000 of A.L. Franks Engineering’s estimate for the project.

The water line issues were first reported early last year after multiple complaints of discolored water in central portions of Magnolia. The cast-iron water lines were found to be the cause, due to decades of corrosion buildup, also known as tuberculation.

Main water lines are now set to be replaced around the areas of Lawton Circle, Highland Circle, Hazel, Joy, Partee, Monzingo, Calhoun, West Main, Kelso, North Height, Virginia, Ross, Doris, Clay, Pecan, and parts of South Madison, South Washington, and South Jefferson.

“We’re looking at the worst of the worst at this time,” said Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann.

With the low bid accepted Monday, Franks expects the project to begin within 60 days. The civil engineer estimated the work to last 360 days, weather permitting.

The new lines will be laid in city ditches. If any private property is affected during the line replacement process, the city will fix the damage.

“We’ll put your property back the way we found it,” Vann said. “If we tear up a driveway, cut up a yard -- we’re going to put you back and get you fixed up. So, don’t panic and think we’re going to leave it there.”

If any project funds are leftover, the city will begin working on additional streets, according to the mayor.

The pay for the project, the council voted unanimously on Monday to refinance a 1999 City Water Resource bond from 3.5% interest to 2.18% interest and extend the payments an additional two years to generate the extra $1.5 million needed to fund the line replacements. By refinancing and extending the bond, yearly payments will also be lowered by approximately $30,000, according to Jason Holsclaw, senior vice president at Little Rock-based Stephens, Inc. The bond is now set to be paid off in December 2034.

“Lower interest, lower payments, lower terms,” said Vann, “In this unknown environment, we want to play it safe, and we’d rather push [the bond] out a little bit and lower the payments because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

If the council had not elected to refinance and extend the bond, the city would have been forced to borrow the additional $1.5 million needed to complete the project, according to Holsclaw.

In other Magnolia City Council news: 

  • A $585,000 low bid was accepted from Milton Hambrice Construction of Magnolia to remodel the former SAU Tech Welding Academy at the Harvey Couch Business Park and retrofit it to house the Magnolia Police Department as its main station. Stipulations in the bid called for all materials to be purchased in Magnolia, according to Vann. If LED lights are used at the new MPD station instead of traditional lighting, an additional $20,000 could be added to the bid, according to MPD Chief Todd Dew.

  • A special Magnolia City Council meeting was tentatively set for Aug. 13. The meeting will be held to vote on the lease agreement between the newly-formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit Magnolia Regional Medical Systems Inc. (Magnolia Regional Medical Center) and the city of Magnolia. The city owns the building that the hospital will occupy. The process of gaining nonprofit status for Magnolia’s hospital has been underway since May 2019. The lease agreement is the final step in the transition from MRMC’s city-owned status to its new nonprofit corporation. The move away from city ownership was made to generate an additional $750,000 per year in federal insurance reimbursements, thus increasing the financial health of the facility.

  • Dr. Scott White was appointed to the Magnolia Planning Commission. The vote was unanimous among the council.   

Voyles Martin appointed new Columbia County tax assessor; Solid waste complaints 'down to nothing,' says county judge

by J.D. Bailey on 07/20/20

After more than an hour behind closed doors in executive session Monday night, the Columbia County Quorum Court by overwhelming majority appointed Voyles Martin as the new Columbia County Tax Assessor. The longtime county employee was among four applicants for the position and now fills the void left by Sandra Sawyer, the former tax assessor who resigned her elected office on July 5 for a job with the Arkansas Revenue Department. 

Martin brings plenty of experience to the position. She has been an employee with the local assessor’s office since 2001. She was previously a deputy assessor and since 2015 has held the title of team leader. 

“I’m just very appreciative of the Quorum Court considering me for the position, and I look forward to serving the citizens of Columbia County,” said Martin after her swearing-in ceremony Monday night.

The appointment was also historical. Martin is the county’s first African-American tax assessor. 

“This is history in the making,” said Martin’s husband, Leroy, who serves as an investigator for Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Multiple family members and friends of Martin were present Monday in the Columbia County Courthouse. Once the decision was made and she was announced as the new assessor, she received a warm ovation by the Quorum Court and members of the audience.

Martin had strong support among the Quorum Court, with 10 of the 11 JPs publicly voting for her appointment. JP Steve Lee, voted “here,” while JPs Marjie Blair, Annette Pate, Russell Thomas, Penny Cook, Rick Waller, Oliver Thomas, Terry Williams, Burnie Sharp, Lynn Story, and Jason Ray all voted “yes."

Martin was sworn into office Monday immediately following the Quorum Court’s meeting. The new county official will fill the remaining 25 months on Cawyer’s term, which does not expire until Dec. 31, 2022. Cawyer had been the Columbia County tax assessor since Jan. 1, 2011. The county had been without a tax assessor since her resignation 15 days ago. 

By rule of the appointment, Martin cannot run for tax assessor at the conclusion of her term.

Three other applicants -- Cathy Allen, Antoinette Copeland, and Sharon Crump -- also nominated themselves to fill Cawyer’s unexpired term. The interviews were held behind closed doors, but JPs typically use a list of pre-set questions to ask each applicant during appointment situations. The interviews usually take 15-20 minutes each, then the remaining executive session time is used deliberation among the Quorum Court.

No other candidates received public votes Monday since Martin, who was voted on first, had already received enough votes to fill the vacant position. The appointment requires only a simple majority.

Martin is now the second Columbia County official this year and the third in the last two years to be appointed to by the Quorum Court to fill a vacant position. County Judge Denny Foster, who presided over Monday’s meeting, was appointed in January after former County Judge Larry Atkinson retired early. Sherry Bell, the former County Clerk, also retired early in May 2018.

After Martin’s appointed, a resolution of appreciation for Cawyer was read and approved unanimously by the JPs for her service to the county.

Solid Waste 

Columbia County’s solid waste complaints have seemingly calmed down after the local Quorum Court in June made it clear something had to change with their collection contractor, WCA, or action needed to be taken.

On Monday, Columbia County Judge Denny Foster reported that cameras have been installed on at least one WCA truck, with more possibly coming on two other trucks. The move was made to determine once-and-for-all if the trash collection issues are due to negligence by the contractor or the residents simply not placing out their trash. The result of the partnerhsip with WCA, according to the judge, has been drastic over the past month. 

“Our calls have gone down to nothing,” said Foster. “Where we were getting 40-50 calls a day, there was an eight-day period where we got zero calls about trash.”

Last month, the judge said his office was flooded with dozens of complaint calls every week over lapsed pickups and reports of excessive debris buildup. To help remedy the issues, WCA also began spot-checks. As a result, the company witnessed 55 homes in a single day on one route with no trash bins placed on the curb, and another day saw the number in the 30s.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” Foster added. “I think the only complaints we have now are limbs and brush. But since June 30, I’ve only had about seven calls. I think we’re on the right track.”

WCA District Manager Mike Howell was present Monday and addressed the Court over the past issues. He stated that the extra debris buildup was from excessive spring storm damage causing the waste contractor to fall behind.

“Waldo looked like disaster zone for the longest,” he said. “But we managed to get beyond that with the county’s help. All the extra storm debris that was out there -- that’s pickup up, and now we’re on track where we need to be.”

Howell also said that coronavirus-related issues had contributed to the pickup backlog. Due to so many business closures, he said there was a shift to more residential garbage buildup and less commercial and restaurant waste.

“We’re talking to the tune of 300 to 500 tons in addition to what we were picking up,” he said. “We had to move trucks out and finish the routes the next day. The trucks were at capacity.”

He noted that lately, though, the trend is moving back to normal. He also said that the company gets complaints about missed routes before the trash provider even makes it to that particular street on their pickup day.

“We’re not perfect. We’re human. We’ll make mistakes,” Howell said. “But we’re going to do our best to get that taken care of and get that remedied.”

Even with the good news, Justice of the Peace Steve Lee noted that “wheel problems” were still present among his constituents in the southern portion of the county. Last month, multiple JPs reported a prevalence of trash canisters with broken wheels after a pickup. Foster on June 2 reported that the county had already spent nearly $12,000 this year repairing 322 damaged green curbside garbage cans.

“They’re still slamming [the cans] down too hard,” said Lee.

The judge on Monday did not have the official number of wheel complaints, but stated those calls had diminished as well.

In other Quorum Court news:

  • The Court unanimously passed an ordinance amending the Columbia County employment and sick leave policy. The modifications include:

– New regular work period for county law enforcement and jailors is 85.5 hours for consecutive 14-day work periods. Anything over that will result in overtime or compensatory time.

– County employees must now report sick day absences at least two hours before their workday begins, unless prior approval has already been granted.

– Sick leave can now be used in increments of less than two hours.

  • A resolution was passed declaring a vacancy for McNeil Township’s Constable. The move comes after John Ferguson, the former constable in McNeil, relocated from the district.